As a United States citizen recently died in the crossfire while the US also plans to evacuate its Khartoum embassy, the eruption of warfare in Sudan over the last week has brought with it global consequences. Since fighting broke out across Sudanese cities on April 15, the World Health Organization has recorded over 400 deaths in the country, including over 3,500 injured. With seemingly no end in sight and the possibility of foreign activities becoming involved, it’s important to understand the origins of the conflict.
Sudan’s emerging civil war is the result of a rivalry between its two most powerful generals: Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, commander of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), and Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Sudan’s most powerful militia. The two generals, who also command considerable control over the country’s wealth and top industries, previously worked together to topple the 30-year dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir in 2019. A democratic transitional government was installed in its place under the leadership of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok which was heavily financed by the US and the European Union, before Hamdok, too, was ousted in another military coup between al-Burhan and Dagalo in 2021. Since then, military leadership over the country has faced considerable backlash from the international community, with a cold war brewing between the two generals as pressures increased to reinstall civilian leadership in government. Tensions reached a climax last Saturday when the sound of gunfire could be heard in the capital of Khartoum and other notable cities, while both the SAF and RSF exchanged hits on opposing military bases over the course of the weekend.
Since then, controversy and anguish has risen out of the conflict as calls for humanitarian passage as well as a ceasefire for Eid-al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, have fallen on deaf ears. In addition to estimating hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries, the WHO has recorded 11 attacks on Sudanese health facilities while UNICEF spokesperson James Elder observes, “Sudan already has one of the highest rates of malnutrition among children in the world… And now critical life-saving care for an estimated 50,000 severely acutely malnourished children has been disrupted.” Talking to BBC, eyewitnesses in Sudan have observed that, “Shooting is still ongoing and people are staying indoors” while outages in electricity amidst triple digit heat figures have forced tradeoffs on citizens between enduring the heat or opening windows to “deafening” noises.
With no letup in sight, international leaders and parties have been quick to take sides. On the one hand, Egypt under the presidency of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has openly sided with al-Burhan, sending soldiers and jets to the SAF commander. According to former CIA analyst Cameron Hudson, “Egypt has made it clear that it will not tolerate a militia leader on its southern border.” On the other hand, high-ranking officials in the United Arab Emirates have financially backed RSF commander Dagalo, who’s also been accused of attrocities and genocidal actions as a militia leader, for his donation of thousands of troops to assist the Yemeni government allied with the UAE in the Yemen Civil War. Dagalo’s closest ally, however, is considered to be UAE vice-president Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, who also owns Manchester City Football Club.
Finally, while the US and Western allies have largely neglected choosing a side in favor of calling for an end of the conflict, the leader of notable Russian private military company Wagner Group Yevgeny Prigozhin has argued that “the U.N. and many others want the blood of the Sudanese,” even as Wagner Group has been accused of offering weapons and aid to Dagalo, although the RSF leader has as of now declined such an offer. Nonetheless, as the battle continues to embroil the pivotal region of Sudan, the addition of new countries’ support may morph the conflict into a proxy war.