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Sudan’s Strategic Role in the Global Geopolitical Landscape: An In-Depth Exploration

Introduction

Sudan, with its rich history and natural resources, has emerged as a pivotal player in the global geopolitical arena. Since the ousting of Omar al-Bashir in 2019, the nation has grappled with a complex interplay of internal strife and the influence of external powers. This detailed exploration delves into Sudan’s multifaceted geopolitical dynamics, considering the roles of major global players such as the United States, Russia, Gulf nations, and Israel, and their impact on both regional and global scales.

Post-Bashir Era: A Nation Grappling with Change and Conflict

The fall of Omar al-Bashir in 2019 marked a significant turning point for Sudan. The ensuing period has been characterized by tumultuous power struggles, political upheaval, and a challenging transition to democracy. According to AP News (December 11, 2023), “Sudan slipped into chaos after soaring tensions between Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo.” This internal power struggle, involving military and civilian factions, has led to widespread unrest, with devastating humanitarian consequences. Thousands have been killed and millions displaced, particularly in conflict-prone regions like Darfur, further exacerbating Sudan’s longstanding challenges of ethnic tensions, economic instability, and human rights issues.

External Influences and Complex Interests

The post-Bashir era in Sudan has been significantly influenced by the actions and interests of various external powers, each drawn by Sudan’s strategic significance and their own geopolitical agendas.

The United States and Western Influence: The U.S. has played a nuanced role in Sudan’s affairs, particularly following the country’s removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. This pivotal change opened avenues for economic aid and international partnerships, crucial for Sudan’s reintegration into the global community. However, the U.S. approach remains cautious, especially in light of Sudan’s internal conflicts and its growing alliances with nations like Russia and China, which have their strategic interests in the region.
Russian Ambitions: Russia’s involvement in Sudan is a key element of its broader strategy to expand its influence in Africa. As highlighted by AP News (December 11, 2023), Russia’s establishment of a naval base in Port Sudan and the engagement of the Wagner Group in Sudan’s gold trade are significant moves. These actions signify Russia’s intent to establish a stronghold in the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa, regions pivotal for global maritime trade and regional stability. Russia’s military and economic engagement in Sudan is also reflective of its desire to challenge Western influence and establish itself as a key player in the African continent.
Gulf Nations and Economic Interests: Gulf nations, particularly the UAE and Saudi Arabia, have shown considerable interest in Sudan, driven by a mix of economic and security considerations. The UAE’s involvement includes significant investments in agriculture and infrastructure, as well as alleged military support to various factions within Sudan. AP News (December 11, 2023) reports the expulsion of Emirati diplomats over accusations of supporting rebel forces, highlighting the complex nature of the Gulf nations’ involvement in Sudan’s internal affairs.
Egyptian Interests: Egypt’s involvement in Sudan is deeply rooted in historical ties and shared geopolitical interests, particularly regarding the Nile River and regional stability. Egypt’s support for specific factions in Sudan’s internal conflict mirrors its broader strategy to maintain influence in the Horn of Africa and safeguard its own security and water interests. This involvement is also indicative of Egypt’s efforts to balance its relationships with other regional powers and the West.
Israel’s engagement in Sudan, particularly after the normalization of relations, marks a significant shift in regional politics. As Abdel Bari Atwan noted in 5 Pillars (April 18, 2023), the normalization of relations between Sudan and Israel is part of a broader realignment in the Middle East, with implications for security and intelligence sharing. Israel’s involvement in Sudan reflects its strategic interest in extending its influence in a historically hostile region. This engagement offers Israel potential security benefits, including intelligence sharing and cooperation in counter-terrorism efforts. Economically, for Israel, Sudan represents a new frontier for trade and investment, especially considering Sudan’s wealth of natural resources. Conversely, for Sudan, this relationship offers potential economic development opportunities and access to new markets, vital for a country recovering from prolonged conflict and economic sanctions.

Proxy War Dynamics: A Reflection of Regional and Global Tension

Sudan’s internal conflict, set against the backdrop of its strategic geopolitical position, has evolved into a microcosm of broader regional and global tensions, mirroring the dynamics of proxy wars where external powers vie for influence. This situation highlights the complex interplay of local, regional, and international factors that converge in Sudan, making it a focal point for geopolitical strategies and ambitions.

The Nature of Proxy Conflicts in Sudan: Proxy wars are characterized by external powers supporting different sides of a conflict to advance their strategic interests, often without direct involvement. In Sudan, these dynamics are evident as regional and global powers align themselves with various factions within the country. This alignment is driven not only by a desire to influence the political landscape of Sudan but also to assert their presence in a region of growing strategic importance.

