The ongoing crisis in the Sudan has taken a bloody turn, as Sudanese Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have killed at least 100 protestors. Additionally, the ruling Transitional Military Council of Sudan (TMC) cancelled agreements with protestors, and has instead moved forward with plans to hold general elections in nine months. It is also important to note that the RSF is essentially a terrorist organization which served as Omar Al Bashir’s personal army for years – the RSF is the same group that sponsored the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of native Africans in Darfur.
It is not a coincidence that the recent bloody escalation follows Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s (current head of the TMC) visit to the UAE, a nation whom, along with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has created chaos and propped up tyrants across the Middle East. Previously, the Saudis and Emiratis sent 3 billion dollars to prop up the TMC – in exchange, the TMC promised to continue Sudanese support for the Saudi coalition’s efforts in Yemen. Sudan previously pivoted towards Saudi Arabia (and away from Iran) in the early 2010s, with the final breaking point occurring after Saudi Arabia executed a Shiite cleric.
Saudi Arabia’s policy, for the past decade, has centered around buying the loyalty of nations using their massive oil-driven cash reserves. In 2017, when the Saudis and Emiratis attempted to embargo Qatar, the Saudis attempted to pay Somalia 80 million dollars to cut its ties with Qatar. Saudi Arabia paid Khalifa Haftar millions to support his attack on Tripoli, and the Saudis likely played a role in deposing the Muslim Brotherhood and installing Abdel Fattah el Sisi as leader of Egypt. The Saudis have made massive investments in nations as far away as South Africa, and they have constructed a military base in Djibouti.
The Saudis have a multitude of interests in the region – one of the largest being food security, as African nations could provide the food that Saudi Arabia is utterly incapable of growing. But the Saudis, like every other nation on Earth, also seek to dramatically expand their power. Africa is a land with a rapidly growing population of over a billion people, a land with astronomical amounts of mineral wealth, and a fragmented land – with 55 relatively small and weak countries, African nations can easily be dominated by foreign powers.
At the same time, Saudi Arabia and the UAE must certainly view Africa equally as a threat, and as an opportunity. Iran, for much of the late 2000s and early 2010s, attempted to make inroads into the African continent – until African governments realized that Riyadh had several times the money of Tehran. China’s growing influence in Africa also worries Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, and with Africa’s population and economy set to grow for the next few decades, regional such as Ethiopia could potentially overshadow Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabian interests in Africa are twofold – they need to exploit the business opportunities of the continent, while simultaneously ensuring that Africa remains weak. The brutal crackdown in Sudan is a perfect example of this – ensuring a friendly, but incompetent and tyranical regime in Sudan ensures that only the Saudis and Emiratis will benefit. African nations must be wary of Saudi influence – as seen in Sudan, the Saudis have no interests other than expanding their own power, and they are willing to use brutal force to realize these interests.