The Sudan Crisis Explained


Date published: Wed, 10 July 24

Sudan is under crisis as escalating conflict has caused mass displacement, an economic crisis, and a collapse of healthcare services. The conflict is largely a power struggle between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces. Officials estimate that the conflict has killed at least 15,500 people, while other estimates are as high as 150,000. 

In 2023, the power struggle between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) started a large-scale conflict. This conflict has impacted the entire country, plunging its population to a humanitarian crisis. Before the conflict in 2023, there was an existing humanitarian crisis in Sudan. According to the International Rescue Committee, long-term political instability and economic pressures caused 15.8 million people in Sudan in need of humanitarian aid. The recent conflict has pushed that number to 25 million, which is more than half of Sudan’s population. 

Millions of people have fled their homes due to the violent conflict, with upwards of 12 million people displaced. The majority of people remain in the country, meaning that this is one of the largest displacement crises in the world. 

Although fighting is concentrated in the capital city of Khartoum, other areas of the country are seeing mass killings and displacement. In the Darfur region, there are many reports of ethnic cleansing. The Rapid Support forces and allied militias surround particularly vulnerable cities of El Fasher, North Darfur, and Nyala. There are reports of armed fighters going house to house to attack, kill, and loot those who refuse to leave. 

Sudan’s crisis can be understood through the past decades of political instability. In 2019, the removal of authoritarian leader Omar al-Bashir was at first a hopeful event, for return to civilian rule in Sudan, but a military coup in 2021 dissolved the civilian government. This triggered political and economic turmoil, and has stoked the flames of internal conflicts in the country. 

Sudan is also plagued, as much of the rest of the Global South, by global climate change. Floods and droughts across the country have created unlivable conditions, where there is mass crop and livestock destruction. 

Attacks on the healthcare infrastructure have created conditions where people are not able to access lifesaving care. Pregnant women have been dramatically affected by the lack of healthcare infrastructure. UNHCR reports that almost three quarters of health facilities are out of service, and diseases including cholera, measles, and malaria are spreading. They also estimate that two-thirds of the population lacks access to healthcare. 

The conflict does not exist in a singular vacuum – Western countries and African nations have a role to play in the conflict. In 2017, the Rapid Support Forces legitimacy as a “ruling force” was supported by European policies, which designated and funded the RSF to act as “border guards to stem African migration to Europe.” 

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel have played key roles in exacerbating the conflict. The Arab Center in DC reports that these groups have a vested interest in preventing Sudan from having a civilian and democratic government. The Gulf Arab countries have strong relations with the former regime of Omar al-Bashir. Al-Bashir previously sent military assistance and troops against the Saudi and UAE war against the Houthis in Yemen in 2015. Saudi Arabia also has economic and financial “investments” across the agriculture, energy, water, sanitation, transportation, and telecommunications sectors in Sudan. 

Israel is attempting to normalize diplomatic relations with Sudan, and has a vested interest to do so. In 2020, the UAE arranged a secret meeting between Hemedti, a general in the RSF, and the then director of Mossad (Israeli intelligence/propaganda arm). 

The many state and non-state actors invested in destabilizing Sudan are responsible for the horror that Sudanese people are going through. When understanding a conflict like this, it’s important to highlight each angle – from geopolitical interests to climate change to gender.