A Glance At The The Factors Driving The Sudan Conflict

A Glance At The The Factors Driving The Sudan Conflict
Sudan is thought of a as a war-ravaged county, not much different from other sub-Saharan countries which have faced a similar fate. That it is a resource and people rich country with access to the Red Sea is a moot point, because the generals in charge have been unable to make anything of their location, people, and resources, much like the generals in this country.

It has already been three weeks since the first shots were fired and there is no turning back in this internecine conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Force. Saudi Arabia is trying to play a very important role in brokering a truce between the rival generals Lt General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Lt General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, but while mediators are conducting talks for safe passage of refugees amongst other issues, the fighting carries on.

General Dagalo, otherwise known as Hemedti, is an upstart who began his career as ex-President Omar al Bashir’s henchman responsible for enforcing the ex-President’s writ in Sudan’s ungovernable tribal regions. In 2003, the Sudanese President realized that he could not use the national army to crush rebellion in the western region of Darfur, so he used the oldest trick in the book, divide and rule, to quell the rebellion. He recruited a new Arab tribal army called the Janjaweed – devils on horseback – who raped, murdered, and pillaged their way through non-Arab territory until they controlled it completely. Hemedti outshone others in his position as a tribal commander and was thus garlanded with rapid promotions.

The deposed President then started imagining a different role for this tribal militia. In 2013, Bashir transformed the Janjaweed into the Rapid Support Force as a counterweight to the Army. Omar himself rode in on a military coup in 1989 and was always petrified of the army high command conspiring against him. When he lost South Sudan to a referendum in 2011, the country lost three-fourths of its oil and it was only time before the remaining northern half of the country started experiencing economic hardship. US sanctions and international criminal indictments of Omar al Bashir did not help economic matters and the furious public took to the roads in droves in 2018. The culmination of these widespread protests was his own two men, General Burhan and General Dagalo, both of whom he used as a hedge against each other, conspiring to topple his brutal dictatorship.

For four long years, the rival generals tried to forge a partnership where they assured the United States and other Western democracies that they would bring the country to the path of true democracy, even appointing a dummy Prime Minister and on paper agreeing to merge the RSF with the Sudanese Armed Forces. The Sudanese Armed Forces are headed by General Burhan and he assumed the role of de-facto President who was calling all the shots, while ostensibly giving the power to Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and his council of ministers. While he was in power, his only contender for the top slot was Hemedti because he was the only one with substantial power to knock him out. The original sin by Omar al Bashir was not that he used both his underlings as a hedge against each other but rather that he did not make either of them believe that they would be his successors because if he had, there would have been no coup in 2019, then a second coup against the civilian administration in 2022 and the civil war which has just recently started.

Some observers opine that outside powers can play a strong role in mediating this internal strife or even impose stringent sanctions against the country, but none of this will work because this is fight to death for both men. Expecting them to lay down arms for the betterment of the country is naïve because right now, this game of thrones has become a zero-sum game for them. It is either General Dagalo’s neck or General Burhan’s neck. The only way Western or more importantly neighbouring countries like Egypt – which are facing an onslaught of refugees – can play a positive role is by outrightly siding with one of the men and crushing the other so the civil war can be brought to an early end.

My expectation is that Western powers will side with General Burhan because the other so-called General – the RSF commander is known as a rash actor and may prove to be an unreliable ally. Further, there are reports that Russia’s Wagner mercenary group is already in Sudan lending support to General Dagalo who over the last two decades has amassed near total control of the country’s gold reserves and is selling them via Russia. Hemedti has been instrumental in helping Saudi Arabia and UAE in their fight in Yemen against the Houthi rebels yet when push comes to shove, both the Middle Eastern monarchies would want to have a more reliable ally in Sudan who has direct command over the national army and not the head of a rag-tag militia. This rag-tag militia is more cohesive and pays its soldiers better though and if Hemedti displays his cunning once more and gains the upper hand before the Western powers finally decide to support Burhan, he may well become the sole ruler in Sudan.