Sudan Conflicts and Possible Scenarios

Published on 15th May 2023

Since the outbreak of the war on 15th April 2023, I have been closely following the course of events, as well as the opinions of many commentators transmitted by television channels. Some of them claim to be experts whilst in fact spreading more misinformation.

Whether this armed conflict is a rebellion/disagreement between yesterday’s allies or a son who disobeys his father, current events are a catastrophe and it is clear that the affiliates of political Islam brought us to this point.  Since 1989, they created numerous militias of various classifications, including the Marahil forces, Popular Defense Forces (PDF), Borders Guards and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), like one who raises a monster that later turns against them when it grows up.

All of these proxy militias have historically been used against the people of Sudan in marginalized regions because they dared to demand their basic rights of citizenship. These uprisings include the war against South Sudan (1955-1972 and 1983-2005), the Nuba mountains and Blue Nile (1985-2005) and (2011) and Darfur (2003). These uprisings share a common foundation: Sudanese people asking for a country based on equal rights for all, a country different from the one established by Turkish-Egyptian rule in 1821 and followed by British-Egyptian rule from 1899 to 1956.

In more than 65 years since Sudanese independence, the state has remained weak with poor foundations. Even during the brief periods of democracy (1956-1958, 1964-1969, 1985–1989) Sudan has been dominated by central political elites. Although there has been some limited representation of the peripheries, these elected officials were just agents of the centre rather than representatives of their constituencies. The priorities of people of the peripheries have always been subservient to the interests of the core.

Within the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) most generals are from the centre and most of the soldiers are from the periphery. When armed conflict broke out within Sudan’s peripheries, the national elites looked for agents from the peripheries to fight by proxy. Thus, they created the Marahil forces in 1985, the PDF in 1989, the Janjaweed militia in 2003, Border Guards and the RSF in 2013.

This dysfunctional relationship can no longer continue. A day will come when these proxies rise up against exploitation and injustice in demand of their full rights – and the seeds of this are already apparent. Former president Omer Hassan Bashir used to call General Hemedti, meaning ‘my protection’, yet it was the protector himself who turned against Bashir in April 2019 ultimately leading to his demise.

  Since the start of the current conflict, a variety of voices with different motives and backgrounds have called for the continuation of the war, in the belief that this will eliminate the RSF. In the eyes of many members of Bashir’s former regime, the RSF represent the main obstacle preventing them from re-seizing power. Remnants of the National Congress Party (NCP) and other Islamist movements still have supporters within the SAF, which may help to explain current events.

Some have racist motives, as Hemedti reminds them of the Khalifah Abdullah al-Ta’ayshi and recalls the history of al-Jahdiya. (Mahadia) (1885-1899) and what he had done to them. The Sudan Armed Forces and other security organs need structural reform in such a way that creates security forces with allegiances to the protection of the state, rather than allegiance to political ideology, ethnicity, and tribalism. All of Sudan’s state institutions need structural reforms after more than 30 years of destruction and undermining by the NCP, and the reform of the security forces is a vital component of this.

 By creating multiple armed forces and outsourcing some of the national army duties, the NCP regime weakened the national army through underinvestment whilst simultaneously investing huge resources in parallel armies. In addition to the armed movements forces which were supposed to go through Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration process, the Popular Defence Forces (PDF) was considered one of the most difficult processes as it needs huge financial resources and a clear set of criteria.

Some have highlighted the framework agreement as the cause of this dispute between the SAF and RSF. These proponents argue that the civilian signatories of the framework agreement neglected the security sector reform (SSR) by leaving this issue to the SAF, RSF, and military experts to figure out. However, it is now clear that elements from the Islamist movement planned to manipulate the SSR issue to prevent the parties from signing the final agreement by exploiting the disagreement over the time frame for the integration of the RSF into the SAF.

The grave mistake committed by General Burhan and the other military members of the security committee was empowering General Hemedti and the RSF after April 2019 through the abolishing of Article 5 of the Rapid Support Act which established the RSF under the command of the Commander General of the SAF. Abolishing this provision allowed the RSF to expand by occupying many armies and National Security and Intelligent Services (NISS) buildings in some key strategic locations in Khartoum.

Moreover, the appointment of Hemedti as Vice chairman of the Sovereign Council effectively transformed him into a stateman able to establish relationships with many countries by bypassing the Foreign Ministry. Through those steps, Hemedti became more senior than many generals who have served in the SAF since before Hemedti was born.

General Burhan also appointed Hemedti as chairman of all ministerial committees including the Economic Committee deputized by Prime Minister Dr Abdel Alla Hamdoc. This is despite PM Hamdoc having over 40 years of experience as an economist who served in many international organizations, including as chairperson of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

The RSF managed to expand and become parallel military forces to the SAF, as the salary of a new RSF recruit is double those of their SAF counterparts’ salaries. RSF recruits also have the chance of earning even higher wages if they are sent to Yemen or Saudi Arabia – for six months of service overseas they can earn in excess of $20,000 USD. RSF also has investments in Gold, Livestock, and real estate and Hemedti’s family is one of the richest in Sudan.

