Sudan is currently engulfed in conflict. Shocking images have emerged from the Sudanese capital Khartoum, where clouds of black smoke billow over the city. Residents are trapped by the fighting; many lack water or electricty. Hospitals have ran out of essential supplies as the conflict means resources cannot reach them and staff struggle to travel to their workplaces. Humanitarian relief cannot be provided amidst airstrikes and artillery shelling. The UN estimates that over 180 people have been killed so far. A 24 hour ceasefire was brokered but fighting continues despite this.
It appears that the conflict has its roots in a power struggle between the Sudanese military, which controls the country, and a paramilitary force known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan commands the loyalty of the Sudanese armed forces and is the de facto ruler of the country. His career began in the Sudanese military during the conflict in Darfur where he rose to the rank of regional commander.
The RSF, controlled by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (AKA Hemedti), was founded by former dictator Omar al-Bashir two decades ago to clamp down on rebellion in the Darfur region. Known by the name ‘Janjaweed’, the force committed many atrocities against the civilian population of Darfur. The force was formalised by al-Bashir in 2013 and integrated into the state apparatus.
In 2019, a revolution occurred against al-Bashir’s government and he was ousted out of power by a coalition of civilian protestors and the army. A coup was staged by the army to overthrow al-Bashir and a civilian transitional government was implemented known as the Sovereign Council lead by Abdalla Hamdok. The army, not wanting to give up its wealth and power to a civilian government, betrayed the revolution and took control of the Sovereign Council in 2021. During this time, the RSF committed many atrocities against civilians staging peaceful sit-ins which demanded greater democracy and control over resources and wealth that had been hoarded by the government.
The Present Conflict
The existing tensions between Al-Burhan and Hemedti have now boiled over into catastrophic destruction for the people of Sudan. The RSF is primarily resisting integration into the Sudanese army, which is part of a plan to eventually implement a civilian government. Hemedti currently serves as deputy head of the Sudanese government behind Al-Burhan and it is believed that the two men disagree on who would occupy the position of commander-in-cheif of the Sudanese army during civilian transition.
There are also material interests to account for. Hemedti controls vast resources in Sudan, such as agricultural land and gold mines in Darfur, which has made him a very wealthy man. Of course, a civilian government demanding the nationalisation of such resources would be a threat to the wealth and power of Hemedti, which helps to explains the violent reaction of the RSF to integration into the Sudanese state.
Both men command hardened, loyal soldiers and seem reluctant to deescalate the conflict. As always, it will be the people that will suffer the most for their obstinance.