Geopolitical & Security Insights

Africa | Regional implications of Sudan conflict


Fighting in Sudan between the paramilitary RSF and Sudanese armed forces is likely to persist over the coming weeks. Mediation efforts, including by bordering and regional states with ties to the opposing sides, seem unlikely to lead to a lasting ceasefire.

This assessment was issued to clients of Dragonfly’s Security Intelligence & Analysis Service (SIAS) on 24 April 2023.

  • Armed confrontations in Sudan are likely to persist over the coming weeks
  • But there is a low probability of this directly leading to fighting or other related violence in neighbouring countries
  • We doubt there will be a direct foreign military intervention in the conflict, although it is probable that Moscow and Libyan factions in particular will provide arms

Apart from an easing in fighting around the airport this weekend (during evacuations of diplomats), there has been no letup in violence. Clients have asked us about the regional implications of the conflict; neighbouring countries are unlikely to be significantly affected by fighting for now.

In the probable event that armed clashes in western Sudan intensify, some violence would become likely in border areas of Chad and South Sudan. Still, any intervention by regional powers, such as Egypt and Libya, is likely to be limited to material support. We doubt they would directly intervene militarily.

Widespread spillover violence unlikely

We are doubtful that fighting in Sudan will lead to widespread cross-border violence for now. Both sides currently appear to be focused on gaining control of Khartoum. And we assess in the coming weeks that further armed confrontations, including in western Sudan, will probably be around critical infrastructure rather than border areas. But in the likely event that the Sudanese army successfully repels the RSF from Khartoum, armed fighting and air strikes would probably then intensify in the west of the country.

The Sudanese Armed Forces appear to be in control of the east. So fighting involving Sudanese factions is very unlikely to spill into Ethiopia or Eritrea in the near term. But in the west, there is a reasonably high chance that an escalation would heighten the likelihood of cross-border incidents there. During successive conflicts in Darfur since 2003, armed groups have crossed into Chad and CAR. They have mounted resource raids and retaliatory attacks against refugees and suspected militia bases there.

Over the medium to long term, however, there is a reasonable chance that border areas of Chad and South Sudan are drawn into the conflict. This is based on that historic precedent and the probable trajectory of the civil conflict. The Sudanese armed forces are more likely than not to make territorial gains from the RSF, forcing the latter’s troops to retreat to remote areas of western Sudan – and also bordering countries. Cross-border operations by Sudanese armed forces including mortar strikes and armed incursions into those countries would become more frequent.

Supply chain constraints for South Sudan

There is a high chance of supply chain disruptions in South Sudan. Around 90% of its economy comes from oil which is exported by land to the Red Sea, the route generally passes through Khartoum. In a press conference on 20 April, the oil minister said that the fighting had ‘mildly affected’ deliveries of critical material to oil fields. These are likely to be further compounded in the coming weeks. Media outlets reported last week that tankers have been rerouted away from Port Sudan, the main export terminal, due to fighting across the country. Other neighbouring countries are not wholly reliant on land supply chains through Sudan and are unlikely to be significantly affected.

Foreign mediation ineffective

Attempts by other foreign powers, such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to mediate between the two sides are unlikely to lead to a lasting ceasefire. Their mediation efforts seem to be driven by their own diverging economic and political interests in the country, rather than by a genuine aim to restore stability. And in a sign of the limitations of their influence, Western powers are struggling to evacuate their citizens. Other neighbouring countries that have offered to mediate, such as South Sudan, appear to lack the clout to do so successfully.

Direct intervention unlikely

Besides mediation, foreign powers such as Russia and Libya will probably continue to provide support to the RSF in the coming weeks. The paramilitary group’s capabilities are significantly less than the army’s and so they are more likely to seek foreign support. We have seen social media footage and tracked a Moscow-owned cargo plane flying from Jufra, eastern Libya, to Karib Al-Tom, near the northwestern Sudanese border. International news outlets and usually-credible social media accounts that track Wagner Group’s activities in Africa have claimed that the plane carried arms.

That said, direct military intervention from neighbouring countries appears unlikely over the coming weeks. We assess that those states lack the appetite (as well as capacity) to do this. Both the RSF and the army also seem intent on avoiding actions that would compel foreign powers from intervening militarily, according to their rhetoric so far. The RSF moved fairly quickly to release several Egyptian soldiers they captured on 15 April. And any additional manpower is more likely to be mercenaries than any deployments by foreign troops.

Image: People fleeing street battles between the forces of two rival Sudanese generals are transported on the back of a truck in the southern part of Khartoum on 21 April 2023. Photo by via Getty Images.

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