The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

The intensifying fighting in Sudan isn’t yielding a clear victor just worsening the situation on the ground for the Sudanese people.

In April, fighting erupted in Sudan between the country’s military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The fighting is between forces aligned with Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the de-facto leader of Sudan, and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as “Hemetti,” who leads the RSF.

Previously, these two leaders collaborated in overthrowing the Omar al-Bashir regime in 2019 and orchestrating a military coup in October 2021. The coup resulted in the removal of the civilian prime minister and cabinet and the suspension of the constitution. However, doubts emerged after Burhan, Dagalo, and the civilian political leaders agreed to a new framework for a democratic transition in December. The main concerns revolved around integrating the RSF into the military and the leadership of the newly unified force.

Negotiations to address these concerns stalled, escalating tensions between Burhan and Dagalo in the weeks preceding the current fighting. Although specific details are limited, it is evident that both sides are vying for control of the country’s major institutions. Reports indicate that most of the fighting has centered around the presidential palace, the headquarters of the military, and Khartoum’s airport. The United States Institute of Peace had previously warned that fighting in Sudan could potentially spill over into neighboring countries, causing instability through an influx of refugees. Notably, Sudan is currently hosting refugees who had fled fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The closure of borders by Chad and Egypt indicates that regional leaders are apprehensive about the escalation of the conflict.

In the coming days, it will be crucial to monitor any shifts in alliances in the region, particularly with Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and South Sudan being notable actors. If the fighting persists without a viable path to peace or even a humanitarian pause, both sides will require fresh supplies of weapons, ammunition, and equipment. Regional governments, as well as those in the Gulf with vested interests in Sudan, may be tempted to support one side or the other.

The conflict is intensifying in densely populated areas, including Khartoum and other cities. People are faced with the difficult choice of either staying in their homes or fleeing and trying to reach safety someplace else. The destruction of civilian infrastructure due to the conflict has severely limited access to essentials such as electricity, clean water, and healthcare. Cellular networks frequently experience disruptions, and there is limited access to Internet banking, which is crucial for purchasing essential items like food. Additionally, banks are closed or have been looted or destroyed, preventing people from accessing cash.

An unknown number of Sudanese people have chosen to emigrate, primarily heading north to Egypt, west to Chad, or south to South Sudan. Reports indicate long queues at the Egyptian border, sluggish processing, and limited access to food, water, and facilities. Many individuals are ill, and there is a lack of available medicine. Egyptian authorities are requiring young men to obtain visas, which further delays entry or leads to the denial of entry, resulting in family separations. Obtaining a visa can take several days or even weeks. The roads from West Darfur are dangerous for the thousands seeking refuge in Chad, as fleeing individuals encounter hazardous checkpoints, extortion, looting, and the risk of being caught in the crossfire.

Communication with people in Khartoum has been somewhat easier, although Internet networks are occasionally down. People are reluctant to move from one place to another due to sudden gunfire and explosions, which fill their lives with uncertainty. Moreover, many individuals have encountered checkpoints manned by fighters from the Rapid Support Forces or the military, leaving them anxious about where their journey will take them and what they might face.

Both sides are increasingly relying on heavy ordnance which in heavily populated urban centers, increases the number of casualties. The intense fighting has severely disrupted access to water, electricity, and healthcare. And because of this heavy fighting, civilians are trapped in their homes for days on end, with no access to food or fresh water. They turn to social media to share stories of injured relatives who perished without receiving medical attention. These stories shed light on the gravity of the situation.

The UN Human Rights Council has called for investigations of atrocities committed by both sides. These investigations would collect and preserve evidence to eventually seek accountability. However, during a special session on May 11, the council did not establish an independent mechanism as requested by over 100 Sudanese and international organizations. Instead, it reinforced existing institutions without adequately addressing the magnitude of abuses and suffering or recognizing the need for a new international approach focused on increased accountability.

The international community continues to assure the Sudanese people of its support, but these assurances have thus far proven hollow. By accommodating abusive leaders, the international community has failed Sudan. It is imperative to make a strong case to Sudan’s warring generals that accountability is imminent. This would finally demonstrate the international community’s commitment to the Sudanese people’s aspirations for a better, more peaceful, and more just future.

Mahmodul Hasan Shesheir is a public health researcher. Mahmodul holds a Bachelor's degree in Economics from East West University, Bangladesh. He is currently a research assistant at the BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University. His interests include public health, education, poverty, micro economics, and development.

Mehadi Hasan Shawon is a graduate student at North Dakota State University. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Agricultural Economics from Bangladesh Agricultural University. Mehadi is currently doing research on natural disasters. His areas of interest are public policy, immigration, natural disasters, and behavioral economics.