Michelle Gavin, the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss the deadly struggle between the Sudanese military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) for control of Sudan.
They discussed the deadly armed conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) for control of Sudan.
Here are five highlights from their conversation:
1.) The fighting pits the SAF and the RSF. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan leads Sudan’s armed forces. General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as “Hemedti,” leads the RSF paramilitary group. The two men worked together in October 2021 to overthrow the transitional government that formed after long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir was overthrown in April 2019. Michelle noted that Bashir created the RSF “as part of a divide-and-conquer strategy to ensure that none of his entities of enforcement were ever strong enough to challenge him and the others.” She added, “they were designed to be at odds with each other.” That design ultimately produced the current crisis.
2.) Neither side is on track to defeat the other. The SAF has an advantage in advanced military equipment like planes. The RSF meanwhile has considerable experience in urban warfare. Protracted fighting without a clear winner could maximize the conflict’s destructiveness.
3.) The conflict is roiling Sudan and could upend the region. The conflict is devastating Sudan. More than 3 million people have already been displaced. The conflict could spill over Sudan’s borders. Chad and Ethiopia in particular worry that the Sudanese conflict will aggravate instability within their borders.
4.) The SAF and RSF both have outside support. Egypt and Saudi Arabia both favor the SAF. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the now infamous Wagner group are supporting the RSF. The splits reflect different historical relationships. Egypt has long supported the government in Khartoum because its worries that state collapse in Sudan could jeopardize its security. Conversely, the UAE’s support for the RSF reflects both a simmering rivalry with Saudi Arabia and longstanding commercial relationships with the RSF. The Wagner Group in recent years has profited from the RSF’s lucrative gold mining activities in the Darfur region of Sudan.
5.) Outside mediation efforts have so far failed. The United States and Saudi Arabia have negotiated multiple, short-term ceasefires for the delivery of humanitarian aid, which more than half of the Sudanese population needs. None of these sixteen temporary ceasefires have held for long.
If you want to learn more about the conflict in Sudan, check out Michelle’s article on CFR.org titled “Seeking Urgency on Sudan.” It argues that the United States needs more partners than Saudi Arabia to join it in mediating talks between the SAF and the RSF. Michelle has also pointed to “two truths” about Sudan that policymakers should keep in mind when trying mediate the end of the war—hold the warring generals accountable for their destruction and keep the country’s pro-democracy movement in mind.
CFR’s Global Conflict Tracker is also worth reading.