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The Inside Story | Crisis in Sudan TRANSCRIPT

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The Inside Story: Crisis in Sudan

Episode 91 – May 11, 2023

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Unidentified Narrator:

This week on The Inside Story... Crisis in Sudan.

Generals at war take battle positions in the capital city, Khartoum.

How did we get here, and what is Washington saying about the conflict?

Do peace negotiations stand a chance, or are they just theater?

Plus, why is the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group arming the conflict?

Now, The Inside Story... Crisis in Sudan.

The Inside Story:

SALEM SOLOMON, Senior Editor, VOA Africa Division:

Hello and welcome to the inside story. I am Salem Solomon, VOA Africa division’s senior editor.

To understand the conflict in Sudan you have to go back to 2019 when the Sudanese military ousted then-president omar al-bashir following nationwide protests.

Another coup occurred in 2021, when an uneasy power-sharing agreement between military and civilian leaders went sour.

That left a military council in charge, led by two generals each in charge of their own large contingent of fighters.

Those two generals in turn disagreed about how to move the country toward civilian rule.

Their disagreement turned violent in april and despite a few ceasefires, civilian deaths, widespread world condemnation and the threat of a massive humanitarian crisis, the fighting continues.

The crisis in Sudan, today on The Inside Story.

We start off this week with a story from Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. There, fighting between rival military factions has the civilian population under siege as bloody battles threaten to spill into a second month.

Here's a story we worked on with Sidahmed Ibraheem's reporting from Khartoum and Idrissa Fall and Carol Van Dam contributing from Washington.

As rival military factions continue fighting, parts of Sudan’s capital city of Khartoum are on fire. Most residents are sheltering in place, while those who can flee the city are doing so.

Anas Mohammed, a student from White Nile state in the south, is leaving. He says that his neighbor was shot and bullets were flying into his home, forcing him to run.

Anas Mohammed, Student:

There is no safe place in the capital now. So, we are forced to leave. We wish peace and safety for those who are still going to stay in Khartoum and that no harm will happen to them. We pray for them, but I think it is better for them to leave for their safety.


The fighting in Sudan stems from a 2019 coup that ousted former leader Omar al-Bashir.

At the center of that coup were two Sudanese military groups, one led by General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and the other by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

The two led another coup in 2021, ousting the democratically elected prime minister and suspending the constitution.

Since then, promises for a peaceful transition to a civilian government have been overshadowed by tensions between the two over who would lead a consolidated military.

Those tensions led to the violence that erupted earlier this month.

Jeffrey Feltman, Former US Horn of Africa Special Envoy:

They had been playing us as though they were partners in trying to build a transition, when, in fact, they were doing everything they could to thwart the transition.


The former Sudanese ambassador to the U.S. says the generals should prioritize the people they are serving.

Noureldin Sati, Former Sudanese Ambassador to US:

Stop the war, protect civilians and provide the necessary humanitarian assistance. And then, of course, trying to put pressure on the belligerents to accept the return to a normal [state]. What, for us, means a civilian government.


In the meantime, residents seek safety as many face power outages and dwindling water and food supplies.

Al-Nour Abbas Daud, Khartoum Resident:

We are looking for a safe place to shelter us in the absence of water and food in the difficult situations we are currently living in. We ask God to be kind to us.


Some civilians are desperate for any news about the cause of the fighting and prospects for peace.

Mahmoud Salih-Aloshara, Khartoum Resident:

From the beginning of the events, we, as civilians, did not know what to do. We do not know the truth about the party that controls matters.


And appeals for help are coming from some Khartoum residents who fled other conflicts in the region, such as Roza Matama from Ethiopia, who has lived in Sudan for seven years.

Roza Matama, Khartoum Resident:

Now we stay without electricity, without water, without bread, without anything, so we need somebody to help us, please. Nobody can help us. You know, my children now, they don't drink, they don’t eat anything.


We’ve seen how warring generals turned the Sudanese capital into a warzone in mid-April. But how did Khartoum become ground zero for this conflict, and how did this conflict come to be? Here’s the inside story of the critical moments that helped shape today’s political landscape in Sudan.

Unidentified Narrator:

In April 2019, thousands of people crowded the streets of Sudan's capital, Khartoum, to celebrate the ouster of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir. There was hope the country was entering a new era.

A civilian prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, was appointed to lead a transitional government made up of civilians and members of the military. The goal was to prepare for an election and return the country to democracy.

But by 2021, cracks had emerged. The country’s economy was in tatters with inflation topping 400% and shortages of key items like bread. The military controlled large sectors of the economy, including banks, mines and agricultural conglomerates. The military refused to relinquish control.

