Analyst: two out of three scenarios lead to prolonged civil war in Sudan

El Burhan tells RSF Deputy Commander Abdelrahim Dagalo: You’ll enjoy the pleasers of power only in your grave. (Words based on a verse by the famous Sudanese poet Hemeid) (Cartoon by Omar Dafallah / RD)


A defeat of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Khartoum does not mean an end to the fighting but will instead lead to a prolonged civil war in many parts of Sudan, warns financial and political analyst Hafiz Ismail.

 It is clear that no one can predict who is going to win this war and there is no better scenario than an immediate end to the military conflict, Ismail, civil society activist and director of the NGO Justice Africa Sudan, told Radio Dabanga.

He discussed three possible scenarios for the end of the battles, that are mainly fought out in the Sudanese capital: an agreed-on cessation of hostilities, the defeat of the RSF, or the defeat of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF).

The first scenario begins with an agreement between the two warring parties to cease fighting, followed by their return to political negotiations with civilian opposition groups so as to reach understandings and accords on all issues related to the transition to democracy, Ismail predicts. This includes both the establishment of an interim civilian government that will manage the country during the transitional period after which general elections will be held, and the integration of the RSF, other militias, and former armed movements into one single army.

The political process must include democratic forces, political parties, civil society groups, including the resistance committees, and rebel movements. Islamist affiliates of the National Congress Party (NCP), dissolved in November 2019, are to be excluded.

This process must be Sudanese-led and facilitated by the AU-IGAD-UN Trilateral Mechanism, the analyst states. The same groups should also support the making process of permanent constitution, and at the same time start negotiations with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North faction headed by Abdelaziz El Hilu, the Sudan Liberation Movement under the leadership of Abdelwahid Nur and other Darfuri movements that did not sign the Juba Peace Agreement, “as that will create an inclusive process instead of handling Sudan’s multiple crises in piecemeals.”

This scenario should also lead to one professional, non-ethnic, non-tribal-based army with allegiances to the country and its constitution, that protects the borders and defends Sudan’s independency as only that will contribute to sustaining democracy and ending the cycle of military coups.

RSF defeated

A victory of Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) over the RSF in Khartoum does not mean the end of the conflicts. On the contrary, it will lead to a prolonged civil war in many parts of the country, as the militia will continue to fight, Ismail predicts.

The composition of the RSF, established in 2013, is tribal based, the civil society activist explained. The majority of the paramilitaries come from Arab tribes from the Darfur region, though in 2019, the RSF began recruiting militiamen in South and West Kordofan, especially young Baggara tribesmen who used to be members of the Popular Defence Forces (PDF) and other Arab militias.

Recently, the RSF strengthened its relations with the Baggara Military Alliance. This group is expanding to include the Hawazma, Misserya and Rizeigat. “They have strong links with over 1,000 fighters from the El Atawa militia of the Hawazma Baggara,” Ismail said.

The RSF intends to set up training camps in Abu Kershola in the eastern part of South Kordofan, but until now they failed to implement the plans because of the strong resistance from the people living in the area. Yet on April 20, five days after the fighting between the SAF and RSF erupted, army officers seized a lorry full of weapons and ammunition in the area of El Fayed Um Abdallah in the area of Abu Kershola.   

Defeat of the army

The third scenario, a victory of the RSF over the Sudanese army “will be disastrous, as that means the collapse of the SAF while an ethnic tribal militia, with a bloody history in Darfur and other parts of Sudan, will take over power in the country.

The Sudanese have made huge sacrifices and will not accept any new military or dictatorial regime.

Despite repeated claims of RSF leaders trying to provide assurance to the Sudanese by saying they will hand over power to a civilian government, no one believes this, Ismail explained. More than one foreign power is having strong influence over them and will use the paramilitaries to serve their own interests as well.

The Sudanese have made huge sacrifices and will not accept any new military or dictatorial regime, so a victory of the RSF will be met with popular resistance from the resistance committees and others democratic forces and will cost many more lives.

This scenario will as well lead to an open civil war, and no one knows when it would end, Ismail predicts, in particular because a third party, consisting of Islamist supporters of the Al Bashir regime may join this war.

Hemedti recently denounced Islamists who are accusing him of orchestrating and planning the current war. In case of an SRF victory over the army, Hemedti will definitely eliminate them from Sudan’s political scenery as he considers them the main obstacle to his political future in the country.


One of the main causes for the prolonged crises in Sudan is the non-division of power among the various peoples in the country. The British Egyptian rulers of Sudan since 1899 relied on Sudanese elites in the capital who came originally from the areas around and north of Khartoum. They constitute the so-called Riverain elites and look down on the people in the rest of the country, in particular the ‘black Africans’ who are considered ‘servants. The first civil war in Sudan began even before the independence of the country, in August 1955, because many southerners felt that the independence in fact meant an exchange of one foreign ruler for another.

So, the crises go back to a distorted establishment of the state of Sudan, in January 1956. Until this date, the country remains weak and unable to evolve despite its more than 65 years independence because the successive governments, whether democratically elected or dominated by the military, all belonged to political elites from central Sudan. Moreover, elected representatives of the periphery were agents of the centre more than representatives of their constituencies. The people living in the peripheries were simply considered as ‘useful servants’ for the interests of the centre.

