Mapping the Conflict in Sudan

Staff Writer

Sudan Conflict mapping and stakeholders’ analysis

  1. Internal Players

Mapping the conflict in Sudan and conducting a stakeholder’s analysis can be a complex task due to the dynamic and evolving nature of conflicts. Sudan has a long history of conflicts, including the Darfur conflict, the first and second Sudanese Civil War in the southern part of the country³, popular uprisings, and the more recent events leading to the 15 April war.

This article will attempt to provide an overview of the conflict in Sudan up to that point and a general stakeholder’s analysis.

The Military Establishment (Armed Forces):

The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) played a significant role in Sudan’s political life, remaining a foundational and active participant in governance after independence through military coups, alliances with political organizations for over 52 years from 1956 to 2019. It later became a partner with civilian forces after the overthrow of the Bashir regime for two years. Finally, it staged a coup on October 25, 2021, taking sole control of the government until now.

The right to participate in governance, and sometimes exclusive control, has become an integral part of the military doctrine. There are significant economic interests behind the military institutions, including military industrial and economic entities not subject to the authority of the Ministry of Finance and the civilian government.

During the Islamic government of Bashir (1989-2019), the military establishment faced high levels of ideological politicization. Thousands of qualified officers were dismissed, and entire batches from Islamic movements were absorbed into military colleges. Despite the fall of the Islamic government, these elements remained part of the military establishment.

Despite this, the armed forces have suffered severe neglect in recent years, reflected in the weakening of their professional and armament capabilities, as well as a decline in recruitment and absorption. The consequences of this neglect are evident in the ongoing war. During the last months, the army suffered significant defeats and lost a large number of fortifications and military positions, in addition to four states in Darfur that were taken over by the Rapid Support Forces. As a result of this disappointing reality regarding the army’s performance, internal and regional powers that were supporting the continuation of the war have changed their positions. They now endorse steps towards negotiation and dialogue.

The Rapid Support Forces:

 The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) originated as a tribal militia in the first decade of the third millennium. Initially led by the Daqlu family from the Mahariya Rizeigat tribe, its legal status was formalized as a regular force in 2017 when the Sudanese Parliament approved the Rapid Support Forces Act. The RSF quickly expanded its presence across most regions of Darfur and Kordofan, enhancing its capabilities in terms of weaponry and combat. It became the infantry force for the armed forces, heavily relied upon in the wars in Darfur and South Kordofan. Throughout this period, the RSF gained notoriety for its cruelty and brutality, committing widespread violations against civilian populations in various areas of Darfur.

During this time the leader of the RSF Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as “Hemedtti,” gained prominence. Despite not receiving extensive formal education, he leveraged his innate intelligence, leadership skills, blind loyalty from his soldiers, and tribal connections to become a key player in both military and political arenas. His role expanded after the removal of Marshal Bashir and his regime from power in April 2019. He became part of the military component that ruled independently for four months before participating in governance alongside civilian forces through a political agreement and a constitutional document signed in August 2019.

With the increasing strength of the Rapid Support Forces, its leaders’ ambitions grew. “Hemedtti” sought a prominent position and began forming alliances, building social bases, establishing external relations (UAE, Russia and the Wagner Group), and creating a vast economic empire inside and outside Sudan.

After the military coup in October 2021, orchestrated jointly by Generals Burhan and Hemedtti, disagreements surfaced between them due to Burhan’s alliance with Islamist groups inside and outside the army. These groups considered Hemedtti their primary adversary due to his role in toppling their regime in April 2019. Disagreements escalated, leading to public accusations, and military mobilization culminated in the outbreak of war on April 15 of this year.

Surprisingly, the Rapid Support Forces achieved several victories in the capital and the states of Darfur. They besieged the headquarters of the armed forces, where General Burhan and his top aides took refuge, for months. The Rapid Support Forces brought in of thousands of fighters from Darfur states, and they face accusations of using fighters from Arab tribes in neighboring countries.

The Armed Movements:

Most of these movements originated in Darfur, except for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) – North. Darfur movements emerged in earnest around 2003, beginning with the Sudan Liberation Movement, led by Minni Arko Minawi and Abdul Wahid Mohamed Nour, and the Justice and Equality Movement, led by Khalil Ibrahim. These movements split into dozens of factions due to leadership conflicts, with common alleged grievances against marginalization and the Northern Nile’s monopolization of executive positions and national wealth.

The SPLM – North was part of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement led by John Garang. After South Sudan’s secession, northern elements in the movement retained their armed forces, leading to a conflict with the Sudanese Armed Forces in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile State.

Various governments negotiated with these movements, but attempts to end the fighting were not successful. All these movements signed the Juba Peace Agreement in October 2020, joining various government structures. However, the security arrangements file, regulating the integration of these forces, was not completed. As a result, these movements retained their forces, although their actual influence diminished significantly.