As Hamdok and other civilians tried to institute reforms, the military leadership resisted. On October 25, 2021, Hamdok was placed under house arrest, and soon thereafter, two generals took power.

One of them, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, commanded the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group widely known for its brutality.

Hemedti rose to prominence in 2004 as the head of the Janjaweed, a feared militia made up largely of men on horseback. They led a campaign in Darfur that caused the deaths of an estimated 300,000 people and resulted in al-Bashir being indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

The other general, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, was head of the Sudan Armed Forces. The two men entered into a tense power-sharing agreement but courted support from different foreign powers. Al-Burhan built close ties with Egypt. Hemedti sought support from Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

On April 15, 2023, fighting erupted between the SAF and the RSF. It began near the army headquarters and the airport in Khartoum but soon engulfed other parts of the city. The SAF used jets to bomb the RSF, who responded with anti-aircraft fire.

At least 528 people have been killed and about 4,600 wounded, Sudan’s Health Ministry said though the real death toll is suspected to be higher.

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said more than 128,000 people have left Sudan and about 900,000 are expected to flee to neighboring countries in the coming weeks.

The fighting has spread to other parts of the country, including the fragile western region of Darfur. Experts warned that fighting in Darfur could reignite a deadly conflict from the early 2000s that included massacres that the U.S. recognized as genocide.

As foreign governments evacuated citizens, a cease-fire between the two sides was repeatedly broken. The U.N. official coordinating relief efforts in the country, Abdou Dieng, warned that it was devolving into “a full-blown catastrophe.”

The conflict in Sudan could have a significant impact on neighboring countries and cause regional instability. The influx of Sudanese refugees has put a strain on its neighbors' resources, particularly food, water and shelter.


Recently, and following intense negotiations between the country’s rival factions and Washington, a tenuous cease-fire restored some semblance of normalcy.

But it remains shaky at best. Let’s take a look at how diplomacy prevailed… even if for a brief moment in time.


After weeks of fighting that has killed hundreds and caught millions of ordinary people in the middle, a long-awaited break.

Earlier this month, the leaders of both of Sudan’s armed factions announced a one-week cease-fire to allow for talks.

The State Department says they have been seeking a cease-fire for weeks.

Vedant Patel, US State Department Deputy Spokesperson:

Every time that this cease-fire is extended, it allows us to continue to work hand in hand through the auspices of the quad, through auspices of the AU, IGAD and the UN to get us to a durable cessation of hostilities that will hopefully take us back to what we believe is the will of the Sudanese people and that is a transitional government.


President Joe Biden had previously called the violence unconscionable and called for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire and unhindered humanitarian access. The United States evacuated its personnel last month and temporarily suspended embassy operations.

The White House said it remains engaged.

Karine Jean-Pierre, White House Press Secretary:

We remain in close contact with the Sudanese military and civilian leaders to see what we can do to help them identify paths to reach a sustainable cessation of hostilities and we’re engaged at the highest levels regularly.


And in Addis Ababa, the African Union said that they, too, are hard at work on the problem. Decades of U.S. sanctions and testy relations between Washington and Khartoum has led U.S. officials to say that regional partners need to be involved in brokering a solution.

Mohamed El Hacen Lebatt, AU Commission Chairperson:

We have agreed on the necessity to intensify, collectively and individually, all our effort to reach, as soon as possible, a complete and conditional, efficient, inclusive cease-fire all over Sudan.


United Nations agencies say the fighting has displaced more than 334,000 people in the country and sent tens of thousands more fleeing to neighboring countries.

And aid agencies say they expect a massive exodus of more than 800,000 refugees.

But as the days tick by without a peace deal, many are wondering: is this just a break, or a breakthrough.

For Anita Powell at the White House, I'm Arash Arabasadi, VOA News.


Reports emerged this week that the Kremlin-linked Wagner group could be supplying weapons to one of the warring parties in the conflict in Sudan.

The Wagner group is a Russian government-backed paramilitary group. The reports come as the conflict in Sudan continues to escalate, with both sides accusing each other of human rights abuses and war crimes.

The United Nations has warned that the situation could quickly spiral out of control.

High-level U.S. officials have expressed concern that Kremlin-backed mercenaries with the Wagner Group in Sudan may have offered weapons to one of two rival Sudanese generals.

John Kirby, National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordinator:

Obviously, we don't want to see this conflict expand or broaden, and we certainly wouldn't want to see additional firepower brought to bear; that will just continue the violence and continue to escalate the tensions.”


Two generals are fighting for power: Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, head of the armed forces, and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, or Hemedti, the leader of a paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces.

