Political Crisis in Sudan

As the armed conflict between rival factions of Sudan’s military government approaches its second month, there may be a possible end in sight. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, leader of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), and General Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), are currently engaged in a conflict which has plunged Sudan into civil war – but their relationship wasn’t always so oppositionary. 

While the Sudanese Armed Forces have always been the traditional military of Sudan, the use of the Rapid Support Forces as a part of Sudan’s military began in the early 2000s. In 2003, during the conflict in Darfur, former long-standing dictator of Sudan Omar al-Bashir enlisted the help of the Janjaweed militias – predecessors to the RSF – to put down the uprisings. In 2017, in an effort to counterbalance the power of the SAF and limit their ability to stage a coup against him, al-Bashir recognized the RSF as an independent security force. 

This plan backfired against him in 2019, when Hemedti and al-Burhan joined forces to oust Omar al-Bashir. The two generals then agreed to share power tri-ways with Abdalla Hamdok, the Prime Minister elected by Sudan’s ruling body, the Sovereign Council, in an effort to transition the country towards democracy. However, in 2021 the two staged a second coup against Prime Minister Hamdok, stopping Sudan from transitioning into a democracy and sharing uneasy control of Sudan while both generals vied for power. 

Tensions between Al-Burhan and Hemedti escalated on April 15th, 2023, when armed conflict broke out between the SAF and RSF in Sudan’s capital city Khartoum and in the region of Darfur. There have been approximately 863 civilian casualties, with more than 3,000 civilians injured. Approximately 1 million Sudanese residents have been internally displaced with another 320,000 having fled the country, many into Egypt.  

Not only is the refugee crisis a humanitarian issue, but Egypt’s record-high rates of inflation and the history of ISIS and Al-Qaeda operations along the Egypt-Sudan border raises concerns about the economic and security threats that increased migration and border traffic pose to Egypt. Due to the location of the Suez Canal, Egypt’s utility as a trading partner, and its position as a gateway between U.S. and North African trade, the United States’s political and economic interests are inextricably linked with Egypt’s. Further escalation of the conflict could potentially destabilize the Horn of Africa, and Washington also fears a repeat of the Libyan civil war – in which a protracted domestic conflict turned into a playground for hostile foreign powers. 

The United States has responded with humanitarian aid and diplomatic measures, pledging a total of $245 million to Sudan and its neighboring countries. Partnered with Saudi Arabia, the United States engaged in conflict resolution discussions with the SAF and RSF, resulting in the brokering of a ceasefire agreement between the two rival forces. The United States and Saudi Arabia, in collaboration with the SAF and RSF, have committed to enforcing the ceasefire through a monitoring mechanism and the threat of sanctions if conflict continues. Since the ceasefire, there have already been reports of breaches on both sides. The next few weeks will therefore be a test of U.S. resolve to aid the Sudanese people in their quest for peace. If peace is achieved, the world will be watching for a demonstration of the U.S.’s commitment to upholding democracy abroad and supporting Sudanese civil society groups in their quest for long lasting democratic reforms.

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