What’s happening in Sudan? The country is on the brink of collapse, hurtling towards a catastrophic civil war that threatens to tear the nation apart. The power struggle between two mighty military factions rages on, each fighting tooth and nail for control of the country’s future and leadership.
The risk of an all-out, nationwide war is looming as the forces involved refuse to back down despite the desperate pleas of the international community. The fighting has erupted in the capital, Khartoum, and in other parts of Sudan where the country’s military is fighting against a state-sponsored militia called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Groups led by military leaders who were once allies.
Hundreds of people have been killed and many more injured as the fighting between the two groups escalates. The death toll continues to rise as the violence intensifies. It has sparked a humanitarian crisis with thousands fleeing their homes in fear for their lives and many civilians stuck in the capital without access to water or electricity amid air strikes, gunfire, and shelling.
Foreign countries have been scrambling to evacuate their citizens and diplomats, with mounting concern that the bloodshed could spiral into an all-out civil war.
But what led to this escalation and how this power struggle between the two military forces will shape the region going forward?
HOW IT ALL STARTED?
It all started in 2019 when Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the commander of the military, and Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the RSF, joined forces to oust Sudan’s longtime dictator, Omar al-Bashir, following months of popular protests.
Two years later, in October 2021, Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), together toppled a civilian government in a coup and seized power. Since then the country has been run by a council of generals, led by the two military men who are at the center of this dispute.
But the tension between the two groups has been mounting in recent months over the proposed integration of the RSF into the military. They have disagreements on the direction the country is going in and the proposed move toward civilian rule.
At the heart of this conflict lies a burning question of control over the country and who would be the military’s commander-in-chief during an integration period.
In short, who will consolidate the power and lead the new force.
Omar Al Bashir was installed as president in a coup orchestrated by the military in the late 1980s and held the position for 30 years before protesters demanded his resignation.
Then the army took over but people didn’t want the army to be in charge either. So after pressure from protesters, the army agreed to share power with different political groups in a transitional government. The idea was that it would oversee a transition to a democratic system.
But two years later, the army kicked out the Prime Minister and seized power again. The people in Sudan seem to be trapped in this limbo and they’re going round and round in a circle. That involves the same people you know, with no clear path or trajectory on how they can actually start to plan for a peaceful transition of power.
There have been ongoing talks to make that transition happen between the military and political groups representing the pro-democracy movement. But a major reason the process is being held up is because of an underlying rivalry between the army and the rapid support forces, a state-sponsored militia that has become like a second army.
And many people see this as a personal rivalry between the Army’s leader Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who was effectively the leader of the country, and the leader of the RSF. General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. For years, both men were on the same side and had been since the war in Darfur.
Hemedti lead a militia at the time widely known as the Janjaweed, and they were used by al-bashir’s army to fight rebels in the region of Darfur. They were created to protect the upper echelon of the military and the senior commanders. They’re accused of carrying out war crimes, and al-Bashir got charged with committing genocide.
In 2013, the militia was rebranded as the rapid support forces and worked with the army on different missions.
Then in 2019, Hemedti and General Al-Burhan joined forces to get rid of al-Bashir. During the pro-democracy protests, the RSF and the army were accused of killing 100 people.
However, the RSF has become much more autonomous since that time and has increased in strength. They were able to create interests both domestically and abroad, particularly in the gold trade.
These two main actors in the army and the rapid support forces were able to collude successively for about four years to stay in power themselves, but there was always that burning question about who was in charge of the country.
WHAT SPARKED THE CONFLICT IN SUDAN?
The conflict began on 15 April following days of tension as members of the RSF were redeployed around the country in a move that the army saw as a threat.
There had been some hope that talks could resolve the situation but these never happened.
It is disputed who fired the first shot but the fighting swiftly escalated in different parts of the country with more than 400 civilians dying, according to the World Health Organization.
Even though there were talks of a 72-hour ceasefire in honor of the Muslim holiday, Eid al Fitr, clashes have been reported across the city. Many civilians have become victims of this unwarranted conflict between the two groups.
The Sudanese air force has mounted air strikes in the capital, a city of more than six million people, which is likely to have led to civilian casualties.