Sudan: Bleak Outlook for Sudan As Warring Parties Fragment and Shift Allegiances

With the eyes of the West focused on the war in Gaza, international attention to the suffering of the people of Sudan – particularly those in Darfur and Khartoum – is mostly limited to that directed by specialist experts and agencies. But the latest figures from an international project that compiles and analyses data on political violence around the world show that a staggering 11 million people, or nearly one-third of Sudan’s population, have been exposed to the current conflict. Seven million of them, or one-fifth of the population, are civilians.

The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled) has recorded that between April 15 last year, when fighting broke out between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), and May 24 this year, more than 17,000 people died. There were more than 6,200 incidences of political violence in the same period, including battles, explosions, violence against civilians, and mob violence, and civilians were targeted in more than 1,700 events.

In a report issued a year after the conflict began on April 15 last year, Acled said that for decades, the conflict in Sudan was between the central government, represented by the country’s army, and rebel groups on the periphery of the state. But now, “After a year of war, Sudan finds itself deeply entrenched in the militarization of local communities — a dynamic that is unlikely to be reversed in the short term.

“Communities that were once living in peace have now taken up arms to defend themselves from the RSF, marking a significant departure from the past… In today’s Sudan… violence is far more decentralized [than in the past], with self-arming communities and national actors heavily dependent on their local proxies to achieve military victory.”

Pointing to other new complexities generated by the war, the Acled report said that what began as a power struggle between the regular army and a paramilitary group “turned into a civil war that has drawn several militia and rebel groups, along with their foreign backers, into the conflict.

“While neither the SAF nor the RSF appears capable of restoring control over the entire territory of Sudan, other actors have capitalized on this competition to establish themselves as local security providers, from Khartoum to Darfur and Kordofan.”

In its analysis of the conflict in Darfur – the region that saw ethnic violence amounting to genocide two decades ago, and the focus of the most widely-reported fighting at present – Acled said the region’s Arab ethnic militias allied with the RSF were not only engaged in warfare against Masalit ethnic militias, they were now turning on one another.

“The prospect of making considerable gains from the conflict has… prompted internecine fighting within the RSF camp,” Acled said. “On several occasions, violent clashes broke out between Arab ethnic militias, such as the clashes between the Salamat and Beni Halba in South Darfur that persisted for months. Despite both being RSF allies, competition over access to land and resources has ignited conflict between them.”

Wrapping up its analysis of Darfur a year after the war began, Acled reported: “In Darfur, violence has historically served as a pathway to power, and the conflict that erupted in April 2023 has ignited fierce political rivalry among various armed factions. Leaders of former rebel groups are vying for influence while undergoing fragmentation, and ethnic militias are motivated by prospects of local control while capitalizing on their current allegiances, further complicating the landscape of conflict…”

Turning to Kordofan, Acled noted that the region’s strategic location between Darfur and the region including Khartoum “has made it a focal point for warring parties seeking control over vital resources and supply routes and, thus, a crucial battleground.”

As in Darfur, rebels and ethnic militias are accessing weapons and, therefore, power but unlike in Darfur, in places such as North Kordofan Arab groups typically affiliated with the RSF are staying neutral or even joining government forces.

The Acled report concluded: “The conflict has exceeded the initial realm of fighting between the SAF and the RSF as armed groups across Sudan are challenging existing governance structures. Confounding political relationships are forming between elites and their communities, and historical allegiances are shifting and affecting the current conflict landscape…”

The Acled report was produced by Ali Mahmoud Ali, the group’s Africa researcher, and Nohad Eltayeb, a research assistant. The data on the number of conflict events and deaths, and the number of people exposed to conflict, reflect the period April 15, 2023, to May 24, 2024, and are available at: https://acleddata.com/data/

Read Acled’s full April 2024 report>>

AllAfrica’s peacebuilding reporting, featured on AllAfrica and freely available to online, print and broadcast media, is supported by funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, a philanthropic organization.An element of AllAfrica’s peacebuilding initiative is organizing interactions among peace and security scholars, non-governmental organizations, policy makers and print and broadcast journalists across Africa.