close up shot of a graveyard

Sudan is in a state of crisis. Conflict is raging between military and paramilitary forces, and ordinary Sudanese people are trapped in the middle of the violence. Today, let’s discuss the background of this conflict, why fighting started, and what the future holds for Sudan!

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  • Paramilitary (adj) – A paramilitary group is organized like an army but is not official and often not legal.
    • Paramilitary forces have been involved in conflicts across Africa.
  • Civilian (adj) – relating to a person who is not a member of the police or the armed forces.
    • The army has been criticized for attacking the unarmed civilian population.
  • Outbreak (n) – a sudden appearance of something, esp. of a disease or something else dangerous or unpleasant.
    • The outbreak of war came as a surprise.
  • Coup d’état (n) – sudden defeat of a government through illegal force by a small group, often a military one
    • A coup d’état occurred in Myanmar a few years ago.
  • Transition (n) – a change from one form or type to another, or the process by which this happens.
    • There will be an interim government to oversee the transition to democracy.
  • To redeploy (v) – to move employees, soldiers, equipment, etc. to a different place or use them in a more effective way.
    • The soldier was redeployed across the country.
  • To bear the brunt (idiom) – Put up with the worst of some bad circumstance.
    • The secretary had to bear the brunt of the doctor’s anger.
  • Ramification (n) – the possible results of an action.
    • Have you considered all the ramifications of your suggestion?

A Crisis in Sudan

Sudan is currently in crisis. As I’m writing this episode, fighting is raging in the African country’s capital city Khartoum. Gunfire can be heard in the streets, while military jets are bombing targets across the country.

Sudan is one of the least stable countries in the world. I even recorded an episode last year about Sudan called “The Most Unstable Country in the World?” And the current crisis is just the latest in decades of military coups, revolutions, civil wars, and armed conflicts.

On Saturday, a power struggle between the Sudanese military and a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces (or RSF) broke out. The two sides are (as I’m writing this) struggling for control of the country’s media, government buildings, and military bases.

Sudanese citizens were warned to stay inside. The air force conducted bombings targeting RSF bases and camps, while gunfire has been reported in cities across the country. Already many people have been killed, including civilians, and hundreds more injured in the violence.

The RSF have been looting parts of the capital city, with residents reporting that members of the paramilitary force have been demanding water and food from people’s houses. The UN’s World Food Programme has suspended its actions after three of its employees were killed in the fighting.

According to journalists and news reports, armed vehicles have been seen in the streets of the capital city. Planes have been lit on fire in the main airport, with most airlines suspending their flights to the country.

The crisis was made worse by the fact this outbreak of violence came as a surprise to most Sudanese citizens. People were caught out by the sudden clashes – with many people stuck at work or school and unable to move around the cities due to violence and road closures.

So far agreements to avoid fighting to allow evacuations and supplies to be delivered have not been respected by both sides. A US diplomatic convoy through the country was attacked and the EU ambassador to the country was assaulted in his home.

Today, let’s look at the background of this conflict, the two sides involved, and what could happen in the future!

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Background of the Conflict

In October 2021, Sudan experienced a military coup d’état. For most countries, a military coup is a major historical event – in fact most countries will never experience such an event. Sudan is a little different.

Since its independence in 1956, Sudan has suffered 16 attempted coups: 6 successful coups and 10 failed attempts. Almost every time a government has attempted to create a stable political environment, the military has stepped in and taken control.

In 2019, the long-time dictator of the country, Omar al-Bashir, was overthrown by the military after being accused of genocide and other war crimes by the International Criminal Court. A plan was made to eventually transition Sudan into a democracy, with a form of joint rule between the military and civilian politicians proposed until that could be achieved.

In October 2021, that civilian/military government was once again overthrown by the military. The Prime Minister was arrested, internet restricted, and media fell under military control. The army said they intended to hold elections in July 2023 and eventually transition Sudan to a democracy again.

Since then, Sudan has been run by a council of military generals. The effective leader of Sudan is General Abdel Fattah el-Burhan – the head of the Sudanese armed forces. His deputy, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (otherwise known as Hemeti), is the leader of the RSF.

