Mr Moaz Bashir is a final year student of BS International Relations at National Defense University, Islamabad.
More than 400 people have been killed and over 3,500 have been injured in the bitter confrontation between Sudan’s two most powerful groups since 15 April 2023. Western communities are evacuating their embassies in Sudan at a rapid pace. A declared truce for the holidays of Eid collapsed on Saturday as fierce fighting began again. Khartoum, the capital of Sudan has been the epicenter of the 2023 civil war.
According to the director of the World Food Program (WFP) in Chad, almost 40,000 Sudanese refugees had already fled Sudan during previous conflicts and now living in the migration camps in Chad. People in Khartoum have been deprived of even necessities of life such as water for days.
A History Lesson
Sudan is a country in the Northeast region of Africa that shares its border with the Central African Republic to the southwest, Chad to the west, Egypt to the north, Eritrea to the northeast, Ethiopia to the southeast, Libya to the northwest, South Sudan to the south and the Red Sea. It is 1,886,068 square kilometers (728,215 square miles), making it Africa’s third-biggest country by area, and the third-biggest by area in the Arab League.
To understand Sudan’s recent conflict, it is necessary to reflect on the history of Sudan. Let’s start with Omar al-Bashir, the person who ruled Sudan for three decades. He annexed power in 1989 through a coup and ruled until another coup ousted him from power in 2019. A political genius who utilized the technique of coup-proofing, a strategy in which a dictator or a leader continues to be cautious of any security institution strong enough to overthrow and challenge him. So, he allowed the proliferation of different armed groups and power centers within the country.
Omar al-Bashir strengthened a paramilitary group of North Sudanese fighters named Rapid Security Forces (RSF) alongside the regular Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). RSFs were formally tribal militias and evolved out of the Ganjaweed movement which is accused of mass atrocities by the United Nations in the Darfur region.
In 2016, RSF obtained political legitimacy by the presidential order of Omar al-Bashir. So, both factions functioned side by side in the government for a brief time. Then in 2019, al-Bashir’s regime was toppled by them jointly as democratic protests prolonged against him which started on the matter of rising bread and fuel prices.
A sovereign council of civilian and military high officials was formed for the transitional period as the country proceeded toward democracy. Al-Burhan was the de-facto ruler of the country and Hemedti was his deputy head of the council, while Abdalla Hmadok, a renowned economist, was the prime minister. However, SAF and RSF soon orchestrated a military coup against this ruling council in October 2021, suspending the constitution and removing the prime minister and his cabinet.
Despite there being a framework for the future political landscape of Sudan, issues couldn’t resolve. Both the SAF and the RSF were required to cede power under the plan and two issues proved particularly problematic: one was related to the timetable for the RSF to be integrated into the SAF. The second issue was the matter of having the complete army including both RSF and SAF placed formally under civilian leadership.
Fighting erupted, and both forces seemed prepared as tanks and other military equipment reached Khartoum even before the beginning of the civil war. It is still unclear which side had initiated the conflict by shooting the first fire. This time the nature of the conflict is different in Sudan from the past. In the past, the SAF were fighting against the rebels, but this time they are fighting against an organized paramilitary group.
SAF has more manpower than RSF, with an estimated 300,000 in comparison to RSF’s 100,000 deployed in Khartoum and other regions. SAF has aerial superiority over RSF but RSF on the other hand, also has the leverage of increasing its number by bringing fighters from the western region of Darfur where it had tribal ties.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a three-day cease-fire between warring parties on Eid and then a meeting of the African Union to settle this dispute. Saudi Arabia, too, called on both parties to resolve the dispute peacefully as it enjoys friendly relations with both parties. Both factions have helped the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the Yemen crisis by sending massive manpower to fight alongside Saudi fighters.
This civil war is very dangerous and has severe implications for Sudan as well as other countries in the region. If this conflict escalates, it has the potential to undermine the peace of the whole of the Horn of Africa region as anticipated by the United States Institute of Peace. Long-time fighting requires continuous supply chains and the support of regional governments. This would pave the way for regional players with vested interests in Sudan to throw weight behind SAF or RSF. This civil war can also spark US-Russia rivalry for regional dominance in Sudan.
If you want to submit your articles, research papers, and book reviews, please check the Submissions page.
The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift.