Political turmoil between SAF and RSF in Sudan is more complex than it appears
After weeks of simmering tensions, an open military conflict broke out last week between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and a powerful paramilitary group, Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
Both groups used to be close allies who jointly ousted Sudan’s longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in 2019 and seized control of Sudan in 2021 in a military coup. However, it didn’t take long for things to turn sour as subsequent tensions over control and decision-making on prominent national issues drove them apart.
This includes, but is not limited to, opposing views on the integration of the paramilitary force into the regular army as well as a fragile plan for an eventual transition to civilian rule in Sudan.
The recent events in the African country resemble a typical power struggle seen in a situation where more than one powerful armed group exists and each is looking to take charge. The RSF’s strength has grown over the years, reaching over 100,000 fighters now – roughly the size of the SAF fighting force.
The paramilitary group was formed in 2013 by the Sudanese government under the leadership of al-Bashir to address the rebellions in the western region of Darfur. It originally evolved from the Janjaweed militias. Later in 2015, the RSF was granted the status of a regular force and in 2017, a new law turned the group into an independent security force.
Returning to the latest conflict, more than 410 people have been killed and thousands of others injured. While the clashes are majorly concentrated in the capital, Khartoum, residents in other areas aren’t free from the violence. According to the World Health Organisation, up to 20,000 people have rushed to neighbouring Chad to escape the conflict.
Nevertheless, everyone doesn’t get a chance to flee. Scores of people in Khartoum are trapped in their houses, amid depleting essential supplies. Dozens of hospitals have reported being ‘out of service’, while only a handful of humanitarian organisations are operating fully.
A three-day ceasefire agreed to by both the military and the RSF to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr didn’t survive long, just like the previous ones. Meanwhile, a number of countries, including Germany, South Korea, and the US, are looking for ways to evacuate their embassies.