Op-Ed / / 02.27.24

Foreign Affairs Op-ed: Dirty Money is Destroying Sudan

Note: This op-ed was originally published in Foreign Affairs and was authored by John Prendergast, Co-Founder of The Sentry.


Dirty Money Is Destroying Sudan

How America Can Stop Money Launderers From Funding Africa’s Worst Civil War


A humanitarian and human rights catastrophe is unfolding in Sudan. With nearly 11 million people already displaced—three million of them children—the country is now home to the most people rendered homeless by conflict worldwide, and its populace sits poised on the brink of a major famine. A collapsing medical system renders the war’s true death toll unknown. Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, is being destroyed block by block.

It may be tempting to think of this tragedy as another episode in a multi-decade conflict. The main combatants—the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the paramilitary group that the SAF organized out of the militias known as the Janjaweed—also helped drive the war in Darfur 20 years ago. That war prompted the twenty-first century’s first genocide, and genocidal violence has now returned to the Darfur region. In 2023, after the RSF turned on its former army benefactors and began taking over large swaths of Sudan, the United States partnered with Saudi Arabia to try to secure a cease-fire.

But these U.S. efforts failed, in part because the Sudanese civil war is not merely a reprise of old tensions. New players have joined the fray—international actors whose contributions to the violence both complicate the conflict and provide fresh opportunities to resolve it. Middle Eastern countries see especially tempting opportunities to exploit Sudan’s natural resources, access its ports along the Red Sea, use it as a base to combat the Houthis in Yemen, quash pro-democracy efforts, and strengthen the hand of Islamist or anti-Islamist groups. The illicit exporting of gold has become a particularly major source of funding for the war: Egypt is now buying gold originating from areas controlled by Sudan’s army. The United Arab Emirates has become a destination point for gold mined from RSF-controlled areas, and the country is allegedly delivering weapons to the RSF. Russia’s Wagner paramilitary company also facilitates large-scale purchases of RSF-controlled gold and provides the RSF with military aid such as surface-to-air missiles…

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