Washington, DC — Ever since they began to point their guns at each other, Sudan’s warring generals have constantly frustrated international efforts — particularly led by Saudi Arabia, US, African Union and the UN — to end nearly three months of bloodshed in the North African country.
Around a dozen ceasefires were agreed only to be dishonoured immediately by the troops of the main Sudanese army, led by General Abdel Fattah al Burhan, and Rapid Support Forces [RSF], a paramilitary commanded by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo — rival generals locked in a bitter power struggle since April 15.
Even on the Muslim holiday of Eid al Adha, air strikes and anti-aircraft fire rattled parts of Sudan’s capital Khartoum, despite both military factions declaring truces.
Both sides have accused each other of taking advantage of the truces to mobilise forces in a conflict that has left thousands of people dead, uprooted millions, taken an ethnic dimension in the western Darfur region, and created a refugee and economic crisis for Sudan’s neighbours.
“The two generals have a poor track record of credibility years before the war started as both were members of the old guard. They have violated ceasefire upon ceasefire agreement, proving that they have not been coming to the negotiating table in good faith,” Samah Salman, a finance professional based in US state of Virginia and the president of US-Educated Sudanese Association [USESA], told TRT World.
“Sudanese are not only dying due to bullets and bombings but also due to hunger and disease. If this conflict continues, we will continue to have more deaths and more destruction,” said Salman of USESA, a diaspora civil society organisation founded in 2019 after the Sudanese revolution.
The temporary truces have allowed humanitarian aid inside the main battle zones, she said, and hailed the recent launch of Sudan Conflict Observatory Monitoring Platform by US and its partners, which Salman says is helping “give visibility and public naming and shaming of violators of ceasefire.”
Both generals, Burhan and Dagalo, have been sharing power since October 2021 when the military dismissed PM Abdalla Hamdok’s transitional government and declared a state of emergency in a move decried by political forces as a “coup.”
Before that Burhan led alongside a civilian prime minister who rose to the government’s seat after a popular revolution ousted longtime ruler Omar al Bashir in 2019.
And Dagalo — known universally as Hemetti — first became a militant in Sudan’s Janjaweed militia in the western Darfur region after dozens of members of his family were killed in an attack. He had led the RSF on a series of campaigns in Darfur and other volatile provinces.
The paramilitary RSF grew out of the Janjaweed, and rights groups say forces under his command used many of the militia’s brutal tactics. Sudan’s transitional period, which started in August 2019 after the ouster of Bashir, had been scheduled to end with elections in early 2024.
Fighting broke out on April 15 after a dispute over plans for the RSF to be integrated into the main army and over the future chain of command under an internationally backed deal to shift Sudan towards democracy.
Sudan’s ongoing conflict has a tendency to drag on given the advantages of the sparring armies. Both sides have worked with each other, brutally confronted people’s revolution in 2019, and are heavily armed. In short, they know each other’s capabilities.
“The revolution started as a peaceful revolution. It called for transition and political change peacefully. A lot of young people lost their lives. They were confronted by bullets from both RSF and the main Sudanese army. And now, we have the same guys killing each other,” Maisun Badawi, a World Bank consultant, told TRT World.
Badawi, a Sudanese American, was in Khartoum when guns roared in the streets of Sudan’s capital city. She was lucky to be among those evacuated to neighbouring Egypt after witnessing the first few weeks of urban fighting. While blaming both sides for the ongoing crisis, Badawi said Burhan’s seizure of power in 2021 which stopped the transition to democracy is the source of the current crisis.
“He [Burhan] suspended that phase completely and decided to stay in power,” she said. “We were looking forward to the formation of the civilian government and the complete handover of power to the civilians. Again, what does Burhan do, he gets into conflict with Hemetti [Dagalo].”
On the contrary, she claims, Dagalo remained committed to the agreed reforms since he has investments in many different sectors.
“He [Dagalo] is involved in the private sector. He owns investments almost in every sector, in gold extraction, livestock, and agriculture. He even has banks. If you’re going to invest a lot of money in a place, you definitely would want to see it move steadily, whilst Burhan has nothing to lose,” Badawi said.
