In September 2019 the Sudanese ruling transitional council closed the country’s borders with Libya and the Central African Republic (CAR). This was motivated by ‘security and economic’ threats to Sudan, specifically the recent illegal crossing of vehicles into the country from mainly Libya, said council spokesperson Mohamed al-Faki Suleiman. He said this cross-border smuggling of vehicles from Libya to Sudan was not new.
Sudan has a database of registered vehicles that enter the country mainly through its sea ports – Port Sudan and the Port of Digna. But due to its vast and unpoliced land borders with neighbouring Libya and the CAR, it’s easy for stolen vehicles to enter Sudan undetected.
INTERPOL regional officer Adooma Hazim says over one million vehicles have been stolen since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s government in Libya in 2011, and around 3 000 have entered Sudan in the past two years. Only 100 of these vehicles have been recovered.
Once the vehicles cross into Sudan, it’s hard to trace them. Sudan now works with INTERPOL to search each vehicle entering the country against INTERPOL’s database of vehicles stolen in neighbouring countries.
Libyan vehicles sold legally in Sudan are called ‘boko’. They are preferred by the local population as they are cheaper than those on the local market, says a Sudanese security consultant who wishes to remain anonymous. The consultant says it’s hard to differentiate between legally sold Libyan vehicles and stolen ones.
However it’s not only locals who prefer these vehicles. Local militias use the Libyan vehicles for illegal mining in the desert areas of Adré in Chad’s Ouaddaï Region and Tina in Sudan’s Darfur region, Hazim tells ENACT. Stolen vehicles are also used in other forms of transnational crime by militias who control parts of the country. These militias often attack communities in Sudan and are used as mercenaries for hire by neighbouring countries in conflict.
Most of these militias weren’t part of the power sharing negotiations that formed the Sudanese transitional council. In efforts to pacify the country, the government – made up by both the military and civilians – is trying to eradicate the presence of disjointed militias. Stopping the cross-border smuggling of vehicles is part of the state’s strategy to do this, and to stifle transnational crimes such as illegal mining in deserts that need vehicles in order to operate.
Vehicle smuggling exacerbates instability in a fragile area that has been central to transnational crime and conflict for decades. Sudan regularly closes its borders with neighbours in efforts to decrease illicit trade, for example with South Sudan over oil smuggling and tapping and with Eritrea and Ethiopia over trafficking of arms and drugs and human smuggling.
It’s anticipated that over time borders will be reopened and diplomatic ties restored. It is unclear whether the impact of closing borders to counter vehicle smuggling will deter other forms of transnational organised crime, or increase stability. However the current Sudanese government’s proactive stance on governance and rule of law is a step in the right direction.
Mohamed Daghar, Researcher, ENACT project and Jihane Ben Yahia, ENACT Regional Organised Crime Observatory Coordinator – North Africa, ISS