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Sudan’s fractured future: power struggles and the elusive quest for democracy

On June 3rd, in the early morning hours, a sit-in camp in Sudan was brutally attacked as protestors slept, the power extinguished. Security forces led by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) arrived swiftly, driving in pickup trucks. Eyewitnesses and smartphone footage captured the horrific massacre that ensued. “They began shooting and setting tents on fire,” recounted one protestor, Mohamed Madani. This dark moment, traumatic in Sudan’s recent political history, pales in comparison to the atrocities committed by the RSF and similar militias in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile.

Following the June 2019 massacre, negotiations took place between the RSF, army, and civilian leaders from the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) to establish a transitional arrangement. A power-sharing agreement was reached in July, and civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was appointed in August. Despite hopes for a peaceful transition towards democratic elections within three years, the government was unstable, and tensions between the military and civilian factions continued to grow.

The uneasy alliance crumbled as the military staged a coup in October 2021, detaining the prime minister and his cabinet members. Protests erupted, and the international community responded by halting aid and funding. The African Union suspended Sudan’s membership, leaving the generals in control of a restless country with a deteriorating economy.

By mid-2022, with the country’s economy in shambles, both generals began making overtures to civilian leaders again, hoping a new deal would buy them time and options. The FFC returned to the negotiating table, and in December 2022, civilian parties signed a framework agreement to be finalized in April. The deal promised that the generals would relinquish power, but Hemedti grew to believe this was a trap.

In the months leading up to the April deadline, tensions between Hemedti and Burhan mounted. They could not agree on how to incorporate the RSF into the army, and Hemedti was suspicious of the army’s intentions. As the deadline approached, the commitment to the deal waned. The army declared that it would not cede power to a civilian authority unless elected. Points such as the RSF’s integration into the army and Hemedti’s position within it became contentious.

Three days before hostilities began, the RSF deployed more troops to Khartoum and reinforced positions in the strategic northern city of Merowe. On April 15th, the RSF captured Merowe airport and airbase, Khartoum airport, and the presidential palace. The army’s military headquarters were attacked, and by the next morning, the building was on fire. The army deployed jets that rained missiles on RSF positions across the city center, near civilian areas. Fighting also flared up in Darfur, Nyala, and Al Fashir.

Hemedti’s bitterness at his treatment by the army and Burhan was evident in the conflict. RSF troops began entering houses in Khartoum, pillaging, looting, and assaulting civilians. This hostility suggested a force that was not only against the army but also against the inhabitants of a city and a wider ethnic heartland.

In this bitter struggle for power, Sudan’s future hangs in the balance. As the battles rage on, the hope for a peaceful, democratic transition seems to be slipping further away. The civilians who bravely protested for change, demanding a better Sudan, are now caught in the crossfire of a conflict that has brought out the worst in both the RSF and the army.

The international community, which once hailed Sudan’s progress towards democracy, has now turned its back on the country, cutting off aid and funding. The African Union’s suspension of Sudan’s membership only

adds to the isolation, leaving the people of Sudan to suffer the consequences of the power struggle between Hemedti and Burhan.

As the conflict continues, it is the ordinary citizens of Sudan who suffer the most. Displaced from their homes, facing shortages of food and water, and witnessing the brutal violence around them, their dreams of a better, more just Sudan seem to be a distant memory. The once-vibrant protest movement that called for freedom, peace, and justice has been all but silenced by the sound of gunfire and the roar of military jets.

Amidst the chaos, one thing is clear: the conflict between Hemedti and Burhan has exposed the deep fractures within Sudan’s political and military establishments. The very forces that were meant to safeguard the country’s path towards democracy have now become its greatest obstacles. As Sudan continues to spiral into violence, its people are left to wonder if the promise of a better future will ever be realised.

As the world watches the events in Sudan unfold, many wonder whether the cycle of violence can be broken and the path towards peace and democracy restored. For now, the people of Sudan are left to navigate the uncertain and treacherous waters of a nation torn apart by conflict. International efforts to mediate the situation, led by regional actors and the United Nations, have so far been unable to yield a lasting solution.

The devastating impact of the power struggle in Sudan has far-reaching consequences not only for its citizens but also for the stability of the region as a whole. Neighboring countries, already grappling with their own challenges, face increased risks of spillover effects, including refugee flows, weapons proliferation, and potential safe havens for extremist groups.

To break the cycle of violence and restore the path towards peace and democracy, a concerted international effort is needed. Diplomatic engagement, pressure, and support for inclusive dialogue are crucial to finding a sustainable solution that addresses the root causes of the conflict and paves the way for a more stable, democratic future for the people of Sudan.