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Sudan Crisis: What is happening and why?

On April 15, 2023, a violent crisis erupted between the two groups, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), during Ramadan, leading to the internal displacement of about 5.9 million people and a death toll reaching to 12,000. Even though the fighting was mainly concentrated in Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan, it has impacted other parts of the country as well, leading to the decimation of public infrastructure like health facilities, water and food shortages, etc. As the International Rescue Committee has reported, Sudan has now become the country with the largest number of displaced people and is in dire need of humanitarian aid.

Even before the current crisis in Sudan ensued, various forms of violence permeated the everyday spaces in Sudan, which became especially evident in the wake of the 2003 Darfer situation. The crisis mentioned above resulted from the leading ethnic tensions over land and water disputes which gained momentum, leading to a rebellion against the government. In response to the circumstances that led to numerous accusations of genocide and war crimes against him, Omar-al Bashir, the former president of Sudan, vowed to use "forceful action," which resulted in the displacement of around 2.7 million people and the deaths of over 3,00,000 individuals.

Sudan Crisis: A Brief Summary of its Historical Context

Since its Independence in 1956, Sudan has experienced more than 15 military coups and has majorly experienced military rule, with brief periods of democratic parliamentary rule in between. Omar al Bashir served as President from 1993 to 2019, retaining military rule throughout his term. In December 2018, he started facing a lot of opposition and protests due to the detrimental condition of the Sudanese economy under his regime. In February 2019, Bashir dissolved the state and central government and declared an emergency in a way to respond to the anti-government marches that were happening increasingly. He banned the “unauthorized” organizations from engaging in any public demonstrations and also appointed a new Prime Minister. However, on April 6, 2019, protesters marched down to the military headquarters and remained there, showing their resistance and dissent, which ultimately led to the ousting of Bashir and placed him under arrest.

Following Bashir’s arrest, an interim government (The Transitional Sovereignty Government), headed by a civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, was appointed to share power with the military. However, in 2021, following a military coup led by Hamedti and Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (leader of the Sudanese Armed Forces), Sudan’s transition into a democratic government came to a halt, and military rule was resumed as a result.

Who is the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF)?

The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) majorly constitute military groups from the Republic of the Sudan. Earlier, a lot of military personnel were soldiers who joined to have access to free ration and a salary. However, after al-Bashir gained power in 1989, the personnel which were under the government of Sudan were organized among four units, the Popular Defense Forces, the Sudanese Navy, the Land Forces, and the Sudanese Air Force.

Who is the Rapid Support Forces (RSF)?

Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which was renamed by al-Bashir in 2013, was initially a group of Arab militias called Janjaweed, who were active in various regions of Darfur and Chad. The group was employed by Bashir to regulate and curb the supposed non-Arab uprisings in the Nuba mountains. RSF is under the leadership of Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo aka Hemedti. During the protests against al-Bashir in 2018, RSF was deemed responsible for the massive violence against the civilians, also called as Khartoum Massacre, where more than hundreds of people were killed and numerous others were raped in an attempt to repress the civil disobedience movement happening within Sudan. However, Hemedti has refused the possibility of their involvement in the orchestration of such an attack.

What led to the conflict between SAF and RSF?

One of the key reasons that a violent fight erupted between these two groups is due to the disagreement and lack of consensus over which group will now tackle the reigns of power in their hands. Even though both the groups have worked together before, be it the orchestration of the military group in 2021 to overthrow the civilian Prime minister or be it overturning of al-Bashir’s region in 2019. However, after 2021, RSF and SAF were not able to come to an agreement about which group would be merged into another and who would eventually form the leadership of the newly constituted military. SAF is currently being led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan while RSF is still under the rule of Hemedti.

Hemedti has argued that he wants to maintain its own paramilitary forces as a guarantee when they go through elections. SAF has expressed its own reservations that if proposed reforms are followed through, it might leave out the possibility of RSF’s domination. Due to a lack of consensus between the two groups, the situation in Khartoum is still grave and unprecedented.

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