Africa Defense Forum
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Smuggling Routes Feed the Demand for Weapons in Khartoum, Darfur


Since the outbreak of violence in Sudan in April, the flow of weapons smuggled into the heavily armed country has become a flood.

“We used to receive a shipment every three months, but now we’re getting one every two weeks,” weapons dealer Wad al-Daou told Agence France-Presse (AFP). “The demand for weapons has soared so high that we can’t possibly meet it.”

Fighting has raged in and around Khartoum since April 15 between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by al-Burhan’s rival general, known as Hemedti. That conflict has led to a resurgence of fighting in the western Darfur region and threatens to engulf the entire country.

Al-Daou conducts his trade in eastern Sudan near the border with Eritrea and Ethiopia. The region has escaped the worst fighting, but it has become a crucial corridor for weapons traffickers feeding the demand for rifles and pistols, along with more sophisticated weapons elsewhere in the country.

On August 10, Sudan’s state media reported on a shootout in the eastern city of Kassala between soldiers and traffickers over vans loaded with weapons bound for the RSF. Security officials told AFP that the shootout ended in one of three major weapons seizures in Kassala, near the Red Sea port of Suakin.

Sudanese authorities report that smugglers are moving weapons from Somalia and Yemen via the Red Sea, taking advantage of weak security in Eritrea and disorder in Sudan.

Sudan’s demand for weapons is driven primarily by civilians seeking protection, communities demanding retaliation, and armed groups desiring to bolster their firepower, according to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

The group said the demand for weapons may rise further as leaders such as former rebel leader Minni Minnawi, now governor of Darfur, call for the people of Darfur to take up arms to defend themselves and their property.

“Sudan is awash with firearms,” Khristopher Carlson, senior researcher at the Small Arms Survey, wrote recently in The Conversation France.

By some estimates, Sudan’s 48 million civilians have more than 5 million weapons among them — a figure that doesn’t include weapons in the hands of rebels in the western and southern regions.

Studies by the Small Arms Survey have found a large variety of Chinese arms, including assault rifles, general-purpose and heavy machine guns, rocket grenade launchers, automatic grenade launchers, antitank missiles, various types of rockets, and small-caliber ammunition.

Sudan’s SAF-controlled Military Industry Corporation manufactures weapons, including copies of Chinese weapons. The company supplies the SAF, but its factories have been raided by RSF fighters looking to resupply their own arsenals.

Sudan has a well-established system of smuggling, but since the conflict began between al-Burhan and Hemedti, the country has become a magnet for new operators looking to make money from the weapons trade, smugglers told AFP.

Incoming weapons traffic converges in al-Batana, a lightly populated region of southeastern Sudan bordering Eritrea and Ethiopia. The area includes several well-established smuggling routes.

There, arms dealers say they sell their smuggled weapons to farmers and herders.

“We sell our weapons to people in al-Batana,” weapons dealer Saleh told AFP. “We don’t ask them what they’re going to do with them afterwards.”

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