What you need to know about the war in Sudan

Two rival armies are driving Sudan, the third-largest country in Africa, toward a full-blown civil war. Fighting between the two generals is tearing apart cities and towns across the country, including the capital Khartoum.

Over the weekend, tensions between the armed forces chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and the head of the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group, Gen. Mohammed Dagalo, erupted into an unprecedented battle for control of the resource-rich nation of more than 46 million people.

Both men, each with tens of thousands of troops deployed just in the capital of Khartoum, vowed not to negotiate or cease fire, despite mounting global diplomatic pressure.

“Sudan is at the center of long-lasting permanent crises. It is characterized by frequent armed conflicts,” Marina Peter, founder of Sudan and South Sudan Forum, tells DW.

“When a conflict breaks out in one of these countries, be it Egypt, Libya, Chad, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea or — looking across the Red Sea — Saudi Arabia, the neighboring country is always affected as well.”

Who is fighting in Sudan?

The clashes in Sudan are between the Sudanese Armed Forces, led by Gen. Abdel al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group, led by Gen. Mohamed Dagalo.

Until recently, the leaders of the two forces were allies. They worked together in 2019 to overthrow Sudan’s brutal dictator Omar al-Bashir, who ruled over the country for three decades, sweeping to power as thousands of people took to the streets in a popular uprising against al-Bashir.

Read also: Opus Dei re-strategies to address challenges facing Christianity – Prelate

But it was only ever “a marriage of convenience”, according to independent researcher and policy analyst Hamid Khalafallah.

“It was never a genuine alliance or partnership, they just had to tie their interests together to face the civilians as a united military front,” Khalafallah added.

The rift widened, with Dagalo — commonly known as Hemeti — coming to call the coup a “mistake” that has failed to bring about change and invigorated remnants of Bashir’s regime.

After that coup, a power-sharing government was formed, made up of civilian and military groups. The plan was for it to run Sudan for a few years and oversee a transition to a completely civilian-run government.

Why did the fighting in Sudan start?

On the fourth anniversary of the fall of long-reigning despot Omar al-Bashir by a popular revolt, a final agreement was scheduled to be signed earlier in April.

RSF sought to put off the integration into itself for ten years, while the Sudanese army suggested doing it in two years. Another issue between the two former Sovereign Council members is the army’s support for the handover of power to a civilian government.

The leader of the RSF, Dagalo, claims to have taken control of most of the government buildings in Khartoum.

On Saturday, soldiers loyal to al-Burhan and the RSF, led by Dagalo (also known as Hemedti), engaged in their first battle.

According to two corporate insiders quoted in a Reuters article, Sudan’s MTN telecommunications operator was told to statewide prohibit internet access by the government’s regulatory body for telecommunications.

A teenage Khartoum resident named Huda told Reuters that she and her family were terrified and that they hadn’t slept in 24 hours due to the noise and shaking of their home.

“We fear running out of food, water, and my diabetic father’s medication; everyone is lying,” she continued, “and there is so much misleading information. We are unsure of how or when this will end.”

Foreign interventions and calls for ceasefire

There have been attempts by different countries to find lasting peace in the former British colony.

For instance, last Monday, the US called for a cease-fire, a move that was immediately supported by the UN.

Similarly, concerned about the damning consequences of such a war on Africa, the heads of state of the regional bloc, Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) called on the warring factions to lay down their arms.

IGAD also said it would send a delegation, including South Sudanese President, Salva Kiir, and Djiboutian President, Ismail Omar Guelleh, to Khartoum to try to persuade the warring generals to end the crisis.

For Jehanne Henry, a US human rights lawyer who has monitored Sudan for years, “doomsday scenarios run the gamut”.

If the army wins, “Burhan and his colleagues will re-install old regime Islamists” and ignore international pressure, as they did during decades of international embargo under Bashir’s rule.

“At best, they could make a flimsy pretence of appointing some allied civilians,” Henry said.

The other possibility was that the RSF won, but that scenario was seen as less likely, she added.