When two elephants fight, it is the ground that suffers. That is an African proverb that means when the powerful forces go to war, it is their people that never asked for the conflict that are injured and killed in the crossfire. Nothing better explains that parable than the nearly 100 people that have died in Sudan following the battle for supremacy between the two most powerful people in the country.
The fight broke out on Saturday between the Sudanese military, led by the country’s leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, popularly known as Hemidti.
“We’re scared, we haven’t slept for 24 hours because of the noise and the house shaking. We’re worried about running out of water and food, and medicine for my diabetic father,” Huda, who resides in southern Khartoum, told Reuters.
“There’s so much false information and everyone is lying. We don’t know when this will end, how it will end,” Huda added.
So far, at least 97 people have been confirmed dead, including civilians. The director of the communication department of Sudan’s Red Cresent Communication department, Osama Abu Bakr Othman, told Aljazeera that at least 300 injured people are in hospitals. Most of them are civilians.
“Yesterday’s statistics indicate that there are 300 injuries in hospitals, most of them civilians. Their condition ranges from mild to moderate severity,” Othman said. He added that the group depends on figures from volunteers, which indicates that the number of injuries could be much higher than what is reported.
“Hospitals suffer from problems securing fuel for generators in light of the power outages, and we are trying to help them secure it to ensure that the electric power remains,” he added.
Mr Othman said the Sudanese Red Cresent was working hard to move the injured from the war-torn areas to the hospitals. He said the hospitals cannot treat the injured, and that they are working hard to increase the capacity of hospitals to accommodate victims.
“We have 245 volunteers in Khartoum to replace the health staff in hospitals. There is a high shortage of medical staff, and most of them cannot reach the hospitals,” Othman stated.
The two most powerful army generals in Sudan worked together to oust the country’s former president, Omar Al-Bashir, in a military coup. Hemedti was a one-time ally of the former leader he helped to remove from office. Fast forward to 2023, an ally has become a foe once again, and Hemedti, who is now the second most powerful person in Sudan, could be seeking to overthrow al-Burhan to become the country’s military leader.
The army said it launched air raids on RSF bases and positions. The military has vowed to eliminate the paramilitary group and its leader, Hemedti, and it is hoping to do so within a short time.
“We are working to end these clashes in a short period because we are keen not to endanger the citizens,” Abdullah, a senior military official said.
But what went wrong between the former allies?
Why the two army generals are on a loggerhead
Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo (Hemidti) had very little in common. The only thing that brought these two close was the common goal to remove dictator Omar Al-Bashir from office. They worked together to actualise that goal in 2019 and successfully carry out a coup in 2021.
The RSF is a paramilitary group granted official status by President Bashir. It was led by Hemidti and used by Bashir to crack down on opposers of his military dictatorship. Hemidti and his men would later go against Bashir in 2019. Upon the establishment of a transition government in 2021, Burhan became the country’s military leader, while Hemidti was his deputy. However, while the regular military was loyal to Burhan, the RSF was loyal and answerable to Hemidti. That means the two most powerful men in the country technically have separate armed forces that are loyal to them.
Following the successful removal of Bashir from office, the next plan was to transition to a civilian government. However, the RSF, led by Hemidti, was to be integrated into the regular military. The big question now is who would be who under this new arrangement? With none agreeing to be subordinate, a fight is now underway, and one of the two men would be forced to agree that he is the weaker one.
‘I am defending myself,’ Hemidti cries out
Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (Hemidti) has defended the war against the Sudanese military, describing it as the price to be paid for democracy. He called on the international community to take action against General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, who he described as a “radical Islamist” that is bombing civilians.
“His army is waging a brutal campaign against innocent people, bombing them with MiGs,” General Daglo wrote on Twitter. “We are fighting against radical Islamists who hope to keep Sudan isolated and in the dark, and far removed from democracy.”
“The fight that we are waging now is the price of democracy,” the fearsome General continued. “We did not attack anyone. Our actions are merely a response to the siege and assault against our forces. We are fighting for the people of Sudan to ensure the democratic progress, for which they have so long yearned.”
Earlier on Monday, during an interview with CNN, the RSF commander apologised to the people of Sudan, saying he and his men were forced into the war, and it was not something he wanted.
“We offer a serious apology to them because what we can say is al-Burhan is the one that forced us to do this. It was not us who did this. We are defending ourselves,” he told CNN. “We are under attack from all directions. They are attacking us with marked and unmarked vehicles. Unfortunately, they are not stopping.”
What the military is saying
While Hemidti has vowed to catch up with Burhan, the military, on the other hand, has vowed to crush the RSF in a few days. It called on the members of the RSF to surrender and join the armed forces instead of fighting for the interest of one man.
“We call on all our countrymen from the Rapid Support Forces, who have provided their country with great and undeniable previous services, to join the proud armed forces to serve their country among its ranks,” the military said on Monday.
The Sudanese armed forces said it would honour the agreement should the men defect and join hands with the military.
“We assure our honourable people that the leadership of the armed forces will remain committed to its covenant … and will not back down from the implementation of the political path,” the statement continued.
The military has downplayed the possibility of negotiation until the RSF and its leader are neutralised. But for now, it is unclear who is winning the unnecessary war.
Who controls what?
So far, there are unverified claims by both sides over the current situation in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. There are suggestions that the RSF has taken control of the presidential palace in the country’s capital, the airport and the headquarters of the government’s Radio and Television Corporation.
A broadcast by the TV channel claimed the military regained control of the Radio and Television headquarters. A banner on the channel reads: “ The armed forces were able to regain control of the national broadcaster after repeated attempts by the militias to destroy its infrastructure.”
In a separate update, the RSF said it was in total control of the premises and that the military at no time tried to regain control of the headquarters.
“Today is Monday, April 17, 2023,” The RSF tweeted. “We announce to you that the Rapid Support Forces extend their full control over the headquarters of the Radio and Television Corporation in Omdurman, and we deny the existence of any clashes with the coup forces around the radio and television perimeter.”
For now, Antigua News has not been able to verify the claims from both sides, as there seems to be a lot of disinformation.
Will peace return soon?
While the warlords are battling for supremacy, the ordinary people of Sudan care less about who controls the affairs of the country. They want peace, especially at a time when the Muslim majority of the country is celebrating the holy month of Ramadan. What is the possibility that peace would return to the East African country soon?
Following an emergency meeting on Sunday by East African leaders under the umbrella of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), three presidents would begin the process of brokering peace between the two generals and their men. The presidents of Kenya, William Ruto, President Salva Kiir of South Sudan, and President Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti, would be in Khartoum “at the earliest possible time” to mediate a peace process between both parties.
Also, the African Union and the League of Arab Nations are already holding talks on how to end the conflict before it becomes a full-blown civil war.