A weakened army

As for the Sudanese army, most of the higher ranks are taken by people from the centre of the country. Most of the soldiers come from the peripheries.

When rebel movements in the regions raised their arms against Khartoum, the authorities chose to recruit agents from other peripheric regions to fight by proxy, so they created the Murahaleen forces in 1985, the Popular Defence Forces in 1989, Janjaweed militias in 2003 among them the Border Guards and the Popular Reserve Police Forces (Abu Tira), and the Rapid Support Forces in 2013.

These militias were used against ordinary people in marginalised regions of the country after they stood up against Khartoum, demanding their basic citizenship rights – which led to prolonged civil wars in South Sudan, between 1955 and 1973 and again from 1983 to 2005, in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile region from 1985 to 2005 and again in 2011, and in Darfur, where fighting began in early 2003 and has not stopped until now.

The weakness of the army is clearly manifested by how it handled the build-up to the current war.

By both creating multiple parallel armed forces and regularly purging the SAF of possible opponents and replacing the dismissed officers by Islamists, the Al Bashir regime has weakened the national army.

During most of the 30 years Al Bashir and his Islamist allies were in power, the majority of SAF senior officers were affiliated to the Islamic movement, to ensure that no one would be able to organise a military coup against the regime. This strongly affected the level of discipline within the forces, as the main criterium for recruitment and promotion had become the degree of loyalty to their ideology instead of professionalism.

The weakness of the army is clearly manifested by how it handled the build-up to the current war. While the RSF was deploying its forces and military hardware to the capital Khartoum, clearly preparing for a fight, the SAF leadership hardly reacted.

In this way, the paramilitaries could kill more than 30 of El Burhan’s personal guards, detain the Inspector General, the third highest person within the SAF command structure, as well as eight senior officers of the Military Intelligence Institute and more than 40 senior army officers, take over Khartoum International Airport and other strategic locations without any resistance, Ismail recounts.

According to the analyst, the SAF and other security organs need structural reform in such a way that creates allegiances to the state and the constitution, away from ideology, ethnicity, and tribalism. That process must take place as part of the structural reforms of all state institutions after over 30 years of destruction by the Al Bashir regime.

By the appointment of Hemedti as vice president of the Sovereignty Council, he became senior to many army generals. Moreover, the RSF commander was turned into a statesman which enabled him to establish relations abroad, bypassing the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Grave mistakes

Ismail further asserts that El Burhan has made grave mistakes relating to Hemedti and the RSF.

The first mistake concerns the empowerment of the RSF after April 2019, when El Burhan and the other military members of the National Security Committee abolished Article 5 of RSF Act which stipulated that the militia would be under the command of the commander-in-chief of the SAF. 

Another mistake was the appointment of Hemedti as vice president of the Sovereignty Council. In this function, the militia commander became senior to many army generals. Moreover, the RSF commander was turned into a statesman which enabled him to establish relations with many countries, bypassing the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

El Burhan also appointed Hemedti chairman of many ministerial committees, including the economic committee of which PM Abdallah Hamdok, an economist was deputy chair and economist Ibrahim El Badawi a member of the committee.

The grave mistakes committed by ousted President Omar Al Bashir and El Burhan make Sudan and Sudanese people pay a very heavy price.

Framework Agreement

“If you agree or disagree with the Framework Agreement, signed on December 5 last year, I do not think this is the reason for the dispute that broke out between the SAF and RSF, and led to the military conflict,” Ismail said, pointing to the Islamist allies of Al Bashir who lost their privileges, were detained, and had their assets confiscated after the revolution. A number of them were released following the October 2021 coup.

Many of the Framework Agreement opponents claim that the armed conflict between the army and RSF happened simply because the civilian signatories of the Framework Agreement left the security sector reform arrangements to be agreed on by the SAF, RSF, and military experts in a workshop in March.

Yet is clear, Ismail says, that elements from the Islamic movement exploited the disagreements concerning the time frame for the integration of the RSF into the armed forces, to prevent the parties from signing the Final Agreement.

Pro-democracy groups

One of the reasons for the easy return of affiliates of the Al Bashir regime is the polarisation of Sudan’s pro-democracy groups.

Political parties, civil society groups and resistance committees all failed to learn from the experience of the two former popular uprisings, in October 1964 and April 1985. Ismail stated. Contrary to these intifadas, when the groups of civil society activists stayed united during the interim period, until they reached general election, the pro-democracy groups during the current transitional period have been divided according to their ideological bases from the start.

Ismail attributes the major failure of the member parties and groups of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) to their inability to complete the government structure by appointing a legislative council and agree on economic policies.

The leftist parties refused to accept the International Monetary Fund’s Staff Monitoring Programme (SMP) and continued fighting each other instead of opposing their common enemy, the Al Bashir regime affiliates.

One of the reasons for the easy return of affiliates of the Al Bashir regime is the polarisation of Sudan’s pro-democracy groups.

This situation encouraged the Islamists to push the generals to stage a coup d’état military against the transitional government of PM Hamdok in October 2021.

Paradigm shift

The war has led to a paradigm shift in Sudan’s political scenery. The issue is no long disagreement over economic policies or the programme of the interim period, but the entire country and its future are at stake.

This requires a unified front, to avoid Sudan sliding further into chaos. All Sudanese forces which believe in democracy must come together to ensure the success of the upcoming transitional period, Ismail concluded.