Military groups behave more like gases. They rush into a power vacuum fast. As Sudan failed to make a transition to democracy, the north-east African nation’s feuding military factions have gushed in to fill the void. The war for supremacy rages on, pushing the third largest African nation into a self-lacerating internal war. As on April 17, the power struggle has claimed the lives of 185, besides wounding over 1,800. https://apnews.com/article/sudan-fighting-military-rsf- eafa3246b1e3004a1a9f2b9af9561362
The jousting contest now on show in Sudan is between its armed forces and paramilitary forces. The warring groups have an immediate mission: take control of the Presidential Palace and the Khartoum International Airport. The ding-dong battle between the two military groups is convulsing Sudan. As chaos and instability become widespread, Khartoum, Sudan’s capital and home to over 6m people, is in shambles.
The Two Overambitious Men
Essentially, the feud is between two power-hungry men: General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo. General Burhan is Sudan’s de facto ruler. Sudanese Armed Forces, the military forces of the Republic of Sudan, owe allegiance to him. Mr Dagalo, popularly known as Hemedti, is a former warlord. Sudan’s hotchpotch paramilitary forces, aka the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), are under his control-command. https://www.npr.org/2023/04/16/1170289462/sudans-army- and-rsf-are-doing-battle-leaving-56-civilians-dead
The contest is now between these two overambitious men. They are battling to fill the power void and the internal war is getting fiercer by the day. This did culminate in a warlike crisis on April 13th, with bloody fights continuing to this day between the two groups. The strife in western and northern Sudan is spreading fast to other regions. Such strife is not new to Sudan. More so as the army has been in a dominant position, ever since Sudan secured its independence in 1956.
Video Courtesy: YouTube/ABC News
Hooked on Power Games
Worse, the Sudanese have seen uprisings since the onset of this century. Aborted by ambitious generals, Sudan’s dalliance with democracy, in 1964 and 1985, proved to be misadventures. In 2019, president Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, the Sudanese dictator, was ousted in a coup. Mr Bashir was obsessed with bolstering the armed forces. In pursuit of this goal, the narcissistic Bashir ignored the welfare of 43.2m impoverished Sudanese. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omar_al-Bashir
As if this was not enough, Mr Bashir was hooked on power games. He played them to strengthen his armed forces and tighten his hold on power. Often, he would pit army units against each other. Though the autocratic Islamist regime of Mr Bashir was eventually overthrown in 2019 by General Burhan and Mr Dagalo in a military coup, Mr Bashir’s exit failed to usher in a democratic civilian dispensation.
Heaping Horrendous Atrocities
As democracy failed to sprout, military factions have rushed in now to share the spoils of civil war. Events since 2022 have been full of warning signs. This is why Sudan-watchers were not surprised when turmoil hit Sudan on April 15, though the scale of the unrest did take them aback. These observers are united now in voicing their concerns over how this turmoil in Sudan is sure to cast its long shadow across Africa’s sputtering democracies.
In fact, the seeds of turmoil were sown during Mr Bashir’s reign. Mr Bashir created the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces to put down rebellions, primarily those ignited by the economic exploitation of the Sudanese people by the government. Though the paramilitary, popularly known as the Janjaweed, was formed for the noble cause of extricating Sudanese from social injustice, it gave in soon to temptations of power and went astray heaping horrendous atrocities on Sudanese. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/4/16/sudan-unrest- what-is-the-rapid-support-forces
The Scandalous Profile
Inevitably, its terror orientation transformed the Janjaweed into a loosely-managed lawless paramilitary force. In its new avatar, the Janjaweed loved fighting illegal wars in Yemen and Libya. Mr Dagalo trusted and practised the politics of mass murders and gang rapes. He was a sadist who enjoyed tormenting even peaceful protesters. This scandalous profile of Mr Dagalo makes the ongoing power struggle in Sudan scarier. https://www.lemonde.fr/en/le-monde- africa/article/2023/04/16/doctors-group-says-at-least-26-killed- in-sudan-fighting_6023069_124.html
The scare is real and the fears are well-founded. Mr Dagalo was responsible for Sudan’s failure to flower into a democracy. He is to be blamed for aborting the power-sharing deal with civilians who spearheaded the anti-Bashir campaign. Gen Burhan might have launched the October 2021 coup. Though this October coup put the army in the saddle, Sudan could not be saved. The worsening economy did Sudan in.
Unlikely to Backtrack Now
Undeterred, Mr Dagalo is desperate to get into the presidential palace now. He is dead set on fanning the flames of civil unrest. His strategy involves escalating strife in Sudan, using the unrest to demolish his opponents and installing himself as Sudan’s unchallenged ruler. Mr Dagalo seems capable of making this strategy work. Financially, he is amply endowed and his wealth continues to bloat through exports of gold from illegal mines. https://sudanreeves.org/2019/08/01/general-mohamed- hamdan-dagalo-hemeti-one-of-the-most-powerful-men-in- sudan-and-one-of-the-richest/
A confident Dagalo seems unlikely to backtrack now. Demands for monitoring the armed forces are not dampening his spirits. Calls for merging the paramilitary into the armed forces are falling on his deaf ears. He will pay no heed to civilians clamouring for trying his forces for the 2003 war crimes, the murder of 2019 pro-democracy agitators and the deaths of civilian protesters since the October 2021 coup.
The West is Growing Nervy
Mr Dagalo’s determination springs from sound reasoning. Sudan is strategically located, enclosed by the Red Sea, the Sahel region and the Horn of Africa. Sudan’s farm wealth is an object of African envy. Geopolitically too, Sudan is seen by America, Russia and the Middle East as a major influencer in Africa. The Middle East sees Mr Dagalo as an effective pro-Islamic neutraliser for the ‘anti-Islamic’ pro-democracy voices in Sudan.
As Russia evinces disproportionate interest in building a naval base in the Red Sea, the West is growing nervy. This project has the backing of Mr Dagalo. Understandably, the West is squirming over the strife, which is escalating by the day. As the warring military factions are in no mood to halt their offensives and move over to the negotiating table, the civil war is set to intensify. When it gets bloodier, expect Russia and the West to get directly involved. https://maritime-executive.com/article/sudan-s-leader-agrees- to-host-russian-naval-base-on-red-sea
The implications of this involvement are huge for Africa. Sudan’s unrest is capable of pulling in rest of Africa. Along with the West, they can ensure Sudan’s crisis does not remain within its national borders for long. The 2019 coup in Sudan managed to kill the hopes of proponents of African and Arab democracy. The story may not be different now. Sudan seems destined to sulk in the darkest nook of democracy in the dark continent.