The violent armed clash in Sudan has intensified in the capital, Khartoum, among the Sudanese Armed Forces (regular) under the command of Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the Rapid Support Forces (semi-regular) led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo “Hemedti”, leaving 185 dead and more than 1,800 injured, according to the first toll of the United Nations. This comes five months after the Framework Agreement signed on December 5, 2022, in an effort to solve the escalating crisis in Sudan since the Omar al-Bashir regime was overthrown by a popular revolution in April 2019.
As soon as the political affairs in Sudan were about to break through with the Framework Agreement, which received international and regional blessing and support, the cord of friendship between the two most powerful military men in the country was severed and military attacks intensified, amid major fears of dwindling opportunities to contain the crisis and the country’s slipping into a dark tunnel of wars and conflicts, which may lead to divisions, fragmentation, civil war, or foreign interventions.
Backstage and the beginning of the conflict in Sudan
The recent Sudanese crisis began with the escalation of political tensions between the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) a few months before the signing of the final political agreement, which was scheduled for April 1, while the transitional constitution was to be signed on April 6.
However, on Saturday, April 15, clashes broke out between the army and the RSF in Khartoum. The army said that the fighting broke out after the RSF attempted to attack its forces south of the capital and to try to control strategic sites in Khartoum. On the other hand, the RSF said that the army attacked its forces at one of its bases south of Khartoum.
Al-Bawaba News contacted a number of political and military experts in Sudan to find out the main causes of the escalation of the armed crisis, whether the resolution to the crisis will be political or military, and the biggest risks facing Sudan now and in the future.
Fahal: RSF attempted a coup against the authority, Hemedti is an ally of Ethiopia
Sudanese writer and political analyst Al-Muthanna Abdul-Qader Al-Fahal, in his interview with Al-Bawaba News, revealed the main reasons for the armed escalation between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces. He said that RSF commander Hemedti failed to reach an agreement between the Sudanese political components, so he decided to make a coup attempt to seize power, hoping to become president of the country. This is in alliance with the Forces for Freedom and Change – Central Council, which signed the Framework Agreement and includes four parties that want to be incubators for Hemedti when he assumes the presidency of the country.
Fahal explained that the coup plot failed to confront the armed forces’ response to the RSF attacks, the General Command of the Sudanese Army, and the attempt to assassinate the head of the Sovereignty Council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan. He pointed out that Hemedti’s forces did not expect the army to confront them with such force. At the same time, the army’s operations shifted from defense to attacking the rebel force that wanted to seize power and transform the RSF into the new army of Sudan.
The Forces for Freedom and Change, signatories to the Framework Agreement, had a major role in supporting the RSF, Fahal said, describing them as “a mercenary armed militia accused of committing crimes in the Darfur region and killing demonstrators in 2019, and is involved in looting and theft, in addition to being accused of illegally exporting gold to foreign countries… taking advantage of the absence of a transitional government in the country.”
Fahal pointed out that the RSF and the Forces for Freedom and Change were preparing this coup attempt to control the country after they failed to agree with the other signatories of the Framework Agreement to support the coup. He added that Hemedti had a dream of becoming the president of Sudan, and this dream was dispelled by losing the support of the Sudanese youth revolutionaries and his failure to achieve their dream, dispersing the sit-in and killing the demonstrators. Hemedti evaded the trial of the killing of demonstrators, which would have convicted him and his brother, the second in command of the RSF, Abdul Rahim Hamdan Dagalo, and the third in command, Hamdan Hamdan Dagalo.
Fahal explained that if the RSF had tried to gain power through official means and elections, this would have been acceptable. However, the coup attempt and striking the army in depth confirms the conspiracy that the second commander of the Rapid Support Forces, Abdul Rahim Dagalo, spoke about when he declared weeks before the outbreak of the clashes, “There is a big wall in front of the military leadership, and this cement wall keeps the head of the leadership council – Al-Burhan – away from the situation in Sudan,” which indicates Hemedti’s premeditated intention to take over the military leadership in Sudan.
Regarding whether the resolution of the crisis in Sudan will be political or military in the coming period, Fahal believes that the resolution will be military in favor of the army, especially since the situation is under control of the Sudanese Armed Forces, led by Burhan. This was after controlling several military sites of the Rapid Support Forces, led by Hemedti, in a number of Sudanese states and the outskirts of the capital, Khartoum. Fahal pointed out that the army is conducting sweeping operations for Hemedti’s forces, which fled to take refuge in the inner streets of cities and residential neighborhoods so that it would be difficult for the army to strike them in order to preserve the lives of civilians.