Hemedti traveled to Russia last year and has sought to win support from Wagner.

Jacqueline Burns, RAND Corporation:

Hemedti and his Rapid Support Forces are largely in control of the major gold mining regions in Sudan and have very likely been complicit in gold smuggling for years. That's the Wagner group is siding with the party they think is most likely to be able to continue to secure these interests, particularly in opposition to any civilian-led government.


The Wagner Group’s history in Sudan dates back to the previous government of Omar Al-Bashir. Wagner’s leader Yevgeny Prighozin had a close relationship with former autocratic leader al-Bashir.

After al-Bashir relinquished power due to a popular uprising, Wagner continued to have a close relationship with the Sudanese military, particularly the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces headed by Hemedti.

It’s a pattern analyst have seen before.

Ben Dalton, New America:

Wagner group does seem to engage with African countries on a pretty predictable sort of pattern. Normally it starts with a cultivation of elites, or at least a subset of elites, and then that is followed up with a formal military technical agreement between the states. And this could be something like, you know, Russia will supply arms in exchange for concessions that allow them to do mining or other kinds of resource extraction.


Since the fighting began in April, there have been unconfirmed reports and diplomatic sources who spoke to news outlets saying that Wagner fighters are supporting the RSF and supplying them with weapons. An expert who spoke to VOA said they are supplying man portable air defense systems, shoulder-fired rockets, tank busters and heavy armors.

Russia sees Sudan as a strategic location with vast mineral wealth and are eager to help install a friendly leader, say analysts.

Cameron Hudson, Center for Strategic and International Studies:

We’ve seen a lot in recent months about Russia's efforts to gain a port on the Red Sea in Sudan through an official military relationship and they've signed other official military relationships with other countries in the region.


Wagner’s involvement in other parts of the continent, however, has in many cases been problematic, says Ben Dalton of New America, a Washington-based think-tank.

Ben Dalton, New America Future Frontlines Program Manager:

They’ve been associated with widespread atrocities. Everywhere they go, you see civilian deaths and various atrocities. And, you know, Russia's interests are in extracting the continents resources so that it can strengthen its own position and build a web to resist sort of international sanctions. They don't really have the interests of Africans at heart.


And as the conflict rages, civilians continue to pay the price.

We’ve seen the numbers behind the conflict, but few people are as well-versed as the Sudanese ambassadors to the U.S.

VOA English to Africa's John Tanza and Anthony Labruto spoke with current and former diplomats who said they hope the shaky cease-fire will eventually lead to long-term peace talks.

Mohammed Abdullah Idris, Ambassador of Sudan:

The government is committed to the to resume the political process if this crisis is, is solved, and the political process should also lead to a civilian led government that could lead a transitional period expected also to end up with elections, free and fair elections. And that enables Sudanese people to elect their leaders.

Nureldin Satti, Former Ambassador of Sudan:

The Sudanese are expecting the role of a US as a leader of the international community to continue its pressure on the two divisions in order to stop the war, that’s the first priority. The second priority is to do everything possible in order to stabilize the situation and come to the rescue of the Sudanese people because the current situation as you know, is a real catastrophe its really dire and is urgent need for humanitarian action, opening corridors, humanitarian corridors and reaching out to people, those who can be reached and providing them with assistance.

The second set point is, as I said earlier, resuming talks and including the civilians in whatever negotiations are going to take place, not only, will never accept again the power sharing between the military alone. It will never be accepted, because they proved that they are unfit to govern Sudan. They have disqualified themselves. But of course, they have to be part of the negotiations and their roles will be assigned as it started already within the framework given . See how we are going to have a single army, our RSF and other groups are going to be integrating the army. If it's not doing that we have to do that. And what kind of political process is going to be done.


Somali government officials continue to organize evacuation plans for residents trying to escape the war in Sudan.

in late April, nearly a hundred and fifty Somali residents, many of them students, returned safely back in their homeland.

VOA’s Mohamed Sheikh Nor has this report from Mogadishu, Somalia.


Somali government staffers are gathering information from locals about Somalis waiting to be evacuated from Sudan.

The staffers come from several government agencies, including Somalia’s Foreign Ministry, which has taken the lead in organizing evacuation flights for Somali nationals.

One hundred forty-eight Somalis were flown home to Mogadishu on Sunday.

Abdurahman Nur Mohamed Diinaari, a top official with the Somali foreign ministry, says more Somalis will be coming home soon.

Abdurahman Nur Mohamed Diinaari, Somali Foreign Ministry:

We intend to continue evacuating more people in the future, while in the meantime, our embassies in Sudan and Ethiopia are also providing services to our citizens who are fleeing Sudan via Ethiopia.


