Analysis: One year after the coup, cracks in the Sudanese military junta

CAIRO (AP) — Upon returning from the United Nations General Assembly this year, Sudan’s top general walked down an airplane flight of stairs in the country’s capital in front of a flurry of cameras.

His deputy and paramilitary leader, General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, was waiting to greet General Abdel-Fattah Burhan with a smile and a handshake. It was a choreographed moment between Sudan’s most powerful men, a show of unity amid rumors of discord.

A year after the two generals launched a military coup that upended the country’s short-lived transition to democracy, their struggle for individual gain threatens to further destabilize the country.

« While the fear of a civilian government has brought Burhan and Hemedti closer together, there remain many divisions between them, » said Amjad Farid, a Sudanese analyst and former aide to the country’s coup-deposed prime minister, Abdullah Hamdok. . He used the nickname Dagalo, by which he is widely known.

The coup and the disharmony among its leaders means that the future of Sudanese governance looks increasingly uncertain. He left a power vacuum that allowed the paramilitary force led by Dagalo, known as the Rapid Support Forces, to assume a growing role.

As the respective leaders of Sudan’s official army and the largest paramilitary force, Burhan and Dagalo were believed to have overseen the democratic transition following the overthrow of former President Omar al-Bashir after three decades in power in a popular uprising in 2019.

But on October 25 last year, weeks before Burhan was supposed to step down as head of the transitional council, he led a military coup, overthrowing the civilian half of Sudan’s ruling Sovereignty Council. . Dagalo supported him, his forces helping to detain dozens of civilian officials and politicians.

In the aftermath, almost weekly pro-democracy marches were ruthlessly repressed. There has also been an upsurge in deadly tribal clashes in the neglected outskirts of the country in which hundreds of people have been killed in recent months. The coup plunged Sudan’s already inflation-ridden economy into even greater peril. International aid dried up and shortages of bread and fuel, caused in part by the war in Ukraine, became commonplace.

Meanwhile, popular support for the military, the face of the coup, has waned. And in the absence of other options, the RSF, best known for its scorched-earth campaigns in the Darfur conflict, seeks to portray itself as an alternative to deep-pocketed peacekeeping.

« Most Sudanese now think the military doesn’t have the credibility or the solutions to bring security and prosperity to Sudan, » said Suliman Baldo, senior Sudan researcher and analyst with the Enough Project, a group that focuses on promoting good governance in African countries.

Dagalo tries to straighten the public image of his forces. On social media, the group now presents itself as a mediator of tribal conflicts and a participant in development projects, although many Sudanese continue to fear the group for its violent tactics. His forces were implicated in the killing of more than 100 protesters when they authorized a June 2019 sit-in in the capital. An inquest into the deaths has since reached no conclusions.

Two Sudanese rights defenders who track paramilitaries said the RSF had doubled in size in the past three years to at least 100,000 fighters and had purchased high-tech weapons. The group does not publish official rosters. With these increased capabilities, human rights researchers say the paramilitary force has been able to consolidate its control over Sudan’s porous western and northern borders, allowing it to profit from arms smuggling, of drugs and migrants as the army’s reach contracted.

The two rights researchers spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. Researchers have tracked the paramilitaries for years and obtained first-hand accounts from within its ranks. Their estimates of the size of the force match the approximations of other analysts.

A spokesperson for RSF did not respond to a request for comment on the body’s role in the transition period and plans for the future.

There are also questions about the paramilitary group’s sources of funding, in addition to the state funds it receives. The Center for Advanced Defense Studies, a think tank, said in a June report that the group had amassed wealth through the gradual acquisition of Sudanese financial institutions and gold reserves, some under the names of relatives from Dagalo. RSF forces deployed to Yemen to fight on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition at war with Houthi rebels, a move the force was likely matched by at least one of the coalition members for. , the United Arab Emirates.

Both Burhan and Dagalo are going international. They have separately conducted a series of independent diplomatic meetings, in Cairo, the Kremlin and Abu Dhabi, but maintain that they have no interest in running in future elections.

Under immense international pressure, recent talks between the military and pro-democracy forces have made some progress. But that could be reversed at any time, as Burhan and Dagalo maintain vague but dominant roles.

Their separate promises to facilitate democracy lack detail and are often in conflict on key issues. Among the uncertainties are what powers these military leaders would retain under civilian rule, and whether the RSF will merge with Burhan’s army, a key condition of a 2020 peace deal meant to end decades of fighting in Darfur. .

The beginning of the power struggle lies in the legacy of al-Bashir. Both generals were heavily involved in his military campaigns in Darfur that killed some 300,000 people during the 2000s, rights groups estimate. Unlike al-Bashir, the International Criminal Court has not indicted Burhan or Dagalo for committing war crimes in this conflict.

Burhan, a seasoned military veteran of the Sudanese Armed Forces, trained as an officer in Egypt. Dagalo, a former camel trader from Darfur, led the notorious Janjawid militias, leading devastating offensives against African rebel groups in Darfur in 2003. The Janjawid are accused of mass rapes and killings of civilians by the UN and groups defense of rights. In an effort to contain and better utilize fighting force, al-Bashir eventually recruited the janjaweed into the Rapid Support Forces in 2013, legitimizing them and establishing Dagalo as an independent commander.

« The root cause of the current conflict between Hemedti and Burhan is the independence of RSF, » said Farid, the former aide to the Sudanese prime minister.

In recent months, in an effort to control the RSF’s influence, Burhan has worked to reintegrate his supporters, often Islamists who held positions under al-Bashir, into the government. That’s according to Baldo, the analyst, and Maher al Gokh, a former employee of Sudan’s state television who was arrested in the coup but later released.

For now, a direct confrontation might be out of the question, as no general can muster enough resources to rule alone.

« The survival of both groups depends on Hemedti and Burhan’s ability to stay together, » Baldo said.

Cameron Hudson, former chief of staff for the US special envoy to Sudan and associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the two generals were engaged in « a big zero-sum game ».

Jack Jeffrey, The Associated Press


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