Regarding the seriousness of the foreign solutions proposed to end the crisis in Sudan, Fahal believes that the regional solutions offered now are trying to find a way out for Hemedti, especially since he left his military uniform and hid in Khartoum for fear of being spotted. He pointed out that behind these attempts are Hemedti’s ally, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is using his arms in the African Union after it became based in Addis Ababa and has great influence in the AU and can push the AU to try to save his ally Hemedti in Sudan. Fahal stressed that if Abiy Ahmed loses his ally, Hemedti, he will not have any future ally in Sudan, especially since the Sudanese-Ethiopian relationship worsened a long time ago due to Ethiopia’s continued filling of the Renaissance Dam, harming Egypt and Sudan’s water and national interests.
Foreign interference is the biggest risk facing Sudan
Fahal emphasized that the interference of foreign parties is the biggest risk facing Sudan at the present time. The RSF commander is an ally of the Ethiopian prime minister, and the Sudanese people fear Ethiopian interference in Sudanese territory, especially since Sudan has a long record of conflict with Ethiopia. While Sudan was able to recover its lands from Ethiopia during the past years, Ethiopia still wants these lands back. He added that Hemedti owns large investments in Ethiopia and a house in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa that Abiy Ahmed gave to him. Hemedti also has strong ties to the Russian Wagner Group, which was in charge of training members of the Rapid Support Forces in exchange for Sudanese gold.
Regarding the ability of political and partisan parties to mediate a solution to the crisis, Fahal affirmed that the Sudanese parties have failed miserably in communicating to contain and resolve the crisis. However, the Democratic Bloc of the Forces for Freedom and Change took honorable positions during the last period, and it is the second faction of the Forces for Freedom and Change, which is parallel to the military council that supports the rebel Hemedti. The Democratic Bloc presented many dissertations, mediations, and the talk of the wise men to Hemedti, trying to discourage his intention to attack the Sudanese army. They informed Hemedti of his loss of the military attack on the Sudanese army because he had not known the strength of the Sudanese army.
The armed clashes will stop after the army resolves them and takes control of the Rapid Support Forces, Fahal explained, noting that the army issued its decisions not to back down, rejected all interventions by the African Union, and decided to continue military operations against the rebels. He pointed out that after controlling the rebellion, Sudan will gather all the political spectrum to sit at a round table of dialogue to establish a government of technocrats qualified for a period of one year. Sudan will then enter the elections after this transitional period in preparation for a civilian government under the protection of the Sudanese army, as it is the only national institution for the country.
Abu Al-Jawkh: Specter of collapse and civil war looms on the horizon, “integration” of support into the army is the “pyramid of disagreement”
Meanwhile, Sudanese political analyst Maher Abu Al-Jawkh, director of the General Department for Political Affairs and News at the Sudanese Radio and Television Authority in Abdalla Hamdok’s government, elaborated during his interview with Al-Bawaba News about the scenes of the armed conflict in his country. He pointed out that the main cause of the conflict is primarily related to the political discrepancy between Burhan and Hemedti, which started early after the events of October 2021. Then the conflict developed due to Hemedti’s rapprochement and alliance with Russia, in addition to the divergence of ideas in the file of the Ethiopian war between the government and the Tigray front, as the RSF supported the Ethiopian government, while Burhan sympathized with Tigray.
But on the internal level, the points of contention that broke the back of coexistence between the two sides were about the procedures and years needed for integrating the RSF into the army. The army believed that it should be limited to two and a half years. However, the RSF stipulated that the regular forces be reformed and that the integration take place within 10 years. In addition, there is a dispute over the leadership of the joint leadership body, and whether it will be for the army or for the civilian president.
Regarding whether the crisis in Sudan will be resolved militarily or politically, Abu Al-Jawkh said that historically, the situation in Sudan is different from elsewhere. Wars and armed confrontations do not end militarily, but through negotiations, because the causes of those wars are political. However, military confrontations may affect the balance of power between the parties, but this does not resolve the conflict definitively, as happened in the first and second wars in South Sudan and the Darfur conflicts. He stressed that the current dilemma requires quick political measures to address it once and for all.
Specter of collapse and civil war in Sudan looms on the horizon
Abu Al-Jawkh refuted the most prominent risks facing his country at the present time, which is the state’s vulnerability to collapse due to the accumulation of factors of its weakness, the deterioration of public performance, the weakness of its control, and the possibility of the current conflict between the army and the RSF turning into a civil conflict because of the possibility of interference and alliances on tribal bases, in addition to the difficulty of establishing a totalitarian or military regime over the people, whether an expression of the previous regime or a new one. This comes in addition to the presence of basic economic problems due to the decline in economic production, the increase in poverty and the growth of corruption, which led to an increase in the poverty rate and the flight of investments due to political fluctuations.
