KHARTOUM – Following days of tension between the armed forces and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – a powerful paramilitary group which evolved in 2013 from the Janjaweed militia groups, heavy gunfire and blasts racketed Sudan’s capital Khartoum on Saturday April 15, 2023 and the hotspots included army headquarters, the defence ministry, national television headquarters and Khartoum International Airport, among others. Within three days, the conflict had spread across the country with not less than 100 deaths and approximately 1000 people injured. This is a tension that escalated insecurity over basic services like food, medical care, water, electricity in a state that has been at the verge of failure for nearly half a decade.
This violent situation followed a long spell of divergent visions that put the military and RSF at loggerheads over power consolidation. Both factions are headed by high ranking military officers; General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan leads the military as Head of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) while General Mohamad Hamdan Dagalo ‘Hemeti’ leads the RSF and doubles as Deputy Head of the TMC. The two have a long history of working together especially on matters that unify their interests. For example, they were active participants in the 2003 violent conflicts that resulted into approximately 300,000 deaths and more than 2.5 million people displaced in Darfur region. They have also come together, in Sudan’s struggles to reconstruct itself post-Bashir regime, whenever they need to resist democratic reforms. A case in point was their collaborative efforts to overthrow the civilian-led transitional government in 2021.
The main question then is why would two military generals with such a long history of partnership in ‘crime’ divide at the time when Sudan critically needs leadership?
Proponents of the greed argument posit that armed conflicts are often caused by combatants’ desire for self-enrichment and influence. Despite being top-most leaders in the TMC, al-Burhan and Dagalo’s behaviour is a clear implication that each is fighting for ‘more’-influence over the other. The biggest source of this greed and self-enrichment is desire to dominate influence over the military especially on how RSF should be integrated into the national army.
Underestimating General Dagalo’s strength.
General Dagalo is often underestimated by leaders in the army and the civil society basing on his education and military training backgrounds. Despite being one of the richest people (via his company al-Junaid) in Sudan, Dagalo did not attain high education as compared to most of his counterparts with top ranks in Sudanese national army. This certainly had a role in his failure to acquire training from highly qualified military academies and staff colleges. Nevertheless, Dagalo has been a face of Sudan’s violent political marketplace with a record of commanding mercenarized political violence since early 2000s. Apart from hailing from a family where his grandfather headed Mahariya Rizeigat sub-clan, Hamdan has unbeatable proficiency in commanding military support, fighting and bargaining. He has ably used this commercial acumen and military/leadership prowess to build a strong militia into a powerful force against the waning Sudanese state despite his academic and training limitations.
The ICC nightmare.
In the early 2000s, the popular Janjaweed militia group were used by Sudanese government to help the army put down a rebellion in Darfur. A conflict in which an estimated 2.5 million people were displaced and 300,000 killed led ICC prosecutors to accuse government officials and Janjaweed commanders of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. The two generals were key participants in these crimes. Abdel Fattah was at the forefront of training the militia group which was led by Hamdan Dagalo. This conflict bursts only three months to the deadline of the Transitional Military Council (TMC). None of the two appears ready to give up power to civilian leadership and the major scare is fear to be handed over to the ICC for prosecution.
The bottom line in the Sudan conflict is that none of the military generals is people’s choice. They both share a genealogy of political violence and crimes against humanity. The greed for power between the two has made them circumstantial adversaries but they have a record of working together where they have common interests. This political compromise in which Sudan finds herself, without any doubt, extremely marginalizes the possibility for transition of power from military to civilian rule. Government created a monster (RSF) that is now threatening the already waning state survival in Sudan. It is also proving that Maandamanos don’t guarantee democratic transition and stability in Africa.
Charles Tweheyo is a Political and Social Commentator on International Relations with interest in Politics & Governance in Africa. firstname.lastname@example.org
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