Rapid Support Forces: The Unit at the heart of the Crisis in Sudan

The history of conflict and power dynamics in Sudan highlights the importance of international support and involvement in Sudan's transition to democracy.


Since 15 April 2023, Sudan has witnessed violent clashes in the Khartoum and Darfur region, among rival factions of the current military government. The fighting began with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) attacking key government sites. At least 188 people have died. Both the leader of the RSF, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, and the leader of the military, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, have claimed that they control certain government sites such as the Army chief’s residence, the Khartoum International Airport, the military headquarters, the Presidential palace and the Sudan TV headquarters

The crisis comes after years of extreme political instability in Sudan. The instability began in 2019 when President Omar al-Bashir was ousted after ruling Sudan for almost 30 years. The end of his rule was also marked by mass protests. The protests began in December 2018 and continued for several months, calling for an end to his 30-year rule and demanding democratic reforms. The protests were initially sparked by rising bread prices, but quickly evolved into a wider movement against the government.

Following his deposition, an interim joint civilian-military unity government was established. In October 2021, the military seized complete power in a coup led by Burhan and Dagalo. The military junta later agreed to hand over authority to a civilian-led government, but tensions between Burhan and Dagalo delayed the signing of a formal agreement.

Burhan and Dagalo have clashed repetitively over the integration of the RSF into the regular army. The RSF was a paramilitary militia that fought on behalf of the Sudanese government during the Darfur War. The RSF was used against the protesters who agitated for the deposition of Omar Al-Basheer in 2019.

Coup in 2019

On 11 April 2023, RSF forces were deployed near Merowe and in Khartoum by Dagalo. This resulted in fighting with Burhan’s forces when they refused to leave. The conflict escalated on 13 April 2023.

Guns, Borders and IMF : The History of conflict in Sudan


Sudan has been in a state of political turmoil for several years now. Since 2019, when the military overthrew Omar Al-Bashir, they promised a transitional government and a path to democracy. However, recent events have seen the military consolidate power and take direct control of the government, leading to concerns about the future of democracy in Sudan. After taking direct control of the government, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan held a press conference to explain his actions. He claimed that the takeover was necessary to prevent the country from descending into chaos and promised to establish an emergency declaration and a government of technocrats.

The deposal of Omar Al-Bashir was a significant moment in Sudanese history. However, the country has been facing several crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic and a failed coup attempt in September 2020. Additionally, there have been pro-military protests in Khartoum, highlighting the tension between the military and civilian government.

Hemetti and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) are a significant faction in Sudanese politics. Hemetti is a former militia leader who rose to power in the aftermath of the deposal of Omar Al-Bashir. However, the RSF has been accused of war crimes, leading to uncertainty surrounding its future role in Sudanese politics.

Sudan has a long history of conflict, and recent changes in the country’s relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have complicated the situation. While Sudan has received debt forgiveness and is eligible for future loans, the suspension of loans and aid by the IMF has had a significant impact on the country. Additionally, there are plans for development aid under the new government, but the country’s history of conflict may complicate these efforts.

Why is the military so powerful in Sudan?

Since the war on terror began, many Western powers have established military alliances with governments in Northern Africa, which has created a significant power imbalance between civilian governments and the military. Civilian governments have often been poor and exploited by foreign governments, while the military has gained access to money and tools of surveillance. This imbalance has resulted in military coups taking over civilian governments frequently in many African countries.

Military governments often claim that they are responding to political crises and promise to return to civilian rule. However, tensions between the two branches of government have frequently erupted. This situation is further compounded by the presence of private militias from all over the world. When conflict zones demilitarize, they create new waves of private militias, exacerbating existing tensions.

Africa, and Sudan in particular, have been vulnerable to these dynamics. After the Cold War, Africa became a destination for the arms trade, with private militias, insurgent groups, and governments all involved in the trade. Sudan has been particularly affected by this, with a lot of conflicts contained in South Sudan after the split.

In 2019, there was a grassroots democratic movement in Sudan, but recent events have thwarted it. The uncertainty surrounding the future of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the accusations of war crimes against them has led to speculation about the role they may have played in the recent takeover by Burhan.

The history of conflict and power dynamics in Sudan highlights the importance of international support and involvement in Sudan’s transition to democracy. It is crucial that Western powers and the international community do not perpetuate these dynamics by supporting military governments or private militias. Instead, they should prioritize supporting the development of democratic institutions and civil society organizations.

Concerns over Indians In Sudan:

India’s Minister of External Affairs, S Jaishankar, spoke with officials from  Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to assess the situation in Sudan. On April 16 2023, the Indian embassy in Sudan confirmed that one Indian citizen died. The Indian embassy has issued advisories to Indians in Sudan and set up a control room.


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April 2024


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