Regional bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), on Saturday rushed to prevent another collapse of Sudan after the country’s army clashed with paramilitary forces in a supremacy battle.
And so far, Igad, the AU and leaders from Africa are urging the parties to lay down the arms and negotiate ‘pertinent issues’, according to a statement from the South Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
Yet both sides were claiming victory. Sudan’s paramilitary forces known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) issued a series of media statements in which it listed control of Khartoum’s main airport, the country’s presidential palace and claimed it had arrested some senior commanders of the military. It also said it was controlling Meroe airport as well as military camps in El Fasher, including the signal corps, the medical corps, and El Fasher Airport.
What may worry any leaders in the region is how this clash quickly exposed the broken relationship between the head of the Sovereignty Council Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo alias Hemedti who heads the RSF.
In an interview with Al Jazeera Arabic, Hemedti said he will hunt down his boss for launching a ‘war on them’.
“We did not attack anyone, and our fighting was a response to our siege and assault,” Hemedti said.
“We will continue to pursue al-Burhan and hand him over to justice. I send a message to the honourable members of the armed forces to join the people's choice, and we represent that the battle will be decided in the coming days,” he added.
Earlier, the RSF had issued a statement claiming self-defence.
“What Sudan’s armed forces command and a number of officers did represent a clear violation of our forces, which were committed to peace and restraint. We point out that the behaviour of the armed forces leadership confirms the lack of desire for the stability and security of the homeland. However, the honourable sons of the armed forces joined the people’s choice,” Hemedti further said.
RSF claims rejected
A source at the general command headquarters of the Sudanese Army rejected claims of control by RSF. He also refuted allegations the RSF had taken control of the presidential palace where al-Burhan resides. “The army controls all military bases and airports in the country,” the officialtold The EastAfrican.
RSF have since posted videos of their fighters celebrating in the airport airside. Some airlines immediately suspended flights with Saudi indicating one of its aircraft had been involved in an ‘accident’ at the airport, forcing it to suspend operations.
If Hemedti engineers a coup, however, it could be a strategy he learnt from the April 2019 ouster of Omar al-Bashir. It is no wonder that Burhan accuses Bashir’s remnants of planting animosity between the two arms of security forces, a fightback from being removed from power and influence.
The writing had been on the wall as we reported last month. Hemedti first changed tac or heart when he publicly lampooned the junta, he serves in for delaying civilian transition. Sudan’s transitional government was ousted on October 25, 2021 after al-Burhan accused it of spending energy on wrangling, rather than planning for full transition to civilian-led government. It turned out the junta was self-preserving. There has not been a successful attempt to form a new government.
Hemedti on March 7, 2023 called for immediate implementation of Sudan’s Political Framework Agreement which is supposed to return the country to democracy and hand over power to civilians. He vowed to ‘resist’ anyone clinging to power.
But is he pro-civilian? The RSF itself is an offshoot of the Janjaweed, a notorious militia nicknamed ‘devils on the horsebacks’ for their role in crushing rebellion in Darfur. That violence earned an indictment for Bashir at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The junta has never surrendered him. RSF today is supposed to guard borders and provide security in volatile regions. Its leader Hemedti enjoys strong Russian ties, as shown in his travels to Moscow recently.
RSF on Thursday deployed across the cities, which Sudan’s army said was a violation of the security procedures.
Nonetheless, Hemedti thinks the 2021 coup was a mistake.
“We said with all our will, that power to be handed over to a full-fledged civilian government,” he said at a military base in Karari, north of Khartoum last month.
Gen Dagalo said that his RSF has no dispute with the army but rather with those who want to cling to power.
Sudan’s Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) which led the protests that ousted former president Omar al-Bashir in 2019, was forced to come out and clarify they are not siding with Gen Dagalo and his RSF.
The clashes are a further show that the transition document which had been scheduled for signing earlier this month before it was postponed may never be signed, with the junta now splintered.
FFC last week said there had been disagreements between the Sudanese army and RSF over command, and control of the integrated forces.
“While negotiations between the military have made progress in several areas, an agreement on the latter issue still needs to be finalized,” said the FFC in a statement.
The joint military-technical committees had tried to talk over the cracks in integrating the RSF into the Sudanese army (SAF) and the unification of command and units, without success.
But power was always the bump. SAF Spokesman Brig Gen Nabil Abdallah suggested RSF had declined integration and be subordinate to the army.
“We cannot have two armies in the country,” Gen Abdallah said. The RSF with an estimated 40,000 to 70,000 members was established in 2013 by the Sudanese government. The group was originally formed to combat rebels in the western region of Darfur, but it has since been involved in various conflicts throughout the country.
Whether Hemedti is his own man, or an incarnation of Bashir’s regime will be seen. But he seems to be using an old strategy where in 2019, the military took advantage of civilian displeasure with Bashir to oust him and took over as a new leadership. Is Hemedti taking advantage of civilian displeasure with the junta to cement his role? It looks likely.
Civilian movements have distanced themselves from an evil alliance.
Khalid Omer, the official spokesman for the civilian forces in the political process, issued a statement denying claims that there is an alliance between the RSF commander and the FFC leaders to push for the speedy return to civilian rule.
According to Sudan’s National Centre for Citizenship Director Mahjoub Hussein, the nation needs a new professional military that works according to the law, is neutral and does not engage in politics.
The RSF has been charged with a number of human rights offenses including torture, extrajudicial executions and using rape as a weapon of war. The group has also been charged with evicting civilians against their will and pillaging their possessions. A significant part of the 2019 Sudanese crackdown on pro-democracy protesters that left dozens of people dead was played by the RSF.
While the RSF worries that Al-Burhan will discard the contested elements once they are integrated, the latter appears to believe that military discipline can allow controlling the elements that were recruited on ideological bases during the former regime.