The Sudanese people are paying the heavy price for these grave mistakes committed by former president Omer al Bashir and General Burhan.

During the NCP’s 30 years in power, the majority of SAF senior officers were affiliated to the Islamic movement to ensure none were able to organize a military coup against them. This affected the level of discipline within the forces as the main selection for recruitment and promotion become loyal to the Islamist ideology rather than professional military capabilities.

This was apparent in the fashion that the SAF handled the buildup to the current war. Whilst the RSF were deploying forces and military hardware to Khartoum, clearly preparing for a fight, SAF leadership was relaxed, allowing the RSF to arrest the third highest-ranking person within the SAF (the Inspector General), 8 of the most senior ranking generals in the Military Intelligent Institute, as well as over 40 very senior army officers. Whilst the SAF was caught unaware, the RSF seized control of Khartoum Airport and other strategic locations and also killed over 30 of General Burhan’s personal guards.

The Possible Scenarios

As the war enters its third week it’s clear that no one can predict who is going to win. There is no ideal scenario other than to end this war, but below we explore the potentially least damaging scenarios.

First Scenario: Immediate End of the Military Conflict

An immediate end to the military conflict by agreeing to the cessation of hostilities between the SAF and RSF and for the two to return to the negotiating table to reach an agreement on all issues related to the transition to democracy. This would require the establishment of an interim civilian government to run the transitional period until a general election. Other key elements of this scenario include the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR), of RSF and other armed movements.

That process must include Sudanese democratic leadership such as political parties, resistance committees, civil society, armed movements, and other civic organizations but not the National Congress Parties (NCP) nor its allies. The process must be Sudanese-led and facilitated by the African Union, the Inter-Governmental Authority Development (IGAD), the UN and the Tripartite group. The same groups must also support the permanent constitution-making process. At the same time, peace negotiations must occur with non-signatory armed movements to the Juba Peace Agreement (JPA) which include Sudan People Liberation Movement -North-ALHilo (SPLM-N), Sudan Liberation Movement-Abdel Wahid and other Darfuri Movements in order to create an inclusive process instead of handling Sudan multiple crises through a piecemeal approach. 

Second:  Scenario: Defeat of the Rapid Support Forces

The defeat of the Rapid Support Forces by the SAF in the capital Khartoum would not necessarily mean the end of the war but could lead to a prolonged civil war in many parts of Sudan.

The composition of the RSF is tribal, the majority are Arab tribes from greater Darfur state, as well as some elements from the Baggara tribes of Kordofan. Since 2019 the RSF has been recruiting from South and West Kordofan specifically from Baggara mainly elements from former Popular Defense Forces (PDF) and other Arab militias and recently created a strong link with Baggara Military Alliance called Atawah (referring to one of ‘s Baggara grandfathers). 

That group is expanding to include the Baggara tribes of Hawazma, Messirya and Rizzagat and many of those groups were trained and used to fight as proxies with the SAF during the war with SPLA in South Sudan and the Nuba mountains. Those groups also have tribal incubators in West Kordofan and Darfur. Their chances in the Nuba Mountains are slim due to the presence of the SPLA-N but they recently started recruiting and are planning to open training camps in Abu Karshola locality in the eastern part of South Kordofan state. This group already have more than 1000 fighters around the Elfayed UmAbdalla Abu Karshola locality.

On the 20 April 2023, a lorry full of weapons and ammunition was caught by the SAF in the area close to Elfayed Umabdulalla. The RSF has huge resources, it can buy more weapons, and it also has regional and international relationships.  Even if the SAF defeated the RSF, it would emerge very weak from this war due to the loss of many personnel and military hardware which will not be readily replaced due to Sudan’s ongoing economic difficulties. The link between RSF and Baggara/Arab groups will revive their wider project (the Arab Gathering) which was established in 1987.

The SAF has been severely neglected for many years so the return of the remnants of the NCP regime to power is highly likely. This would be met with popular resistance from the resistance committees and other democratic forces at the cost of many lives especially after the release of NCP leaders from Kober prison-like Ahmed Haron and Nafe Ali Nafie with their bloody history. The government of Sudan (GoS) no longer has the option of outsourcing conflict to tribal militias as that proved to be very dangerous after they birthed Hemedti who first turned against Bashir and now General Burhan.

Third:  The Victory of the RSF

The victory of the RSF would be disastrous as this would mean the collapse of the SAF which would instead be replaced by an ethnically, tribally, and family-constituted militia with a bloody history in Darfur and other parts of Sudan. The takeover by the RSF would lead to an open civil war, and no one can predict when or how it would end.

