What is happening in Sudan? (Analyses) Featured

By Gamal Khattab April 16, 2023 5575


There has been heavy fighting between the army and paramilitaries in Khartoum, Sudan. The militia claims it has seized the airport and presidential palace. The dispute centres around a proposed transition to civilian rule. At least 56 people have been killed and nearly 600 wounded.

Sudan's Rapid Support Forces (RSF) reportedly took hostage dozens of Egyptian soldiers in the al-Merowe airbase. The head of Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) said that his forces were ready to cooperate with Egypt to ease the return of Egyptian troops who had handed themselves over to the group in the northern Sudanese town of Merowe.

According to analysts and activists, the two rivals, the army and a powerful paramilitary force known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), have long competed for relevance and power. An internationally backed political process launched last year exacerbated tensions between them. Kholood Khair, director of Khartoum think-tank Confluence Advisory, sees the army-RSF conflict as a deliberate ploy to pressure democratic parties to give concessions

Countries in the Middle East, including those in the Arab League, have expressed concerns over the ongoing conflicts between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), and have called for an immediate ceasefire and resolution of differences through dialogue. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Libya and Jordan have all urged Sudan’s conflicting parties to stop fighting and resolve their differences through dialogue immediately. Iran has also expressed concern about the developments and tensions in Sudan. 

Sudan is currently grappling with an economic crisis, necessitating a government capable of implementing effective policies and securing international aid to overcome the situation. Kholood Khair, director of the Khartoum think-tank Confluence Advisory, views the conflict between the army and RSF as a tactical manoeuvre to pressure democratic parties into making concessions. Khair states, "There are indications of collaboration to heighten tensions publicly and gain concessions from pro-democracy forces, only to later alleviate those tensions. This pattern has repeated itself over the past few years." The hostilities between the RSF and the army stem from the RSF's reluctance to merge with the army, as doing so would result in losing its distinct identity and political influence. Meanwhile, the army is eager to complete this integration process. Consequently, a power struggle ensues between these two factions, leaving civilian democratic leaders in the country sidelined.

It cannot be ignored that the RSF and its leader Hemedti hold political aspirations of their own; it is improbable that they would readily merge into the army at the expense of their political objectives. During their involvement in the Darfur civil war, the RSF had also maintained its own commercial empire. The issue at hand extends beyond political power-sharing; it also involves control over economic activities. Both the army and RSF face limitations in managing the worsening economic conditions and recognize the necessity for a democratic government based in Khartoum.

 Who is Sudan's Rapid Support Forces?

Here are some facts about Sudan's main paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces

  • The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) is Sudan's main paramilitary group, numbering around 100,000 troops with bases across the country.
  • Commanded by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, the RSF evolved from Janjaweed militias used by the government in the Darfur conflict.
  • Over time, they were used as border guards and participated in the war in Yemen alongside Saudi and Emirati troops.
  • In 2017, a law was passed legitimizing the RSF as an independent security force.
  • Hemedti signed a power-sharing agreement in 2019 and participated in a coup in October 2021. The Sudanese army and pro-democracy groups have demanded the RSF's integration into the regular armed forces.