Analysis: Sudan on the edge of abyss

Asmaa Al-Husseini , Friday 14 Apr 2023

In an unprecedented development that poses a serious threat to Sudan's peace and stability, the dispute between the leaderships of the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) escalated in recent days - with both sides mobilising their military forces.

In this frame grab from a video posted by Sudan s state news agency, SUNA on Thursday, April 13, 2023, spokesman for the Sudanese Armed Forces Brig. Nabil Abdullah reads a statement warning of conflict after the recent deployment of Sudan s powerful paramilitary in the capital and other cities. AP


Fear and apprehension have spread across Sudan amid concerns that the developments in the dispute between the Sudanese army and the RSF could lead to violent confrontations, thus posing a serious threat to the country's political stability, existence and future.

Reports suggest that both sides are preparing to outmanoeuvre and overpower each other as the situation becomes increasingly precarious.

On Wednesday, the army released a statement warning of the danger posed by the RSF's deployment of forces in the city of Marawi, located near an army air base in the northern state, without proper coordination with the army.

“Sudan is at a critical and historical juncture,” declared the statement.

“The danger is increasing after the leadership of RSF mobilised troops and spread inside the capital and other cities.”

“These movements occurred without the approval of or coordination with the Armed Forces. This has alarmed citizens and compounds security risks, which has increased tensions between security forces,” added the statement.

“The Armed Forces continue to look for peaceful solutions to these violations in order to maintain public peace and avoid an armed conflict that would destroy everything. These movements are a clear violation of the law - and if they continue will inevitably lead to more divisions and tensions that may lead to the disintegration of the security contract in the country.”

The statement affirmed “the commitment of the Armed Forces to the framework agreement, and warned political forces against challenging the positions of the national Armed Forces.”

RSF counter-statement

In a counter statement, the RSF denied what it called claims that they are carrying out war moves towards Marawi airport, describing them as attempts to ignite strife.

The RSF described its presence in Marawi as similar to its presence in all of Sudan's states to perform its duties that extend to the desert.

The crisis between the two sides has been escalating for months with differences apparent in recent exchanges and counter statements on both sides.

General Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, RSF commander and vice president of the Sovereign Council, publicly rejected the actions of the President of the Sovereign Council and Commander-in-Chief of the Army Lieutenant General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan on 25 October 2021, which he described as a “coup.”

Differences also emerged regarding the political process built on the framework agreement signed on 5 December, 2022, especially on issues of security and military reform.

The leaders of the Sudanese army want to rapidly integrate the RSF into its ranks.

On the other side, the RSF wants to do this according to a timetable of up to ten years.

The RSF also wants to be under a civilian leadership. The army rejects that.

The RSF is also demanding the removal of all Muslim Brotherhood elements from the army as a prerequisite for reform.

The disputes between the two sides over these and other issues continue, delaying the signing of a final agreement to move towards a civilian government, which was scheduled for 1 April.

The agreement details the steps in the handover of power from the transitional period to civilians.

It also details steps in the building a unified Sudanese national army that is removed from politics.

Diverging alliances

During negotiations in the peace process, each side developed diverging alliances.

Hemedti emerged closer to the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC)-Central Council.

Al-Burhan drew nearer to the Democratic Bloc and other groups, demanding that the agreement should include them.

Meanwhile, Islamist remnants of the previous regime who opposed Hemedti and the FFC attempted to fan the fire of disagreement.

As soon as the army issued its statement, Sudanese powers took action to defuse the crisis, which indicates a shared sense of how critical the situation had become and that the country is in an existential threat.

Sudan was also the focus of regional and international efforts to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.

Major General Fadlallah Barmah Nasser, head of the National Umma Party, called an urgent meeting at his party’s headquarters in Omdurman, inviting political, armed and civilian leaders, as well as army and RSF commanders.

Nasser emphasised that security conditions are slipping and cannot wait for the usual routine procedures.

He added that statements by the Armed Forces and RSF, tensions, mobilisations, brash language and military movements have reached a point where “a first bullet could be fired.”

Nasser called for a halt of all military action and statements.

He also urged that all political forces refrain from issuing any statements or supporting one side or another, stressing that the current situation requires thinking outside the box.

He said events were moving quickly towards an unanticipated reality that transcends all previous political mechanisms and processes.

Meanwhile, a joint statement by three leaders of armed groups affiliated to the Juba peace agreement was issued.

In this statement, Mona Arko Minawi, the governor of the Darfur region, Malik Agar, member of the Sovereign Council, and Jibril Ibrahim, the Minister of Finance, said they attempted to defuse the security crisis between the leadership of the Armed Forces and RSF, which has almost delivered the country to its doom.

The three leaders urged both sides to embrace a patriotic spirit and make every concession needed to spare bloodshed and help achieve comprehensive national reconciliation.

 “We will continue our efforts tirelessly, and will appraise our people with every development,” the statement concluded.

In the same vein, Suleiman Sundul, political secretary of the Justice and Equality Movement, said: “No to war, irrespective of the dispute. Everything is possible and can be remedied and resolved.”

The FFC-Central Council had accused the forces of the ousted Islamist regime of preparing for all-out war in the country.

In a statement, it said that the comeback of regime remnants in the Popular Defence forces across Sudan is no coincidence.

 It noted that “remnant forces are working day and night to prepare for mayhem and war across the country in order to restore power to the ousted regime and squash the revolution of the Sudanese people and their aspirations for freedom, justice and peace.”

Averting the abyss

The situation in Sudan is dire and requires all parties to make wise decisions to contain the ongoing dispute which could ravage the entire country.

These disputes are a part of a battle to shape Sudan’s present and future - a battle for power and influence.

The issue of RSF – an organisation that has substantial numbers and resources across the country and is a key player in the political process - can only be resolved peacefully.

Any confrontations will come at a high price for Sudan’s present and future.

The dispute between the army leadership and RSF is long standing, dating back to the establishment of RSF in 2014 during the time of ousted President Omar Al-Bashir.

At the time, Al-Bashir attached the RSF to the security and intelligence apparatus after the Sudanese army refused to integrate this new force into its ranks.

 In 2017, RSF became relatively independent under the formal command of Al-Bashir, who also served as the supreme commander of the army.

During the December 2018 revolution, Hemedti refused to participate in the suppression of revolutionaries.

The priority today is to prevent Sudan from slipping into a destructive war and silencing the drums of war in order - to move the country towards forming one professional national army as part of a comprehensive process for security and military reform.

If fighting breaks out, no one will win.

This means all disputes should be addressed immediately in order to move forward on the path of peaceful democratic transformation and advancing security and military reforms.

It is also critical to reaffirm the professionalism of the Sudanese Armed Forces, removing them from the struggle over power and preventing bloodshed.

This would avoid an explosion of current dysfunctional conditions and lead Sudan to a safe place.

Military confrontations would only lead to dire consequences.

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