Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 218, 21 January 2021

Sudan: Another intertribal massacre in another African country
Apoorva Sudhakar

In the news
On 18 January, 55 people were massacred and 37 injured as clashes between the Arab Rizeigat tribe and the non-Arab Fallata tribe ensued in Sudan's South Darfur state. A week before this, members of the Fallata tribe had allegedly killed a person from the Rizeigat tribe.

On the same day, the UN Secretary-General condemned a similar attack in West Darfur. It urged the Sudanese government to ensure that the National Plan for Civilian Protection was in place and bring an end to the violence.

On 16 January, a scuffle between two men belonging to different ethnic groups spiralled into deadly violence which left at least 129 dead (as of 19 January), including armed forces personnel, and 198 injured in the West Darfur state. One of the men, belonging to an Arab tribe, was stabbed to death resulting in retaliatory attacks on the non-Arab Masalit tribe.

On the same day, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said he had directed a high-profile delegation to visit West Darfur to review the situation.

Issues at large
First, the nature of inter-tribal conflicts in Africa. The current instances of conflict in Darfur between Arab tribes and non-Arab tribes are often traced to a lack of access to resources. For example, in recent months, the Arab herders and non-Arab farmers have often clashed over water and land. However, this is not peculiar to Darfur or Sudan. Other examples of intertribal conflicts in Africa include the following: Hutu-Tutsi conflict in Rwanda; Fulani-Tuareg conflict in western African countries like Nigeria and Mali; and the latest - Tigray conflict in Ethiopia.

Second, the failure of the State. Sudan is currently being governed by a transitional government led by Hamdok after former ruler, Omar al Bashir, who helped arm the Arab tribes and was ousted in 2019. Under al-Bashir, the non-Arab tribes were targeted, and Hamdok came to power with the promise of improving the security conditions. However, Hamdok has been unable to do so, and in 2020, protests demanding the resignation of the entire government broke out. Further, the transitional government provides power-sharing between military and civilian leaders; however, tensions between the two have been simmering for a while. 

Third, the fragile peace deal. In October 2020, the Sudanese government signed a peace deal with a coalition of rebel groups to end the violence that had been continuing for years. However, two groups - one being the Darfur-based Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) - refused to sign the peace agreement.

Fourth, the withdrawal of the UNAMID. The recent spate of violence comes merely days after the African Union-UN mission, known as the UNAMID, officially withdrew from Darfur on 31 December 2020 after it was established in 2007. Though the mission was not perceived as a success by the local population, its withdrawal has sparked fears that it would cause a vacuum. The National Plan for Civilian Protection has been framed to succeed in the UNAMID.

In perspective
First, the persistent conflict in Sudan is a reflection of the failure of successive governments. Further, unless the government strikes a balance between the military and civilian officials in the power-sharing agreement, it would be difficult to collectively address the problems - ethnic, economic or otherwise.

Second, peacebuilding will be difficult without the SLM as it had been a key force against the government since 2003. Further, the exit of the UNAMID, is likely to retain the violent status-quo, if not worsen it until the government begins to implement the National Plan for Civilian Protection soon.

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