Sudan at a crossroads: Proxy war or revolution?
A man walks by a house hit during fighting between rival military factions in Khartoum, Sudan, on Tuesday, April 25, 2023. | Marwan Ali / AP

The conflict that began on April 8 between Sudan’s military and the country’s main paramilitary force is a proxy war against the Sudanese people, backed by regional and international powers, who have enabled the warring factions to acquire wealth and weapons.

It is a war between the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (a.k.a. “Hemeti”) and the security committee of the National Islamic Front in the Sudanese military headed by Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman al-Burhan. Both sides are supported by an array of foreign allies.

In a speech to the Sudanese people, Hemeti bragged openly that he had the most sophisticated weapons. He was not buying cheap weapons, he said. The RSF was buying the best from the best. The RSF is the same “Janjaweed” militia that was indicted in 2004 by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1556 for committing genocide in Darfur.

It is the same militia that committed other atrocities at the sit-in at the military HQ in Khartoum on June 3, 2019. The international community’s memory, however, appears completely blank.

The RSF got its first leg up from the EU, during the “Khartoum process,” officially known as the EU-Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative.

Launched in late 2014 by European countries, African states, and the African Union, this gave Hemeti military support, power, and money to stop migrants from crossing from Libya to the Mediterranean and into Europe.

The RSF used that money. It committed crimes and violations of rights that the whole international community has kept quiet about.

Hemeti’s more recent ally is Russia. He was invited to Moscow and met with President Vladimir Putin. Shortly after, the Wagner Group, the Russian paramilitary organization, was dispatched to support him and train his militia.

Omar al-Bashir, the former Sudanese president who was deposed in 2019, sent the RSF to Yemen to support the Saudi war on the Yemeni people during his reign. There, they committed violations in Libya and against refugees from Eritrea and Ethiopia. They have started looting and terrorizing civilians now in Sudan.

Sudan is under siege from this militia—it kills people everywhere.

For his part, Burhan, the head of the military junta and head of the security committee of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Sudanese Army, is a regular visitor to Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. He’s been taking orders from them. We know that they’ve been pilfering Sudanese resources, looting, and smuggling Sudanese gold and agricultural products.

In 2019, when the military junta led by Burhan took control of the country, he employed the RSF to violently crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, alongside his “shadow brigade,” the Islamist Armed Group.

In October 2021, all pretense of a “civilian transition” following the popular uprising against al-Bashir was abandoned. Burhan dissolved the transitional government, arrested civilian leaders, and installed himself in power, with Hemeti as his right-hand man. That was then; now, the two are at war.

If you are looking for catalysts for this war, it is worth noting that when the popular resistance committees in the north stopped the trade between Sudan and Egypt, it affected the Egyptians severely.

It stopped the looting of lots of resources. This eventually harmed the alliance between the RSF, the military junta, and their foreign allies.

This war is deeply affecting the Sudanese people, who are the victims of atrocities, brutality, and torture at the hands of these two powers. It will change their lives forever. And there is a risk of a wider conflict. We have already even seen the conflict spill over into the internal affairs of neighboring countries.

Hemeti is now standing by the Ethiopians on the disputed al-Fashaqa region that was “liberated” by his rival Burhan in November 2020.

The two warring military factions are competing over who will monopolize power in Sudan and who will seize control of the resources in the country. This all-out struggle is a fight to hold onto the economic and financial power that the army built up over 30 years under the regime of al-Bashir.

The military still controls big companies, banks, and money looted from the banks and institutions of Sudan—and both factions want to keep those resources for themselves.

The threat of a return to a civilian government that followed the revolution of December 2019 severely weakened the position of the military factions. That is why they now share the mission of derailing the revolution by all means at their disposal and maintain control, even as they struggle between themselves for power.

Sudan is a big country. It has a strategic position on the African continent, and it is richer than most people imagine. Gold, minerals, and massive agricultural potential are among the spoils eyed by the warring factions.

Sudan’s wealth could build the country and create prosperity and development for the Sudanese people, but this wealth has been and is still being plundered. The Sudanese resistance committee has videos and documents showing the Russian Wagner Group smuggling gold, as well as footage of Egyptian trucks shipping out gold, too.

The truces announced in recent days are just buying time for each one of the warring sides. Neither side is abiding by the ceasefires they promised to the international community.

But the RSF is not an organized army, despite being considered part of the Sudanese military. From day one, its members have been looting and attacking people in their own houses. Even if the ceasefire works in certain parts of the country, it will not be respected everywhere.

The situation is now reaching a point where the two sides might not give in to each other, engaging instead in a fight to the end. The people, meanwhile, are starting to suffer severely. Thousands are leaving their homes and trying to find a safe haven. This is the third or fourth genocide against them by an uncontrollable militia, an army, and military men from the Islamic Front, from the ousted regime.

We now see the repercussions of having military bases in the cities, in Khartoum, in Marawi, close to civilians. The military must be removed from the cities.

The majority of Sudanese people are calling for an end to this war. This is not their war; it is a war for resources and power between vested interests.

The people are calling for the formation of an alliance against the war, the restoration of civilian government, for the army to go to the barracks, and for the militia to be dissolved.

But that is just the start. The Sudanese revolution must continue. It is a progressive development, with the promise of giving the people control of their national wealth.

Sudanese activists call for the path of peaceful economic development and the building of a public sector that is strong and serves the people. But such a path has enemies everywhere—multinational companies and those that have interests in the corporate world and finance.

How can the “international community” help? The U.N. is playing a good role, but it is not effective. It has not been able to bring people together for a comprehensive peace.

The framework agreement brokered by the U.N. and signed in December 2022 between civilian political forces and the military served only the interests of Hemeti and the small “liberation” armies. It excluded many people and forces and did not include key demands of the revolution. This is why the military junta couldn’t establish any government.

The U.N. needs to get a grip on Sudan’s political map in order to include everybody; it must prioritize an agenda that the Sudanese people care about and build a comprehensive agreement among all the people who contributed to this revolution.

The Sudanese Communist Party must be part of it, including the other forces who support the party’s position and call for radical change. The revolution was built on solid slogans and demands that were developed by Sudanese activists, members of the Communist Party, and other progressive groups.

International supporters of peace should urge their governments to side with the Sudanese people’s demands: an all-inclusive civilian rule that can preserve the people’s rights and build a national army that protects the state and the citizens. Foreign powers should stop supporting the military, the army in the country, or any other militia forces.

This war will end eventually, and once it does, this must also be the end of the two military powers destroying Sudan.

The Sudanese people will not settle for another dictator, and they have had enough of foreign alliances that distort the country to serve their interests and trample on the people’s rights.

Morning Star

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Ameena al-Rashid
Ameena al-Rashid

Ameena al-Rashid is a Sudanese activist and political analyst. Ms. al-Rashid writes for Liberation Journal and the UK's Morning Star.