Many countries have signed up, one way or the other, in support of Saudi-led coalition in Yemen but from an African perspective the Sudan engagement with the coalition seems to be by far the most important. Countries under stress are being sub-contracted by wealthy Gulf-Arab states to perform security and military duties. Besides, the US is being forced to support a coalition that include unpleasant regimes, the consequences of which remains indistinct.


On October 18th and 19th two battalions of the Sudanese Army went ashore in the South Yemen harbour of Aden, 450 men each. They were there to reinforce the Sunni coalition of UAE, Saudi and Qatari troops battling the northern “Houthi” rebels[1] and who are long on equipment and money but short on manpower. The Yemen Army High Command announced another 5,000 men for the following weeks and Riyadh, which heads the coalition, put the figure up to 9,000. Sudanese troops kept landing but the numbers are not yet clear. 9 or 10,000 is the most likely figure even though – contrary to their sponsors – they are short on equipment: a few BTR-70 tanks of Russian origin and three Sukhoi Su-27 fighter-bombers.


In any case Riyadh is expected to supply what will be needed. In addition the cooperation agreement signed between President Omar el-Beshir and his Yemenite counterpart Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi includes the evacuation of wounded Yemenite soldiers towards Sudanese military hospitals and the training of Yemenite troops in the Sudan. This new cooperation between Riyadh and Khartoum is only a part of the expanding network of the Arab Sunni coalition on the African shore. During the summer, both the Saudi and Qatari governments signed discreet agreements with Asmara to be allowed to use Eritrea air space and coastline for their operations in Yemen.


The latest report on Eritrea (October 21st 2015) by the United Nations mentions both the fact that the Eritrean government was “financially compensated” for this and that it sent an undisclosed number of soldiers to Yemen to operate alongside the coalition forces . In a paradoxical way, Djibouti, which is still embroiled in a border confrontation with Eritrea, has also signed a similar agreement with Saudi Arabia and is already accommodating Saudi military shipping into its harbour.


But the Sudan engagement with the coalition seems to be by far the most important. On November 3rd President Omar el-Beshir flew to Riyadh and met with King Salman bin Abdulazziz with whom he signed four so-called “Strategic Protocols” on agriculture, electricity, drinking water and dam construction. The total amount of these protocols is around $1.7 bn, a welcome boost to Sudan’s depleted finances. But in spite of all these African engagements and in spite of frequent Saudi aerial bombardment, the coalition forces do not seem to register any great military progress.

[1] The rebels’ name is linked to that of their founder, Abd-el-Malik al-Houthi, a Zaydi (branch of Shia Islam) who created a mass preaching movement in 1992 in the northern Yemeni Governorate of Saada. This soon turned into an armed rebellion which joined the 2011 nation-wide revolutionary movement. Later the “Houthis” reverted to play their own game and struck a distinct course within the revolutionary movement. This lead them to paradoxically ally themselves with their ex-enemy, former President Ali Abdallah Saleh. At one point (July 2015) they controlled 80% of the country. Today they have lost the South but keep a steadfast hold on most of the centre and all of the North. They receive a moderate amount of help from Iran.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 November 2015 11:00



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