The RSF would be met with strong popular resistance as people still remember their role in dispersing the sit-in in front of the Army Headquarters on 3rd June 2019, as well as their crimes in Darfur.   Despite RSF leaders trying to provide assurances to Sudanese people by saying they will hand over power to a civilian government, no one trusts this as there are many foreign powers with strong influence over the RSF who want to use them to further their own interests rather than the interests of Sudanese people.

Sudanese people desire genuine peace and democracy as they have been fighting for a long time with great sacrifices. The people will not accept another military or dictatorial regime.  Learning from recent experiences, there is a need to establish one professional, non-ethnic, non-tribal army with allegiance to the country, its constitution, protection of the border and defence of the nation’s independence. This would greatly contribute to sustaining democracy and ending the cycle of military coups.

The Role of International and Regional Players

There are calls from the Arab League and the Africa Union to limit the intervention in Sudan to regional and sub-regional organizations such as the AU and IGAD, but from my personal experience with Sudan conflicts since 1983 any regional intervention needs the support from the main players in the international community. That was the case during the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) negotiations in Naivasha (2002-2005) and the Darfur peace negotiations in Abuja (2005-2006). The United States, United Kingdom and Norway were crucial to the success of those negotiations and their involvement was a positive factor.

The main problem with the involvement of regional organizations is regional governments intervening in Sudan in pursuit of their national interests. Some want to impose a dictatorial regime to act as their proxy which is understandable given that most of the governments in the region are undemocratic, hence their opposition to democratic governance in Sudan. We hope that these countries will stay away from Sudan and leave the Sudanese people to determine their own destiny.

‘The Status of the War and its Impacts

As the war entered its fourth week the situation on the ground hasn’t changed with any of the warring factions holding the areas controlled by them since the first week of the conflict. ,  SAF is playing on the time as they think RSF will run out of supply and either withdraw from the  Khartoum or surrender but that assumption is proved to be wrong as SRF managed to keep its line of supply open,  SAF also relaying on its airpower to degrade RSF power but it is clear that its ariel bombing caused more collateral damages and destroying the country infrastructure than destroying RSF capability .as its lack precision at the same time RSF positioning its forces within residential areas and SAF lack enough manpower for urban streets wars,  SAF also relaying on the supplies from the forces outside Khartoum, but RSF managed to attack some of the armies conveys coming from outside Khartoum as RSF is controlling most of the entries to capital Khartoum. Most of the agreed ceasefire for humanitarian reasons have failed as the two parties are not committed and continued the fight, It is clear each party believe they can win by military means and no need to compromise, but it’s clear that it’s not easy for any party to win, The conditions set by SAF for a permanent secession of hostilities which include the withdraw of RSF from the strategic positions occupied by them or withdrawn to outside the capital will not be accepted by RSF as that means surrender. It is clear that RSF’s strategy is to focus on Khartoum by deploying most of its forces to the capital. what is needed now is the unconditional secession of hostilities to allow the flow of humanitarian assistance and allow people to practice their normal life as millions of Sudanese are trapped in the war and run out of food medicine and money the continuation of the war will be disastrous.

In addition to the loss of many lives, the economic cost is huge in Khartoum’s North industrial areas the biggest industrial areas in Sudan many whorehouses were looted, and factories were destroyed in addition to many markets in the capital Khartoum, North Kordofan and greater Darfur the loss will run into billions US dollars in a country which suffers from economic hardship before the war.

Sudan Democratic Forces

One of the reasons for the resurrection of the remnants of the NCP lies in the polarization of Sudanese democratic forces amongst political parties, civil society activists and resistance committees. They have failed to learn from the past experiences of the other two popular uprisings in October 1964 and April 1985. During these previous uprisings, leadership remained united during the interim period until the general election was held. Comparatively, one of the major failures of the recent interim period was the inability of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) to complete the government structure by appointing the legislative council and agreeing on economic policies.

Democratic forces fought each other on ideological bases rather than fighting against their common enemy – the NCP.  This encouraged the NCP elements to push the military generals to organize the military coup against PM Hamdoc’s interim government on 25th October 2021, but thanks to popular resistance they failed to establish a replacement government. It is clear that members of the Islamist movement are behind the events of 15th April 2023 which led to the ongoing war.

Now there is a paradigm shift in Sudan’s political scenery and the issue at hand is no long disagreement over economic policies or the structure of the interim period. What is now at stake is the future of the country and meeting this challenge requires a unified front. To avoid Sudan sliding further into chaos, all of Sudan’s forces which believe in democracy must come together to ensure the success of the transitional period.

By Hafiz Mohamed

CSO activist and Director of Justice Africa Sudan

@HafizMohamed3 / [email protected] 

Courtesy - Sudan Tribune

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