Influence of Regional Powers: The conflict in Sudan reveals a complex pattern of regional alliances and rivalies. Abdel Bari Atwan in 5 Pillars (April 18, 2023) sheds light on this intricate scenario: “It seems Egypt is backing Burhan and the UAE and Russia are backing Hemedti.” This external involvement, where regional powers support different factions, reflects their strategic interests in Sudan’s political stability and resources. For example, Egypt’s support for General Burhan is driven by historical ties, mutual geopolitical interests concerning the Nile River, and regional stability. Similarly, the UAE and Russia’s backing of General Dagalo underscores their economic and strategic stakes in Sudan, with interests spanning from agricultural investments to military footholds.

Saudi Arabia’s Ambiguous Role: Saudi Arabia’s position in Sudan’s proxy dynamics is complex and less clear-cut. As Atwan notes, “Saudi Arabia’s position remains unclear and wavering between the two sides.” This ambiguity reflects the nuanced and shifting nature of alliances in the region, influenced by a web of diplomatic, security, and economic considerations. Saudi Arabia’s wavering stance indicates the delicate balance it seeks to maintain in the region, navigating its relationships with Egypt, the UAE, and other regional powers.

Impact on Regional Stability: The proxy war dynamics in Sudan have significant implications for regional stability. The involvement of external powers can escalate tensions, potentially leading to a broader regional conflict. This situation is further complicated by the strategic significance of the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa, regions crucial for international maritime trade and global security. The stability of Sudan, therefore, is not just a local concern but a matter of international strategic interest.

Global Geopolitical Implications: The proxy war in Sudan is also reflective of larger global geopolitical tensions. The involvement of Russia and the interest of Western powers, particularly the United States and European countries in the region indicate a broader contest for influence in Africa. Sudan’s location, resources, and political instability make it a valuable arena for global powers to assert their influence and challenge existing power structures.

Humanitarian Consequences: Amidst the strategic and political maneuverings, the humanitarian consequences of the proxy war in Sudan are profound. The conflict has resulted in mass displacement, a worsening food security crisis, and widespread human rights abuses. The plight of the Sudanese people, caught in the crossfire of regional and global ambitions, underscores the human cost of such geopolitical conflicts.

Crucially, the proxy war dynamics in Sudan are a manifestation of larger regional and global tensions, characterized by a mix of direct and indirect involvement by external powers. These dynamics not only shape the political and security landscape of Sudan but also have far-reaching implications for regional stability, global geopolitical shifts, and the humanitarian situation on the ground. Understanding these complexities is crucial for comprehending the broader geopolitical chess game being played in the Horn of Africa and beyond.

Reflecting on Sudan’s Complex Geopolitical and Humanitarian Landscape

Sudan’s current landscape, as shaped by the tumultuous events following the ouster of Omar al-Bashir, presents a complex tapestry of internal civil strife and strategic entanglements with global powers, underpinned by a pressing humanitarian crisis.

The nation’s internal conflict, notably between military leaders Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, as reported by AP News (December 11, 2023), has plunged Sudan into a state of chaos. This civil war has not only led to devastating loss of life and mass displacement but also exacerbated existing ethnic tensions and economic hardships, particularly in regions like Darfur.

Compounding these internal issues are the strategic interests of global players. Russia’s ambitions, evident in its establishment of a naval base in Port Sudan, and the Wagner Group’s involvement in gold mining, signal a move to strengthen its geopolitical presence in Africa and the Red Sea. Similarly, the United States, Gulf nations, and Israel’s engagement with Sudan, each driven by their geopolitical and economic interests, have added layers to the complex dynamic. Israel’s recent normalization of relations with Sudan, as highlighted by veteran journalist Abdel Bari Atwan in 5 Pillars (April 18, 2023), marks a significant shift in regional politics.

Beneath the veneer of these political and strategic maneuvers lies a dire humanitarian crisis. The conflict has resulted in widespread displacement, food insecurity, and a breakdown in basic services, leaving millions in need of urgent humanitarian aid. This crisis not only demands immediate attention but also underscores the broader implications of Sudan’s turmoil on regional stability and global geopolitical dynamics.

In essence, Sudan’s situation is a reflection of the multifaceted challenges facing many nations at the intersection of internal conflicts and global geopolitical interests. It highlights the complex interplay between national struggles for power, the strategic ambitions of external players, and the profound human cost of such conflicts.

Why Sudan Matters https://carnegie-mec.org/diwan/83755

In Russia’s push into Africa, Sudan is the strategic prize https://www.newarab.com/analysis/russias-push-africa-sudan-strategic-prize

Making sense of the complicated proxy war in Sudan https://5pillarsuk.com/2023/04/18/making-sense-of-the-complicated-proxy-war-in-sudan/

Tariq Kurd was born and grew up in Hertfordshire. His family is originally from Halabja, Kurdistan but due to periodic migration currently reside across the Baluchistan region.
He has a BA Hons. in History from the Open University. Besides English, Tariq can speak Baluchi and Brahvi, he is also conversant in Persian and Pashto.
His has an eclectic range of interests including military and tribal history. Tariq lives in London and is currently studying Islamic apologetics through the Sapience Institute.