These two powerful figures have strongly disagreed about the future direction of Sudan. One of the major arguments is over the future role of the RSF – how and when to incorporate them into the nation’s real army.

As both the military and the RSF control large parts of Sudan’s economy, it is likely the leaders of both groups are nervous at losing their wealth and power.


What is the Rapid Support Forces?

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) is a paramilitary force in Sudan that was established in 2013. A paramilitary force is an organized group that operates like a military force but is not a part of the official armed forces of a country. Paramilitary forces are typically established to carry out specific tasks that are not the job of the regular military, such as internal security operations or counterinsurgency campaigns.

The RSF was formed by the Sudanese government as a counterinsurgency force to fight rebel groups in Darfur, but it has since been involved in various other conflicts across Sudan.

The RSF is primarily composed of former members of the Janjaweed, a notorious militia that was accused of committing war crimes during the Darfur conflict. The RSF has been accused of committing human rights abuses and war crimes in its operations, including killings, torture, and the forcible displacement of civilians.

In recent years, the RSF has played a key role in the transitional government in Sudan following the overthrow of dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019. The RSF has been involved in efforts to maintain security and stability in the country, but its continued presence and influence have raised concerns about the role of paramilitary forces in the political transition.

The group has operated outside of Sudan in Libya and Yemen, and apparently has economic interests in Sudanese gold mines.

Why did the Fighting in Sudan Start?

In February, Hemeti (the leader of the RSF) gave a speech on Sudanese TV in which he announced that the 2021 coup had been a mistake. He claimed that allies of the former dictator Bashir were regaining their power.

In the same speech, he praised the plan to restore civilian rule in Sudan and claimed he wanted to listen to pro-democracy activists in the country.

This speech was a clear sign of the growing tension between his paramilitary RSF and the army lead by General al-Burhan, the effective leader of the country.

Many observers suggested these comments were a deliberate attempt to demonstrate a break between the RSF and the army. Hemeti has often discussed his own political ambitions and was clearly appealing to the civilian groups angry with continued military rule.

It is important to acknowledge that the RSF have committed massacres and participated in genocide only a few years ago. The group was allied to the dictator al-Bashir for many years. However, with the support of civilian groups, perhaps the RSF was preparing for a move against the military.

Over the last few weeks, members of the RSF were redeployed around the country. The army saw this as a clear threat. Although talks were held between the two sides, fighting broke out on Saturday morning.

What Will Happen in Sudan Next?

The ongoing conflict in Sudan poses a serious threat as it has the potential to further fragment the country and intensify the existing political turbulence. The outbreak of fighting will lead to the displacement of people, destruction of property and infrastructure, and loss of lives.

To address the situation, diplomats have been playing a crucial role in encouraging a return to civilian rule and facilitating dialogue between the two opposing factions. Diplomatic efforts are ongoing, and it is hoped that a peaceful resolution can be achieved through negotiation.

However, the situation remains uncertain, and ordinary Sudanese people continue to bear the brunt of the conflict. Violence will severely disrupt daily lives, making it difficult for people to access essential services such as healthcare and education. And all conflicts have a significant economic impact, with many businesses closing down and people losing their jobs, exacerbating an already challenging situation.

As the conflict persists, the ordinary Sudanese people are left to endure another period of uncertainty, with potential long-term ramifications for the country’s stability and development. It is crucial that all parties involved prioritize the welfare of the Sudanese people and work towards a peaceful resolution.

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Final Thought

Sudan is currently in a state of crisis due to a power struggle between the Sudanese military and a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces. The conflict erupted in the capital city Khartoum and has led to violence, killings, and injuries.

The military coup in October 2021 and the disagreement between the military and RSF over the future role of the paramilitary force have contributed to the current instability in the country. The continued presence of paramilitary forces in the political transition and their economic interests have raised concerns about the future of Sudan.

What do you think? What actions can the international community take? What are the long-term solutions to address the instability and repeated military coups in Sudan?

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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