Sudan’s Fragile Stability Threatened by Power Struggle Between Military Leaders: An In-Depth Look at the Conflict Between SAF and RSF

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Sudan, a country in northeastern Africa, has been rocked by violent clashes between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) since Saturday, April 23rd. The conflict has spread to several regions throughout the country, including the capital Khartoum and areas in the east and west, including Kassala, Gedaref, and Darfur. The situation is alarming, as it poses a significant threat to Sudan’s already fragile stability and could destabilize the broader Horn of Africa region.

The fighting is a result of a power struggle between the two factions, with both sides vying for control of the country’s major institutions. The SAF’s General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the RSF’s General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as “Hemetti,” were previously allies, working together to topple the al-Bashir regime in 2019 and orchestrate a military coup in October 2021 that removed the civilian prime minister and cabinet and suspended the constitution. However, negotiations to resolve issues related to the integration of the RSF into the SAF and leadership of the newly consolidated military had stalled, leading to rising tensions between the two leaders.

The situation escalated when both al-Burhan and Hemetti anticipated and geared up for a confrontation, with the RSF deploying large numbers of armed men into Khartoum, and the SAF deploying tanks and heavy weapons. The fighting is unprecedented, as the SAF is fighting a paramilitary force that was created by the Bashir regime, not an armed resistance movement. The RSF is not a “rebel” group but is rather recognized by law and was developed, tolerated, and sustained as an instrument of state power. The fighting is therefore a struggle over power in the security sector and the exercise of power in the state.

The violence has already claimed many lives, and the United Nations has expressed concern over the safety of civilians caught in the crossfire. The UN has called for an immediate end to hostilities and urged all parties to prioritize the safety and security of civilians. The fighting has also led to the displacement of people, with many fleeing their homes and seeking refuge in neighboring countries.

Efforts to secure a ceasefire are ongoing, and many countries in the region, as well as major powers like the United States, have called for an end to hostilities. The United States has urged all parties to de-escalate the situation and return to negotiations to resolve their differences peacefully. The African Union has also expressed concern over the situation and has urged all parties to exercise restraint and work towards a peaceful resolution.

The conflict in Sudan is not new, as the country has been plagued by violence and instability for decades. The al-Bashir regime, which was in power for over thirty years, was known for its brutal crackdowns on dissent and its support for armed groups in neighboring countries like South Sudan. The fall of the al-Bashir regime in 2019 led to hope for a new era of peace and stability, but the country’s transition has been fraught with challenges.

The military coup in October 2021 was a significant setback for Sudan’s transition, as it removed the civilian government and suspended the constitution. The coup was widely condemned by the international community, and many countries imposed sanctions on Sudan in response. The current conflict between the SAF and the RSF is another setback for Sudan’s transition and could have serious consequences for the country’s future.

The root cause of the conflict in Sudan lies in the country’s complex and often troubled history. Decades of authoritarian rule under former president Omar al-Bashir left the country deeply divided and impoverished, with a long history of ethnic and religious tensions. Following al-Bashir’s ouster in 2019, Sudan embarked on a transitional period aimed at establishing a democratic government and restoring stability to the country.

However, progress has been slow, and the country is still facing numerous challenges, including economic hardship, political instability, and a worsening humanitarian crisis. The military remains a powerful force in Sudanese politics, and the current conflict is a stark reminder of the fragility of the country’s democratic transition.

The situation is further complicated by external factors, including regional power struggles and the involvement of foreign actors. Sudan is strategically located in the Horn of Africa, bordering Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, and Libya. Its proximity to key shipping lanes and oil-producing countries has made it a focal point for regional competition.

In recent years, Sudan has also become a battleground for foreign powers seeking to expand their influence in the region. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have provided support to the RSF, while Turkey and Qatar have backed various factions in Sudan’s complex political landscape. The involvement of outside actors has exacerbated existing tensions and made it more difficult to find a resolution to the conflict.

The international community has condemned the violence and called for an immediate end to hostilities. The United Nations has expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in Sudan and urged all parties to engage in dialogue to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The African Union has also called for an immediate ceasefire and the resumption of negotiations between the various factions.

The United States, which has been involved in Sudanese politics since the 1990s, has called for an end to the violence and expressed its support for a democratic transition in the country. In a statement, the State Department said, “We urge all parties to immediately cease hostilities, protect civilians, and engage in meaningful dialogue to resolve differences peacefully and transparently.”

The situation in Sudan remains fluid, and it is unclear how the conflict will ultimately be resolved. The fighting has already claimed dozens of lives and displaced thousands of people, and there are fears that it could escalate further and destabilize the entire region. The international community must continue to engage with all parties involved in the conflict and support efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

In the long term, Sudan must address the underlying causes of the conflict, including the need for genuine democratic reforms, economic development, and improved governance. Without addressing these root causes, the country will remain vulnerable to political instability and violence, undermining the progress made towards a more stable and prosperous future.

The situation in Sudan is complex, and there are no easy solutions. However, some recommendations could be considered by both national and international actors to help reduce tensions and promote stability:

– Urgently establish a ceasefire: The immediate priority should be to stop the violence and ensure the safety of civilians. Both the SAF and RSF must put down their arms and engage in dialogue to resolve their differences peacefully.

– Resume negotiations: The Sudanese authorities should resume negotiations to address the underlying issues behind the current conflict. This includes addressing the integration of the RSF into the SAF and resolving leadership disputes. Such negotiations should be transparent, inclusive, and accountable, with the involvement of civil society and other stakeholders.

– Protect civilians: All parties should respect the rights of civilians and avoid targeting non-combatants. Humanitarian actors should be allowed access to affected areas to provide assistance to those in need.

– Hold perpetrators accountable: Those responsible for human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable. The Sudanese authorities should establish an independent, impartial, and effective mechanism to investigate and prosecute such crimes.

– Strengthen regional and international cooperation: Regional actors, such as the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, should play a more active role in resolving the crisis. International actors, such as the United Nations, should provide support to regional efforts and help mobilize resources for humanitarian assistance.

– Address underlying political and economic issues: The current crisis in Sudan is not just a security issue but is rooted in underlying political and economic issues. Therefore, long-term stability requires addressing issues such as the lack of political representation, economic inequality, and corruption.

– Engage civil society: The involvement of civil society is crucial to finding sustainable solutions to the current crisis. Sudanese civil society organizations should be included in negotiations and decision-making processes to ensure their voices are heard and that their concerns are addressed.

The current conflict in Sudan between the SAF and RSF highlights the complex power dynamics within the country’s security sector and the struggle for control over the state’s institutions. The fighting has already spread beyond Khartoum and threatens to destabilize the entire country, with potential spillover effects in the Horn of Africa region.

To resolve the current crisis, Sudanese leaders must prioritize a peaceful and inclusive approach to governance that respects the rights of all citizens and addresses the underlying economic and social challenges that have fueled unrest in the country. This will require the engagement of all stakeholders, including political parties, civil society organizations, and marginalized communities, in a transparent and inclusive political process.

In addition, regional and international actors must support efforts to restore peace and stability in Sudan by providing diplomatic and economic assistance to the country. This includes supporting the African Union’s efforts to mediate the conflict and providing humanitarian aid to those affected by the violence.

Finally, Sudanese leaders must recognize that a sustainable solution to the country’s problems cannot be achieved through military force or authoritarian rule. Only through genuine democratic reform, inclusive governance, and respect for human rights can Sudan build a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic future for all its citizens.

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