Khartoum, Darfur see spike in fighting
Fighting has surged lately in the three cities that make up the wider capital — Khartoum, Bahri and Omdurman. There has been a spike in violence in Nyala, the largest city in the western Darfur region.
The UN has raised alarm over the ethnic targeting and the killing of people from the Masalit community in El Geneina in West Darfur. In a development that could further escalate conflict in the region, tribal leaders from South Darfur area have declared their allegiance to paramilitary RSF.
Khartoum and El Geneina have been the worst affected by the fighting, although both armies have clashed in other parts of Darfur and in Kordofan, in the south. The fighting has come with rampant looting, blamed by the army and RSF on each other, of Sudanese homes, factories, gold markets, banks, vehicles and religious places, with a rapid dwindling of stocks of food driving much of the pillaging.
“This is all their undoing,” said Amru Saleh, a leasing consultant in the US state of Maryland, blaming both Burhan and Dagalo for the current crisis. “They are using innocent civilians as their pawns.”
Saleh alleged Burhan wants to bring back the administration which ruled the country during ex-president Bashir’s reign, adding RSF’s Dagalo is responsible for the situation in Darfur.
Before the current fighting started, about one-third of Sudan’s population was in acute need of humanitarian assistance, but now, over half of the population needs aid, according to the United Nations [UN]. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for $3 billion in emergency assistance in Sudan, but only half of the needed funds have been pledged by the international community.
“This huge shortfall of financial assistance within a prolonged conflict is creating what could become the largest humanitarian disaster in recent history,” Salman of USESA said.
Billions of dollars have poured into the UN’s Ukraine appeals following Russia’s offensive in February last year, but the global response has not been so quick for the crisis in Sudan that is also creating a crisis for neighbouring Egypt, Chad, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Central African Republic.
“South Sudan depends on inputs to its oil production to come through Sudan and the flow of oil exports out through Port Sudan. The war has already battered its economy,” said Salman.
“Chad and South Sudan are also suffering from the surplus of arms that are coming into the hands of militias from the Sudan war, and this has the potential to further destabilise the region,” she said.
Ethiopia is trying to maintain its own peace and security after emerging from a two-year civil conflict in the Tigray region near the Sudanese border. But now it sees fleeing Sudanese refugees streaming into its porous borders.
The International Organization for Migration estimates nearly 700,000 Sudanese may have fled to neighbouring countries, including Ethiopia.
Long drawn-out conflict
Diaspora Sudanese and experts fear the outcome will be a long-drawn-out conflict if it is mishandled like many of the African conflicts.
“Current Sudanese crisis rapidly moves toward a political framework best described as a zero-sum game in the political science language,” Yunus Turhan, the managing director of Mediterranean Basin and African Civilizations Research Center at Ankara Haci Bayram Veli University, told TRT World’s Murat Sofuoglu in a recent interview.
“As a result, the Sudanese crisis will probably create a political situation, a zero-sum game, in which one side should only win by forcing the opposite side to lose it completely,” Turhan said, drawing a parallel between the Sudanese crisis and other African conflicts, which have also gone through similar zero-sum games in different situations.
A stalemate could also develop and Khartoum would become a warlord zone like Mogadishu in 1992 “leading to the fragmentation of Sudan,” Abdi Samatar, a Somali American professor at the University of Minnesota, told TRT World in the same interview.
The international community must form a broad coalition of stakeholders including the UN, the US, the EU, the AU, African trade bloc IGAD and the neighbouring countries to exert the maximum amount of pressure possible to end the conflict, Salman of USESA said.
“This should include the strict enforcement of the UN-approved arms embargo, which should be expanded from being Darfur-specific to cover all of Sudan, as well as the creation of a no-fly zone as well as the freezing of assets of the belligerents and their parastatal companies which are financing the production, trading and smuggling of arms fueling this war,” she added.
Badawi, however, said boots-on-the-ground intervention would be better if no side is willing to sit at the negotiating table.
“In this case, the best intervention should be an international intervention, and if we have to plea to the international community to be involved physically on the ground as an international force to push forcefully for the ceasefire and monitor its execution on the ground … that will be the best way to go moving forward,” she argued.