The recent weeks of combat between rival military forces in Sudan have significantly impacted Somalia, as the two countries have strong cultural and educational connections.

When the Somali government collapsed in the early 1990s, many Somalis took refuge in Sudan. It became their second home. And many Somali students took advantage of scholarship offers to get their education in Sudan.

Among those who studied in Sudan was politician Ahmed Moallim Fiqi, who now serves as Somalia's interior minister.

According to Fiqi, Sudan was the only country that opened its doors to Somalis during a difficult time.

Ahmed Moalim Fiqi, Somalia Interior Minister:

After I graduated secondary school, I hoped to start at a university in Somalia, however the civil war broke out, and I fled to Sudan for education. Sudan welcomed us and allowed us to be admitted to the prestigious universities of the country, which had been the dream of many students.


An alumni network of Somalis who studied in Sudan, known as SOMSUD, is responsible for building and running schools, hospitals and recreation centers, including this one.

Ahmed Osman is part of the alumni network.

Ahmed Osman, SOMSUD:

When we returned to Somalia from Sudan, we became the only group that came from different tribes, yet at the same time created joint ventures and shareholder businesses regardless of the tribes, and that's what led our company to a new height when we trusted one another, and this civilization and knowledge we acquired from Sudan contributed to our success.


Many of the students who traveled to Sudan for their education came from the Hamar Boarding School, a secondary school in Mogadishu.

Abdurahman Ali, a current teacher at the school who studied in Sudan, says the prospect of future scholarships from Khartoum appears dim now.

Abdurahman Ali, Teacher:

Somalia and Sudan are interconnected in multiple aspects of their relationship, especially in the area of education, and most of those in the Somali education sector pray for peace in Sudan.


About 8,000 Somalis remain in Sudan, about 3,000 of them are students, many of whom may come home in the next few weeks.

Mohamed Sheikh Nor for VOA News, Mogadishu, Somalia.


The conflict in sudan is happening amid a backdrop of humanitarian crisis across the continent as a result of extended droughts.

the U.N. says more than 4 million people in Nigeria’s northeast are facing severe food shortages as global aid is stretched thin.

The United Nations office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs took journalists to the region to see the worsening situation.

Timothy Obiezu files this report from Maiduguri in Nigeria’s Borno State.

TIMOTHY OBIEZU, Reporting for VOA:

This bustling city center does not reflect the terror that lurks on the fringes - Islamist militants at war with the government.

But even here young kids are reeling from the impact of devastating food shortages worsened by conflict.

Days ago, Bintu Hassan's two-year-old son arrived at this hospital ward wasted and hypoglycemic. She says she's already suffered too much loss.

Bintu Hassan, Mother of Malnourished Baby:

I gave birth to four children but two died due to malnutrition. I have two left and this one is also sick, I was referred to this place.


More than 700,000 kids in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states suffer from severe acute malnutrition, according to the United Nations.

The U.N. says the situation could get worse between June and September - the so-called 'hunger gap' period when food stocks from the previous harvest traditionally run out.

Last year’s bumper harvest was disrupted by Nigeria's worst flooding in a decade.

Matthias Schmale, U.N. Resident Coordinator:

With 600,000 hectares of farmland washed away, there will in the immediate future be serious food shortages.


And there isn't enough food aid to go around.

This is Rann, a community near Nigeria's border with Cameroon. Residents say no aid has arrived here in eight months.

Kelu Modu says without much food, she couldn't breastfeed her baby and she became malnourished.

Kelu Modu, Mother of Malnourished Child:

When I gave birth to this baby there was not enough breast milk to feed the baby with, and the baby started vomiting and also had diarrhea.


The food shortage is, in part, a result of Russia's war in Ukraine and the recent crisis in Sudan.

But officials say Nigeria's inflation and recent currency reform policy also constrained people’s ability to buy food.

UNICEF nutrition manager Karanveer Singh says despite crucial aid diverted to other global emergencies, Nigeria is still getting food supplies.

Karanveer Singh, UNICEF:

The global package because of different emergencies in the world, is shrinking but presently we are well placed// but of course we will need continued support.


Nigerian security forces have significantly degraded the fighting power of the militants.

But the country is still at war. And until that is over, millions will be fighting a different type of war - hunger.

Timothy Obiezu for VOA News Abuja Nigeria.

Salem Solomon:

That’s all for now.

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For all of those behind the scenes who brought you today’s show, I’m Salem Solomon.

We’ll see you next week for The Inside Story.