Abu Al-Jawkh explained that these threats can be summed up in the “specter of the state’s total collapse” due to the lack of confidence in public institutions, their lack of acceptance, their inability to fulfill people’s demands, and their loss of will to fight corruption and protect people in their social incubators, which leads to the growth and extension of the tribe at the expense of the state in a reverse course of development going backwards rather than moving forwards.
Abu Al-Jawkh believes that the escalation of the current events could move to the stage of street warfare under the current circumstance, due to the presence of strategic facilities close to and within residential neighborhoods, in addition to the concentration and spread of the parties to the conflict within residential areas, which makes the next phase of this conflict, if it continues, a street war. However, the most prominent consequences will be huge civilian casualties and severe economic damage to property. Nevertheless, Abu Al-Jawkh believes that this frightening scenario is one of the most important reasons for stopping this war before its losses increase, its effects are minimized, and its lessons are learned and not repeated.
Role of the political parties has so far been limited to calling for an end to the war
Regarding political mediation to end the crisis, Abu Al-Jawkh said that the role of the political and partisan parties has so far been limited to calling for an end to the war and reaching a truce. However, it actually does not have any actual pressure tools on the ground to force any party to abide by a ceasefire or reach a truce. He pointed out that the strongest pressure card of the civil bodies lies in the “mass and popular movement,” but in light of the current military directives, the demand to organize any mass activities means exposing participants to risks.
Abu Al-Jawkh explained that despite the decline in the role of political and partisan forces in curbing the armed conflict since the first hours of its outbreak, it will have major implications for healing the effects of the conflict. He believes that “the army’s statement issued at dawn on April 17 and its tolerant and far-from-hostile language towards members of the Rapid Support Forces is actually the result of the rising voices calling for stopping the war, which have curbed the extremist voices inciting war,” pointing out that there is a greater role for the political forces after the confrontations have ended, and it is clear that its discourse calling for resolving the crisis and reaching a peaceful political solution based on tolerance and acceptance of the other is what will prevail in the end.
Risks of continuing armed conflict in Sudan
Abu Al-Jawkh believes that if the armed conflict continues without sitting at the dialogue table, Sudan may witness a very large displacement movement from the war zones, and this means the growing and increasing weariness of the people, especially with its long duration without a solution, which will result in greater pressure on the parties to the conflict to stop it and search for a solution. If branches rise in the face of guns, and people believe that life, despite its cruelty, is better than free death, this will open the way for a new establishment of the homeland.
But on the negative side, if the war continues, Abu Al-Jawkh believes that there will be an increase in ethnic and cultural differences and their devotion to separatist demands to repeat the experience of South Sudan, which ended after decades of wars, to consolidate and achieve the option of division and separation from the mother country and the formation of a new state. But the danger of this scenario is that it will not end with the separation of one spot. However, this approach will be devoted to open the door to divisions and the fragmentation of what is left of Sudan into multiple states.
Majzoub: We fear tribal conflict and the country’s embrace of groups that spread terror, and the dramatic disintegration of the region
Security and strategic expert Major General Amin Ismail Majzoub told Al-Bawaba News that the origin of the armed conflict between the Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces is due to the difference in the political settlement between the two parties in accordance with the Framework Agreement, as the Rapid Support Forces were supposed to be integrated into the Armed Forces along with all the groups that signed the Juba Peace Agreement.
Presence of two armies in Sudan sets a dangerous precedent and affects the country’s national security
Majzoub confirmed that the RSF is trying to delay mergers by proposing a 10-year term for the merger. This affects Sudanese national security, because the political transition and the handing over of power to civilians in the presence of two armies constitutes a dangerous precedent and affects Sudanese national security, and hence the requirements of the Sudanese Armed Forces that the merger take place first. As a result of the dispute between the two sides, several workshops were held to reform, restructure and complete the integration processes within the armed forces.
Unfortunately, some disagreements occurred and turned into military movements on the part of the Rapid Support Forces, which were rejected by the Armed Forces. But so far, the party that fired the first shot has not been reached, and clashes are still escalating, resulting in heavy losses on both sides, along with a shortage of basic services. This requires the arbitration of the voice of reason, a ceasefire, and the parties sitting at the negotiating table to resolve the roots of the political problem that led to this escalation.
