Should Britain have been better prepared for the conflict in Sudan?


As reports of the Sudanese power struggle begin to circulate, many are now looking at the response from the West.

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Image by UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran

By Tom Lindley

War in Sudan isn’t a new story. It’s rather a new chapter of a bloody book which documents longstanding and brutal struggles for power. With the last democratically elected leader taking office in 1986, the days of democracy have long since been replaced by a conveyor belt of military junta after military junta. Whether in the form of an individual or a multi-member sovereignty council, the trend of who gets power in Sudan seems to be whichever senior military official can rally enough troops to take over from the last. Combine this with the troubled nation’s history of war, both with the South Sudanese people and ethnic genocide in Darfur, and the story of Sudan becomes even more tragic.

Following the first military junta in 1989, Omar al-Bashir rose to power as the President of Sudan. A Colonel in the Sudanese Army, he led a group of military officials in the ousting of Sudan’s last elected leader. Seeing instability in the political system, his grab for power ultimately led to new reforms in Sudan, including the suspension of political parties and the instatement of a strict Islamic legal system. After his self-appointment as leader, al-Bashir had firmly cemented himself as somewhat of an all-powerful and all-commanding leader.

Al-Bashir’s vice-like grip on Sudan came to an end in 2019, following nationwide protests and civil uprisings. His rise to power and his downfall were through the same means, with history once again repeating itself as a senior military official took control through a military coup. Since the re-establishment of the government under a new leadership, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has been the de facto Head of State since 2019, both as President and as the leader of the Transitional Military Council (TMC).

This history of military rule in Sudan has created a bleak outlook for the country’s future, but the most recent spout of violence has hit the people of Sudan particularly hard. After an unsuccessful coup in 2021, citizens were assured by President al-Burhan that the military would no longer have a place in Sudanese politics. The glimpse of hope felt by many Sudanese democrats has subsequently been shattered, as history again repeats itself and the military power struggle shakes the political system once more.

As the tensions in the nation continue to rise, many foreign governments have rushed to evacuate their citizens. Approximately 4,000 British citizens were thought to be in Sudan at the start of the conflict, with hundreds more from other European nations. British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has recently held a COBRA meeting to discuss ways of evacuating these individuals. This has resulted in the deployment of armed forces to major strategic outposts outside of the capital, Khartoum. Combined with the early evacuation of British diplomats just days after the conflict occurred, it seems as though Britain is taking the risks to its citizens seriously.

Currently deployed forces still have a lot to accomplish, however. As German forces prepare to leave Sudan after having secured an airfield to evacuate from, Britain is now left responsible for it, despite having many citizens still to evacuate. This may prove challenging if the armed forces are to stay in Sudan much longer, as an already overstretched military may have to prepare for a longer operation than originally expected.

With increased pressure likely to be placed upon British troops in Sudan, many people are now looking to the government to ask why nobody saw this situation arising. For a nation gripped by a genocide that has taken thousands of lives; a nation which had a near-twenty-two-year civil war; and a nation with a history of military power struggles, questions as to why the British have left it until now to step in resonate throughout diplomatic circles. For those Britons still trapped, they will be asking why contingencies were not put in place for the assurance of their safety.

In light of the failed ceasefire attempts, UN deputy secretary-general, Amina Mohammed, has claimed that this conflict has the potential to be “worse than Ukraine”. With paramilitary forces having dug into people’s homes, the risk of civilian casualties as Sudan’s air force continues to bombard, is expected to rise significantly. With this being considered, all signs point to why, despite the relatively quick initial response, better planning on behalf of the British to protect its overseas citizens was not in place.

With an increase in western attention, the story of chaos and instability in Sudan has now come to light, but many may be left wondering why this concern hasn’t had the same grip on western media for the past three decades. More importantly for the British still in Sudan, they are left wondering why the government has failed to have a plan in place beforehand.