Five weeks after intense fighting broke out between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Nisrin Elamin and Khalid Mustafa Medani joined New Lines magazine’s Kwangu Liwewe and Danny Postel for a deep dive into the origins of Sudan’s nascent civil war. The army is led by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, while the RSF answers to Gen. Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo. After seizing power in a 2021 military coup, the two men had ruled Sudan together for almost two years.
“The international community was engaging with these two generals, framing them as potential reformists,” says Elamin, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto. “When time and time again, they proved that they could not be trusted — that they had no interest in any transition to civilian rule.”
Before their coup, Sudan had been well on track. The Sudanese Revolution ended the 30-year military dictatorship of Gen. Omar al-Bashir in 2019, after hundreds of thousands of Sudanese citizens took to the streets. It didn’t happen overnight. Throughout the 2010s, neighborhood resistance committees had been mobilizing not only against the regime but also to demand local public services and to fill the gaps through mutual aid programs.
“We saw them emerge as the backbone of the revolution,” Elamin says.
“This war is really against the revolution and against the Sudanese people.”
After the coup, it was these resistance committees and other grassroots civil society groups who kept the dream of revolution alive. “Everyday protests continued until these generals were forced, once again, to try to join with the civilian leadership under the auspices of the international community to transition to a civilian government,” says Medani, an associate professor of political science and Chair of African studies at McGill University. “And it is this framework agreement that fell apart by April 15.”
The generals, he explains, felt they had been backed into a corner — Hemedti especially. Under the terms of the agreement, the RSF would be integrated into the army command structure, depriving him of control of the force with which he built his considerable wealth and power.
“This war is essentially about them trying to preserve the vast wealth that they both generated through illicit coercive and violent means. And that, of course, is centrally undermined by the Sudanese revolution,” Medani says. “This war is really against the revolution and against the Sudanese people.”
Produced by Joshua Martin