A header illustration of Sudan, highlighted with the colors of its flag on a darkened political map of the African continent.
A header illustration of Sudan, highlighted with the colors of its flag on a darkened political map of the African continent.

Illustration by Sidra Dahhan

What is happening in Sudan?

Despite a recent cease-fire agreement, fighting between the RSF and the Sudanese army has continued since April 15. The recent outburst of violence is a result of conflicting interests by the two de facto leaders of Africa’s third largest country.

Apr 30, 2023

On April 15, armed conflicts between the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) erupted across the capital of Sudan, Khartoum, and at least six other cities. The escalation of violence was allegedly due to the RSF taking over an airbase in Marawi. In interviews for Al Jazeera, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti), head of the RSF, declared that the paramilitary group had seized the presidential palace, the army’s chief residence, and the capital’s airport. Later that day, Sudanese army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan claimed the army to be in control of the presidential palace, the military headquarters, and the airport. On April 16, the SAF called citizens to stay indoors as they conducted full aerial surveys. The toll, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Union, was 56 deaths and 600 injured.
The escalation of violence came as little surprise to the local population, as tensions between the SAF and the RSF had been building due to their conflicting ideas about power consolidation. The history of the RSF and the Sudanese Army goes back to October 2021, when they jointly carried out a coup that expelled a civilian government, declaring a state of emergency after thousands of protesters took to the streets of the capital city to protest against the coup. After the 2021 coup, the RSF cooperated with the Army to help keep the military in power. General Burhan became the de facto ruler whereas Hemedti, head of the RSF, became the de facto vice-president of Sudan.
The origins of the current conflict and political instability can be explained by the 2019 Sudanese revolution, which ended Omar al-Bashir’s military dictatorship of almost 30 years in the country. Although al-Bashir was ousted with the revolution, the military and security state instaurated during his ruling was difficult to topple as it had deep roots and complex interests. The popular participation in the revolution made it clear that having another military figure as head of the state would not be accepted. This led to an agreement between civilian parties to instate a transitional power-sharing government that would pave the way for elections by the end of 2023. The internationally-backed transitional government was due to sign a final agreement in early April, in which the Army and the RSF were required to cede power. The agreement would also set a timetable for the RSF to be integrated into the regular armed forces, and for the army to formally be under civilian supervision. These issues proved contentious, as both threatened the current power and influence held by each group and its leaders, finally leading to the escalation of tensions and violence on April 15.
On April 19, the Army and the RSF announced a 24-hour cease-fire in the capital that started the same day at 6 p.m. However, the implementation of a cease-fire has been uneven throughout the country. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), in North Darfur, a civilian Committee succeeded in negotiating a local cease-fire between the Army and the RSF on April 20. Later that week, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that after intense negotiations between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the RSF, the groups had agreed to a 72-hour cease-fire starting at midnight on April 24. On April 27, both groups agreed to a three-day extension of the cease-fire, in a truce brokered by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
According to the UN OCHA, fighting and air strikes in Khartoum continued on April 25 and 26 despite the cease-fire. In West Darfur, killing of civilians, looting and burning of houses, and clashes were also reported during the same dates. Health facilities have been greatly affected by the violence, leaving 43 percent of the health facilities partially functional and causing the closure of 32 percent in Khartoum. Hospitals face shortages of medical supplies and blood, as well as a lack of electricity and water. On a broader scale, shortages of food, water, medicines, and fuel have caused skyrocketing prices. Violence has led to civilian displacement from Khartoum, Northern, Blue Nile, North Kordofan, North Darfur, South Darfur and West Darfur to other states of the country, as well as cross-border movements to neighboring countries, including Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.
As of April 27, the death toll of the conflict was reported to stand at 459 deaths, however, the actual number is predicted to be much higher. According to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, 16,000 people have fled to Egypt since the beginning of the confrontations, including 14,000 Sudanese citizens, and the UN estimates 20,000 refugees to have fled to Chad.
One of the main humanitarian concerns is food scarcity, as the recent violence has only exacerbated the existing problems with food distribution in Africa’s third largest country, in which 46 million people were already in need of humanitarian aid.
The international community has called for a cease-fire and dialogue , condemning the violence in the country. But as violence continues, countries such as the United Kingdom, France, and the United States have been evacuating their nationals during the announced cease-fire periods.
As for humanitarian assistance, the IFRC deployed more than 200 Sudanese Red Crescent Society volunteers in Khartoum to offer first aid services and psychosocial support, as well as hundreds of others deployed in North Darfur, South Darfur and Northern State. Volunteers throughout the country are offering first aid services in hospitals as well as running family reunification services. The IFRC has so far allocated 475,320 Swiss francs to the Sudanese Red Crescent Society through their Disaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF). Only on April 26, they allocated 137,369 Swiss francs to the Chad Red Cross to help support the growing number of refugees going to Chad.
Scarlette Jimenez is News Editor. Email her at feedback@thegazelle.org
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