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Kenyan and Somalian citizens arrive at the Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi after being evacuated aboard a Kenya Airforce aircraft to flee the deadly conflict in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, on April 24, 2023. – Evacues were airlifted into Nairobi as a growing number of countries continue to evacuate foreign nationals and diplomats following almost 10 days of urban combat in Khartoum. (Photo by Tony KARUMBA / AFP) (Photo by TONY KARUMBA/AFP via Getty Images)

Sudan on the brink

Sudan on the brink


The UK government is evacuating Brits from one of the world’s poorest countries as it teeters on the edge of civil war. How did Sudan get here?

“Officials in Sudan say that President Omar al-Bashir has been removed from power. The country’s defense minister made the announcement following weeks of protests across Sudan.”

CBS News

When the dictator Omar al-Bashir was eventually ousted in a military coup in 2019, the Sudanese people had reason to celebrate.

He’d ruled the country with an iron fist for three decades.

It’s thought hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the war in Darfur, where Bashir was accused of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

When he was toppled, the pro-democracy movement signed a deal with the country’s military who had helped remove him.

The agreement formed a civilian-led government supported by the military and was supposed to pave the way towards elections. 

This new partnership brought Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, or Hemedti, to the fore.

A former camel trader who made heaps of money in goldmines, Hemedti had risen through the military ranks and later formed the Rapid Support Forces, a powerful private army originally known as the ‘devils on horseback’.

His army helped bring down Bashir.

And when the power-sharing deal was signed, Hemedti talked a good talk.

“We want free and fair elections and for the Sudanese people to pick who they want.”

Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, France 24 English

But it didn’t take long for his intentions to be called into question. Just months after Omar al-Bashir was ousted, Hemedtis’s troops killed over a hundred protestors and raped others.

“In a day of carnage, the capital came to understand what the people of Darfur have long known. This regime is capable of anything.”

Channel 4 News

Sudan may have had a civilian prime minister, but it was still a long way from becoming a fully-fledged democracy.

And in October 2021, any hope it might get there was all but stamped out when Hemedti launched a coup, he says, “to correct the course of the people’s revolution”.

He did this with Sudan’s military leader, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who had helped Hemedti overthrow Omar al-Bashir a couple of years earlier.

That’s what brings us to today, because those two men – Hemedti and al-Burhan – they’re now at war with each other.

“There’s been gunfire and explosions in Sudan’s capital Khartoum as the Sudanese Army clashes with paramilitary forces.”

BBC News

On 15 April, fighting broke out in Sudan.

“We’re going to start in East Africa in Sudan, where fighting between rival groups is entering a third day now. Doctors there warning desperate conditions in hospitals in the capital Khartoum.”

BBC News

And since then, things have only got worse. Hundreds of people have been killed in the last few days alone.

“This is what Khartoum has looked like for more than a week. Gunshots ringing out in residential areas, fighter jets thundering across apartment blocks and an international airport engulfed in flames. Despite the declaration of a ceasefire over the weekend there was no guarantee it would hold.”

CBS Mornings

Hemedti and al-Burhan are struggling for supremacy, their partnership well and truly broken. And between them are 50 million Sudanese people.

Western nations are now scrambling to get their own people out of the country. Britain’s Royal Air Force has been called into action.

“The UK government has just announced it’s launching evacuation flights for British nationals stuck in Sudan after a ceasefire came into force.”

Sky News

It has been described as a complex and dangerous mission. Brits have been told to make their own way to the airport, and among those stranded are NHS doctors.

But there will be no such escape route for the Sudanese people. 

Tens of thousands have fled street fighting, airstrikes and food shortages on a long journey to the borders of Egypt, Chad, South Sudan, and Ethiopia – and to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. They risk violence and death on their journey.

It’s a crisis that could have wider implications too.

What happens in Sudan won’t necessarily stay in Sudan.

It’s a country rich in agriculture which sits in the Horn of Africa, with the Red Sea on one side and the Sahel on the other. 

It’s geostrategically really important, which is why Russia, Saudi Arabia and the US are just some of the countries that have tried to gain a foothold there.

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov visited the country just a few weeks ago, and shortly after that Moscow was given the green light to build a naval base on the Red Sea.

Sudan also shares a border with five countries that are already gripped by various conflicts. 

A civil war and ensuing refugee crisis could further destabilise the entire region, which has been suffering from drought, and where millions of people are already displaced.

This was the UN chief Antonio Guterres speaking on Monday.

“The violence must stop. It risks a catastrophic conflagration within Sudan that could engulf the whole region and beyond.”

Antonio Guterres, UN Security Council meeting

Leaving the lives of millions of people and hopes for democracy in their wake, Hemedti and al-Burhan will have a lot to answer for.

This episode was written by Xavier Greenwood and mixed by Imy Harper.