A military solution can never solve any political issues, but rather leads to future tensions and destruction in the political arena, Majzoub explained, stressing that the dispute in Sudan must end politically, just as it began politically. He pointed out that the experience of armed conflict has a long history in Sudan, and it must be benefited from and lessons learned so that it will not be repeated again, noting that there are currently intense attempts being made locally and internationally to reach a ceasefire, to deal with the matter politically, and to end the resort to the armed forces in Sudan.
We fear that the conflict will spread outside Khartoum and enter the tribal parties
Majzoub believes that the biggest risk facing the Sudanese crisis now is the conflict spreading outside Khartoum and the entry of some tribal parties. He pointed out that the RSF has tribal extensions and geographical proximity with some tribes, and they may intervene to support each other. As for the second threat to the Sudanese crisis, it is the interference of some elements from Sudan’s western and eastern neighbors, as there are groups that want to revive opportunities for the existence of crises in sub-Saharan countries. The radical groups that left Iraq from Syria can benefit from the crisis to enter Sudanese lands, and thus Sudan would become an incubator for groups that spread terror and security unrest in the entire region in sub-Saharan countries and the countries of the Horn of Africa.
Regarding the ability of the political and partisan parties to mediate a solution to the crisis, Majzoub explained that the political forces in Sudan are divided over the Framework Agreement and the political settlement of many groups. These forces basically became part of the crisis that led to the armed conflict, and they were not heard from since the first hours of the outbreak of the crisis. Therefore, they cannot be a mediator in the current conflict crisis in Sudan. However, they could be a part of the upcoming settlement after the entry of new parties into the course of the Sudanese crisis. Majzoub stressed that the foreign solution was strongly warned against, and that the crisis would end internally, but at the present time, the solution could be foreign, according to Article VII of the United Nations Charter.
All possibilities are open if the war does not stop
Majzoub added that it is difficult to predict scenarios for the future of Sudan at the present time, if the armed clashes do not stop and the parties do not sit at the dialogue table, although all possibilities are open, as the conflict may escalate into civil war, and the state may collapse. We could also witness the fragmentation and disintegration of the Sudanese state, which originally suffers from tribalism and racial discrimination. Consequently, disintegration would affect the neighboring countries. As for the eastern and western neighbors, they are trying to find an incubator, even if a few areas in Sudan. Thus, disintegration would occur in a dramatic way for the entire region, which is what neighboring countries fear now and are trying to mediate an end to the crisis.
Majzoub praised Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan’s decision to pardon all those who lay down arms, saying that this was addressed to officers and soldiers of the Rapid Support Forces, who could be members of the Armed Forces. He pointed out that Burhan’s decision came to relieve them of their embarrassment and legal responsibility regarding their involvement in the events, considering that the establishment of the RSF was on special grounds and assigned special tasks in Darfur, but the circles turned and came to Khartoum, and the RSF leader was chosen as the vice-president of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, hence mixing politics and the military. Majzoub explained that this appeal to the members of the Rapid Support Forces attempts to separate political and military ambitions and end the existence of the RSF as an armed force. But the problem remains as to what happened, who is responsible, and how to hold them accountable and manage the conflict if they do not sit at the negotiating table.
Economist: The conflict has led to food shortages and the disappearance of services, warning of an increase in unemployment and poverty
In the same vein, Sudanese economist Dr. Adel Abdel Aziz Al-Faki said that there are direct and prompt effects on the Sudanese economy due to the outbreak of military battles in Khartoum and other cities, perhaps the most prominent of which is a major interruption of electricity and water services. As a result, a large number of factories stopped, and a number of hospitals went out of service.
Faki added to Al-Bawaba News that the ongoing battles between the army and the Rapid Support Forces cast a heavy shadow on banking services due to the banks closing their doors, as their electronic services were affected by the power outage for a long time. He pointed out that if the battles continue, the economic effects will be negatively exacerbated, because the continued closure of factories and service facilities will result in an increase in unemployment rates and an increase in those living below the poverty line.
He explained that the transfer of battles to agricultural and animal production sites in the states of Gezira, Gedaref, River Nile, White Nile and Northern states would result in a halt in production, which would herald an impressive decrease in exports and the spread of food shortages and famine in large parts of the country, resulting in an internal displacement of the population and refuge in other countries.
Situation in Sudan in numbers
Sudan Doctors Syndicate
39 out of 59 hospitals in Khartoum have stopped working
9 hospitals were bombed and 16 were forcibly evacuated
United Nations report on Sudan
16 million people need humanitarian aid
3.7 million total internally displaced persons
4 million children and women suffer from malnutrition
$1.7 billion appeal for aid
6.9 million children between 6-18 years old are out of school
12.5 million aid for the most vulnerable