Some armed movements aligned with the military component and participated in the October 2021 coup that ousted civilian forces. When the war started, some declared neutrality, despite their presence in the executive authority. However, some announced their alignment with the armed forces and readiness to fight alongside them if the Rapid Support Forces attacked the historical capital of Darfur, El Fasher.

The Civil Democratic Forces:

 These forces include groups that participated in the revolution against the regime of Marshal Bashir and were part of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) which identified itself as the largest political alliance in the history of Sudan. The alliance comprised major political parties, unions, professional organizations, civil society organizations, and resistance committees. The FFC signed political and constitutional agreement with the military component in August 2019, establishing a system of dual partnership. The FFC has experienced defections and the departure of some of its components, but it has maintained its existence and enjoyed the ability to take the initiative. It now includes the National Umma Party, the Sudanese Congress Party, the Unionist Alliance, and other parties, as well as a section of the professional associations and unions.

The military overturned the partnership system, ousted the civilian groups from power in October 2021. After two years of failure to establish legitimacy and gain local and international recognition, the military was forced to return to negotiations with the forces of freedom and change, which culminating in the signing of a political Frame work agreement between the FFC, the armed forces, the Rapid Support Forces in December 2022 for the return of the civilian government. However, the army backed out of the agreement, and war broke out on April 15. The Forces of Freedom and Change declared its opposition to the war from the first day and refused to align with any party. Still, the army and its allied forces categorize the FFC as an ally of the Rapid Support Forces

“The Forces for Freedom and Change met with several civil groups, resistance committees, unions, professional associations, and initiatives that called for the formation of a unified civil front against the war, in Addis Ababa last month (October 2023). They agreed to form the Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces (Taqadum) and entrusted its leadership to Dr. Abdullah Hamdok, the former head of the transitional civilian government, who was overthrown by the military group in October 2021.

 Among the civil democratic forces is also the group “Radical Change,” which includes the Sudanese Communist Party and a group of allied organizations. It was initially part of the Freedom and Change Alliance but considered that the FFC did not aim for radical change. Instead, it worked towards establishing a new partnership with the military. This group also adopts the position of “No to War” but operates separately from the civil front. The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party also stands on this position but has not joined any alliance, working independently in the political arena.

A third influential civil force on the street consists mainly of resistance committees that adopted the Revolutionary Charter of People’s Authority before the war and continue to adhere to it. While its voice diminished somewhat at the beginning of the war, it gained momentum after initiatives to build the Unified Civil Front and declared its refusal to join the front, choosing to remain a separate force.

The Freedom and Change – Democratic Bloc:

 This group includes several armed movements that were initially part of Freedom and Change, then split and allied with the Democratic Unionist Party led by Al-Mirghani, and with forces that recently appeared on the political scene and some leaders of the Traditional Administration for Sudanese Tribes. It is a strong ally for the military component and participated in laying the groundwork for the October 25 coup. The Egyptian government explicitly supported it for a while to be a political incubator for the military component, but it did not have enough effectiveness to play this role. It received funding from the Rapid Support Forces, as some of its leaders recently acknowledged. However, it found itself in a dilemma after the military component split into two factions. It initially adopted a silent position, calling for a halt to the war, then a group of them announced their alignment with the armed forces. Some forces also left this group.

Some small groups also align with the Democratic Bloc under different names, such as the National Mobilization Forces led by Dr. Al-Tajani Al-Sisi, the Sudan Justice Alliance led by Dr. Bahar Idris Abu Garda, and the Umma Party led by Mubarak Al-Fadil Al-Mahdi, a small and old faction that broke away from the National Umma Party. All these groups support the current leadership of the army.

The Islamic Movement (National Congress):

 The Islamic Movement governed the country under the name of the National Congress for thirty years, from an authoritarian and tight rule from June 1989 until it was overthrown by a popular revolution in April 2019. A new phase began with a civil-military partnership. The National Congress Party was dissolved and excluded from all dialogues and discussions about the transitional period paving the way for a democratic system. Some of its leaders were arrested and brought to trial on various charges.

The National Congress disappeared from the scene for a while, and new small organizations emerged affiliated with it. However, after differences appeared between the military and civilians, channels opened between General Burhan and some of his assistants and the Islamic Movement. The relationship deepened after the military coup in October 2021, where General Burhan reorganized state institutions, reappointed hundreds of Islamists to key positions, allowed them spaces of appearance and movement that were not available to them before, and returned to them all the properties seized by the Empowerment Dismantling Committee.

The door opened for the armed cadre of the Islamic Movement to communicate with the armed forces during the preparation period for the war. They joined as organized volunteers in battalions with distinct names and not as individuals. They have their own commanders, literati, and organizational structures different from the armed forces. They have a political line that supports the war and rejects negotiations and peaceful solutions. Some political forces lean towards the idea that Islamists planned the war and ignited its first sparks to rearrange the balance of power in the military and political arenas, with the possibility of their return to power after the army’s victory in the war. Regardless of the validity of this hypothesis, they have become noticeably present in political and military decision-making circles, leading the faction that rejects negotiations and political solutions.

