Sudan Is Not a Lost Cause

In World


This week marks exactly one year since Sudan descended into war.

Over the last year, the world’s most influential organizations, leaders, and publications have characterized Sudan’s ongoing war as catastrophic and beyond a point of no return. On paper, these terms seem reasonable in describing the dire circumstances on the ground. More than 15,000 people have been killed in war-related violence, over 8 million people have been displaced, and widespread hunger is increasing.

Though this language is attention-grabbing—and quotable—it has restricted the international community’s response to the conflict. This style of language—which effectively dismisses many conflict zones as lost causes—is a constant in humanitarian crises. It is often used to suggest the international community’s supposed inability to alleviate suffering. However, in the case of Sudan, as in many wars before, including Syria and now Gaza, this fatalistic rhetoric perpetuates harmful myths—distorting the reality of the conflict, keeping genuine progress at bay, and ultimately contributing to prolonged suffering.

A year into the conflict, which has humble prospects for a peaceful resolution, the preemptive treatment of Sudan as a deserted nation of no hope continues to permit international entities to absolve themselves of blame or attachment to the conflict.


The power struggle between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), headed by Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagalo, has left Sudanese citizens at home and abroad desperate for a cease-fire as they brace against the threat of disease and famine.

After leading unsuccessful negotiations last year alongside Saudi Arabia, the United States aims to resume peace discussions this week. U.S. special envoy for Sudan Tom Perriello, who is heading American efforts, has argued that because the “crisis is barreling toward a point of no return,” warring parties must seek united ground to end the conflict. But that is easier said than done.

To provide an end to the war, U.S. and Saudi parties must ensure that both the RSF and SAF, along with their foreign sponsors including the United Arab Emirates and Russia, are not just present at the talks but held responsible through levying economic sanctions and demanding civilian oversight in political transition efforts.

As Perriello evokes fear by warning that “a return of extremist elements” threatens the Sudanese people, referring to Iranian support for the SAF, we are reminded that the language is deliberate in positioning Sudan as a proxy battleground in the region. In doing so, Washington pulls focus from the growing humanitarian threats on the ground and centers the conversation on geopolitical rivalries instead.

International discussions that have made a peaceful resolution in Sudan sound impossible have further fueled internal propaganda efforts by both the RSF and SAF.

SAF Lt. Gen. Yasser al-Atta has long rejected pushes for a cease-fire during and after Ramadan, which ended on April 9 and has previously dismissed peacekeeping efforts by international entities, including the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

Similarly, the RSF has condemned attacks that it attributes to the SAF and has instead used continued violence as a justification for its own military campaigns. International inaction has prolonged warfare, aided the warring parties’ propagandist missions and influenced civilian responses to the conflict, where many—both domestically and abroad—now feel pressured to choose a side as they adopt the nihilistic attitudes echoed around them.

As the Sudanese people crave some semblance of stability, the cynicism around them has forced a neglect of the conflict’s root causes and pushed aside recent discussions of democratization and institution-building.

Sudan deserves the world’s attention. But in labeling the conflict as hopeless, the international community has allowed apathy to take hold—making attempts to foster any resolution much less likely.

The Syrian civil war, ongoing since 2011, is an unfortunate example of how “lost cause” language harms peace efforts. By June 2012, just one year into the conflict, many international observers were quick to opine on Syria’s “slow-motion collapse,” questioning whether it offered “false glimmers of hope.”

Today, Syria’s need for humanitarian aid remains higher than ever. More than 90 percent of the country’s population is now living in poverty, while inflation is skyrocketing. Hope for civilian reconstruction remains bleak as international interest has long flamed out. In hindsight, these predictions may have been correct—but they did not need to be. Had messages of sustaining humanitarian support and empowering local initiatives been front of mind, a greater willingness among international donors may have prevailed.

The conflicts in Sudan and Syria may be situated in different political complexities, but the ordinary people in both countries have suffered terribly. Continued skepticism has only obstructed peace efforts while undermining diplomatic and humanitarian initiatives. So, the question becomes: How can one discuss the harsh realities of conflicts without dismissing hope of a better future?

One way of doing so is by prioritizing efforts that center on state rebuilding. As conversations around Sudan focus on the warring parties and the role of international institutions, the work being done by community and grassroots organizations often remains neglected.

Groups within Sudan and diaspora groups have undertaken fundraising efforts and are utilizing their skills to target specific sectors, whether it be the Sudanese American Physicians Association’s focus on health care infrastructure or Nas Al Sudan’s commitment to education.

The work should not fall on Sudanese activists and diaspora communities alone, though. In perpetuating images of a state in disrepair, financial support for sustained humanitarian work often dwindles. Last year, U.N. funding in Sudan fell short of its proposed target, while the World Food Program delivered aid for the first time in months this March—which was a major accomplishment worth publicizing and replicating.

To redirect attention to such efforts—rather than dimming the little hope that remains—humanitarian aid workers and grassroots networks require unadulterated access to resources, which cannot happen if those involved, including mediators like Washington, believe that proposed deliberations are futile or far-fetched.


The power of international commentary, especially amid a conflict, cannot be overstated, as highlighted by the ongoing discourse surrounding Israel’s assault on Gaza and Washington’s role in it. While U.S. President Joe Biden has recently called for an “immediate cease-fire,” after six months of conflict and more than 30,000 dead, early rhetoric following Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks largely justified and empowered the Israeli offensive.

From doubting the credibility of Palestinian death counts to justifying casualties as the “price of waging a war,” the U.S. president’s language and continued military aid to Israel have in many ways allowed the onslaught and destruction of Gaza to go on for as long as they have.

Discourse on Gaza has been crucial in exposing the terrible price of language that minimizes the human cost of war. As calls for a cease-fire grow louder, it is essential that long-term protection of Palestinian society and the rebuilding of lost institutions are similarly prioritized, rather than language that entrenches a sense of Gaza’s inevitable destruction.

Sudan has found itself under a similar assumption of cyclical violence—as a nation largely defined globally by its military coups and civil wars. However, as cautious optimism surrounding a post-Ramadan cease-fire grows, it is imperative to challenge fatalistic attitudes, while focusing efforts on resolving the ongoing crises affecting Sudan’s citizens.

Sudan deserves a future of peace, stability, and growth. But first, it deserves unwavering international attention. As long as Sudanese people dream of a better Sudan, it will not be a lost cause.





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