Mosque In Khratoum, Sudan. ACN

Interview with the Person in Charge of Aid to the Church in Need’s Projects in Africa, to Understand the Situation in Sudan

Sudan is Africa’s third largest gold producer, and Hemedti owns gold mines in the north of the country.

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(ZENIT News – Aid to the Church in Need / Sudan, 04.27.2023).- A few days ago, battles broke out between the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), paramilitary forces formerly operated by the Government of Sudan. The Army is acting under the command of the current President, General Abdel Fattah al Burhan, whereas the RSF is being directed by the Vice-President, Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, alias Hemedti.

Already on the first day of the conflict, the RSE said they had taken control of the Presidential Palace and of three airports, including that of Khartoum. Nevertheless, to date it cannot be said that they are winning. On the contrary, the fighting is spreading and, according to several of the media, it has already cost some 300 lives and more than 3,000 wounded. 

Kinga von Schierstaedt, Coordinator of Aid to the Church in Need’s projects in Africa, and responsible for the projects in Sudan, has talked about the situation in the country and the consequences of the conflict.

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Question: What are your contacts saying about the situation in the capital? 

Answer: I’ve just talked by phone with a projects partner who is north of Khartoum, not far from a place where the Rapid Support Forces are entrenched. During the call I could hear shots in the background. My contact tells me that the streets are empty, as in a ghost city: cars aren’t circulating, no one can be seen and not a single voice is heard in the whole neighbourhood. People can’t leave their  homes or, rather, they don’t dare to do so. However, as no one was prepared for this, they haven’t stocked up on food, although it would not be of great help, as the electrical network has collapsed; hence, a fridge only works when they start a generator, for which they have only a bit of diesel fuel for a short time. But, worse than the lack of food is the lack of water. As there is no longer any running water, they have to go to a well , which in  reality is only used to water the garden and which must be boiled before being consumed. At present, during the day [the temperature] rises to over 40°C in the shade. 

Again and again military planes fly over the area to attack the entrenched RSF; hence they fear that, accidentally, the bombs will reach them also. 

Question: What are the objectives of the coup?

Answer: It is Hemedti’s attempt to bring down Al Burhan and, at the same time it is the explosion of the latent tension since the coup of October 2021. In that coup, both ousted the transition government established after the fall of dictator Omar al Bashir in April of 2019. 

Deep down it’s not about ideologies but about how and with whom to govern; about interests, power, wealth and the integration of the RSF. Hemedti considers that his RSF is crucial for the country’s security and he demands more power. 

The negotiations over the inclusion of this paramilitary group in the Army are a stumbling block between the two, and Al Burhan’s decision to transfer the RSF troops to different areas of the country — which Hemedti warned was an attempt to undermine his power — was the spark that caused the coup explosion.

However, there is another important motive. Sudan is the third producer of Africa’s gold, and Hemedti owns gold mines in the north of the country. Up to US$ 16 billion a year come out of there destined to the United Arab Emirates. Hemedti  has made gold his business; gold is his power and one of his interests. At the same time, the Army also owns a great quantity of properties and all sorts of businesses, and resists turning them over to a civil Government.

Question: Are the battles limited to the capital or does the threat exist that they will spark a civil war throughout the country? 

Answer: Apart from the capital, where at present the battles are more intense, there are also confrontations in Merowe, El Obeid and the Darfur area. Heavy fighting, street confrontations and shootings is going on in El Obeid. The Cathedral has also become a battlefield. Two large explosive devices fell on Thursday, April 20 in the church’s premises. One broke the stained glass windows into smithereens, and another the priests’ house. Thank God there were no human losses. 

The danger that the conflict will spread is always present because it is a power struggle and both sides are entrenched in their positions. I’ve talked with one of our project partners in Kosti, in the south of the country, on the border with South Sudan, where the situation is calm for the time being. 

Question: The Sudanese Catholic Church is very small, as close to 95% of the population is Muslim, but as it’s not about an ideological or religious conflict, all the citizens are equally affected. Believers, priests and religious can’t leave their houses. Sunday Mass has been cancelled and priests can’t celebrate daily Mass in the churches. The life of faith, in crisis areas, takes place only in homes. 

Question: What are the most foreseeable consequences? 

Answer: One of our project partners formulated it thus: “I have the sensation that the situation in Sudan is getting darker.” The country was already in a desperate economic situation, with enormous inflation and lack of liquidity. The conflict has made prices soar even more and people lack money. 

Question: Often these conflicts cause waves of displaced people. Are there already indications of something like this happening?

Answer: Many people are leaving the neighbourhoods of cities where there is shooting. Moreover, in some they don’t have electricity or the necessary water to survive, so they flee to the homes of relatives or acquaintances that live outside the city. We still don’t have news of large waves of displaced people or camps of the displaced but, undoubtedly, there is a flight from the cities. 

Question: Is there still a possibility to contain this conflict, and who could influence in this direction? 

Answer: At present, the positions of both sides are terribly obstinate. Our contacts say that neither side cedes or wins. There won’t be a quick end to the conflict. So we can only hope that common sense will prevail and, of course, pray. We must pray that a Government will come to power that seeks justice and peace. This is what all our contacts ask us, as they point out  that, for the time being, they cannot be helped with material aid. “The only thing that can give us strength now is to know that you support us in prayer,” they assured me.

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