The new imperial scramble for Africa
Former child soldiers attend a release ceremony where they laid down their weapons and traded in their uniforms to return to "normal life", in Yambio, South Sudan. | Sam Mednick / AP

The situation in Sudan is dire: The two military factions within the ruling junta have sparked an intense civil war. More than 800,000 people have fled the country since April when fighting broke out; over four million are internally displaced.

Death and immense suffering are spread over tens of millions of people. Canada and many countries should expect a large-scale addition to their Sudanese communities.

The civil war has dealt a severe blow to the Sudanese people’s struggle for sovereignty and democracy. This happens to suit the war’s combatants, neither of which have willingly supported democracy or the need for a modern anti-colonial struggle to make Sudan the master of its own future.

The war limits Sudan for the moment to only one issue, that of choosing a new colonial master: the West in the form of International Monetary Fund (IMF) debt-bondage or Russia in the form of mercenary forces, the choice sustained by one or the other side of the armed forces engaged in the war.

Sudan’s civil war actually offers a premonition of how the anti-colonial struggle will develop in Africa, especially in the Sahel region, from Burkina Faso and Niger to Mali, whose governments are now in the hands of Russia-friendly local elites backed by their armed forces.

Sudanese take part in a protest over economic conditions, in Khartoum, Sudan, June 30, 2021. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have taken some steps toward debt relief, but only as part of the West’s competition to stop Russia (and China) from gaining influence on the continent. | Marwan Ali / AP

Sudan’s modern history is one of constant struggle for popular democracy and the overthrow of autocratic regimes beholden to one imperial power or another. The latest upsurge in revolutionary struggle began in the fall of 2018 due to IMF-inspired subsidy cuts that, notably, increased the price of bread.

Millions of people protested, leading to a dictator’s overthrow in 2019 and promises by a transitional government to hold elections. That transitional government was in turn jointly overthrown by Sudan’s armed forces and a paramilitary group which until that time worked with Sudan’s regime carrying out massacres and plundering certain non-Arab regions.

Sudan operated for decades under the IMF’s economic grip, but in recent years Russia, China, Belarus, and, until 2014, Ukraine supplied its military almost exclusively—nearly US$1 billion of arms and materiel from 2010 to 2018.

The civil war epitomizes the intensifying global rivalry between Russia (and in the background China) and the Western backed IMF and its collection agency, NATO. The rivalry is more and more obvious as follows.

First, the paramilitary group became even more dependent on Russia, especially Russia’s Wagner mercenary group. Second, Sudan’s “official” armed forces sought a deal with the IMF to help win the war.

Suitably alarmed that Sudan needed new resources to help defeat Russia and its proxies, on June 29 the IMF reduced Sudan’s debt from US$56 billion to US$28 billion, with a prospect to reduce the debt “by US$50 billion to about US$6 billion” after July 2024, an offer dangled before Sudan presumably on condition that the country is not part of Russia’s camp by then.

The IMF’s sudden charity towards Sudan has everything to do with Russia and nothing to do with decades of previous IMF colonial robbery and imposed austerity measures. Money is like oxygen in a civil war, so it is worth reading why the IMF reached its remarkable decision.

The IMF praised Sudan for “achieving internal peace based on inclusion…, stabilizing the economy, and… building a foundation for… growth, development and poverty reduction.”

Not a shred of this is true, of course and, as usual, the situation is actually the exact opposite. And not a word was said about democracy or Sudan’s sovereignty.

Conveniently for the Russia-IMF rivalry, the civil war pushes Sudan’s popular forces far into the political background, at least for now. (However, the war is certain to create the conditions needed for their victory.)

Unlike some Sahel countries, like Niger, Western military forces have not found a pretext to threaten an invasion of Sudan, i.e., defending an approved version of democracy, that is, an IMF-friendly version.

Should they march into Sudan, Western military forces operating in Africa (France, the U.S., Canada) could easily galvanize the genuine anti-colonial struggle throughout Africa and beyond, where popular sentiments in solidarity with Sudan’s popular movements exist.

The West pounced quickly to sanction the Sahel countries now in Russia’s sphere of influence and back a pro-IMF coalition of African states threatening to invade Niger.

For now, the Sahel coup leaders are protected by their anti-colonial rhetoric and have gained some mass support, broadening the opportunities of Russia and China to be a counterweight to the IMF.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Sudanese acting foreign minister Ali al-Sadiq give a joint press conference at the airport in Khartoum, Sudan, Feb. 9, 2023. | Marwan Ali / AP

The West’s decade of failed “security” operations in Africa demonstrates their actual purpose was to secure the West’s debt repayments and access to Africa’s rich resources.

If the pro-Russian paramilitary group wins in Sudan, their brutal record shows that simply nothing would change for the poorer classes, the millions who are suffering the most. The same outcome, unfortunately, would occur if Sudan’s official armed forces are victorious.

In the Sahel, there has been no revolutionary-democratic struggle on the scale of Sudan. The new elite are the old elite in different clothing. They are kept in power with the support of Russia and the mistaken view that China will be an endless source of loans on better terms.

All the material evidence indicates this is not a genuine anti-colonial struggle. More significantly, the evidence shows people in Africa want and desperately need such a struggle.

The sharpening West versus Russia confrontation has every chance to become a world war. China is getting closer to being drawn in to this confrontation.

It would be a tragic mistake for African countries to be further embroiled by invading each other or simply replacing one lender by another, or one wealthy export market for another like China’s, a country that has the youthful vigour the U.S. displayed 100 years ago, so far.

Sudan’s civil war shows where such solutions will lead.

This is an edited version of an article that appeared in the Ethnorama News, published in Winnipeg, Canada, and The International Magazine from India.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.

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Darrell Rankin
Darrell Rankin

Darrell Rankin is a labor researcher, writer, and anti-war activist living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He is former chairperson and treasurer of the Canadian Peace Alliance.