Sudan’s civil war may be partly fought with British military equipment

Sudanese military.
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Sudan’s slide into war has been long and predictable. Africa’s third largest country, Sudan is also one of the continent’s most heavily armed nations. Over the last week government forces have clashed with the paramilitary Rapid Support Force for control of the country. Both sides are thought to have thousands of troops. Some estimates say up to 400 people have been killed and thousands wounded.

However, the UK government has been licensing sales of arms and military equipment to Sudan for years. This is despite warnings from its own embassy and in its own internal reports. With UK troops on the ground to evacuate British citizens and thousands dead and wounded, it’s important to look at the UK’s role in an emerging civil war.

Heavily armed

UK special forces have been deployed as part of a mission to extract UK citizens from the country. UK home secretary Suella Braverman blustered through a set of question about whether support for Sudanese refugees would match that for Ukrainian refugees:

Furthermore, the government were accused of racism for failing to refer to British citizens in the country as such:

And Labour’s Lisa Nandy refused to commit to a different strategy on refugees from the Tories:

However, one MP did blast PM Rishi Sunak for his mealy mouthed answers on child refugees:

Arms sales

Braverman’s claims of the UK will support Sudan are one thing. Less commented upon will be UK arms sales over the years. Information collated by UK charity Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) detailed how the UK ignored its own reports on Sudan while granting arms licences for a number of years before the new escalation. The licences are a form state approval to sell particular military equipment overseas. AOAV reported that licences granted in 2022 amounted to £241k.

While the figures don’t compare to UK arms sales to authoritarian regimes in the Gulf, hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of equipment have still gone to Sudan.

Body armour, armoured vehicles, weapons sights, and detonators have all been sold despite human rights warnings in the government’s own reports as long ago as 2015.

As AOAV pointed out, Sudan’s problems are extremely complex and defy any easy solution:

Sudan is inhabited by numerous ethnic groups, including Arabs, Nubian and Beja. The country holds significant natural resources. However, conflict, climate change and economic sanctions imposed by the international community have caused the country to struggle economically.


Additionally, the British are no strangers to Sudan. The Empire occupied Sudan by force from the late 1800s into the 20th century. It operated the kind of divide and rule system which typified colonial rule. Sudan’s rich resources and strategic location saw it taken over by the British to head off French influence.

This was a pattern the British repeated across Africa, with enduring implications for the people who live there today.

Likewise, there are broader African implications for the war. Libyan weapons appeared in Mali years after the 2011 NATO assault on the Gaddafi regime. A civil war in Sudan could have similar impacts.

The UK should cease any arms sales to Sudan, and offer whatever support is needed. This includes anyone who has been displaced. As for Ukraine, so for Sudan. Indeed, anything else smacks of the kind of racist, colonial attitudes which have shaped Sudan’s politics since British rule.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Agence-France Presse, cropped to 770 x 403, licenced under CCO 1.0.

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