Traditional Tribal Administration

The civil administrations of Sudanese tribes deserve a separate mention, despite some alliances with the military component and the Islamic movement in many instances. They are known for their continuous transformations with the shifting balance of power ad wealth, always leaning in the direction of governance. These administrations play a significant political role in the Darfur region, Kordofan, and the Eastern states of Sudan, contributing to mobilization and recruitment efforts during times of war.”

  • Regional and International Players

The United Nations (UN)

The international organization, through the Security Council, has been involved in Sudanese affairs for decades, addressing the Sudanese issue from various angles and under different resolutions and Chapters. After the revolution, the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) was deployed under Chapter VI to assist in the challenging transitional process. The mission initiated several initiatives, but its task became more complicated after the coup and the blatant hostility it faced from the military regime. Complications further increased after the outbreak of war, leading to the government’s declaration of the termination of the mission in Sudan. Finally, the Secretary-General appointed a special envoy to Sudan, who has not yet commenced his mission.

Since the beginning of the war, the international organization has been unable to take effective action, and the Security Council does not seem capable of playing a significant role amidst Chinese or Russian vetoes.

The African Union (AU)

 The African Union suspended Sudan from its membership after the military coup in October 2021, following its established procedures. However, the AU, along with the United Nations mission and the IGAD, contributed to efforts to initiate dialogue between the regime and civil forces. With the onset of the war, the African Union made independent efforts to stop it and engage with other regional and international forces. Eventually, the African Union and IGAD joined the Jeddah platform.Top of Form

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)

As for the IGAD, which includes Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, and Uganda, it held a special summit on the Sudanese war and presented an initiative rejected by the Burhan government, despite Sudan presiding over the organization during that summit, and its representative, General Malik Agar, being appointed by Burhan as the Deputy Chairman of the Sovereignty Council, the Sudanese government rejected the presidency of Kenyan President William Ruto of the initiative committee. The Sudanese government launched an attack on Ruto and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for criticizing the Sudanese government’s leadership.

In the last round of Jeddah negotiations in November 2023, the IGAD and the African Union joined as mediators alongside other facilitating parties. Geeral urha visited Keya, Ethiopia and Djibouti I the lasweeks.

The Tripartite Axis

Since the early days of the popular uprising that erupted in December 2018 and ousted Marshal al-Bashir in April 2019, it appeared that there were regional countries concerned about the Sudanese model. They feared the regime that the revolution would produce within Sudan and its effects on the region and the interests of these countries.

These three countries were Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). They developed a stance against the presence of Islamists at the helm of power in the region. However, at the same time, they did not want a revolutionary model that, in their belief, could destabilize the situation in the region and create instability.

When the military council took power in April 2019 and began to manipulate civilians, particularly their sole representative at that time, the Forces for Freedom and Change  (FFC), the Tripartite Axis supported it. It seemed to encourage the military council not to hand over power to civilians. UAE and Saudi support was more evident due to the participation of units from the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces in the war in Yemen. As events unfolded and disputes arose between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Saudi support diminished, while UAE support increased.

As for Cairo, it supported an attempt to replicate the Egyptian model in Sudan, suggesting that the army commander himself take over leadership after the revolution, suppressing the role of political forces. However, it also had concerns about the growing influence of the Rapid Support Forces, so its support was limited to General Burhan alone, excluding General Hemedti. Egypt preferred dealing with the traditional military institution that it knew and had historical ties with.

Many political forces and resistance committees believe that these countries were behind the massacre of dispersing the sit-in in front of the General Command in Khartoum in June 2019. Egypt and the UAE were inciters and supporters of the military coup in October 2021.

After the situation in the country became complicated due to the military coup, and the military component that carried out the coup failed to manage the country, the positions of Saudi Arabia and the UAE changed relatively. They played a role, along with the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), in opening channels of dialogue between the military component and the democratic civilian forces represented by the Forces for Freedom and Change. This resulted in the signing of the Framework Agreement in December 2022. Egypt opposed the agreement and adopted the Democratic Block, which also refused the Framework Agreement, and facilitated a meeting for them in Cairo to challenge the Agreement.

When the war broke out on April 15, all these countries generally called for a cessation of hostilities and resolving the issues through dialogue and negotiations. Saudi Arabia played a significant role in providing the Jeddah platform for negotiations between the two parties, while Egypt remained a supporter of the army and General Burhan, and the UAE supported the Rapid Support Forces and General Hemedti. There are direct accusations against Egypt for actively participating in the war and providing air force support to the army, and another accusation against the UAE for continuing to support the Rapid Support Forces ad supplying them with arms through Chad. However, it seems that Egypt now believes that its ally is losing the war, so it has become active in efforts to stop the war through negotiations

The Western Powers

The Western powers, led by the United States and the European Union, constituted a strong supporter of the democratic transition process in Sudan. They assisted in Sudan’s return to the international community and the restoration of its relations with international financial institutions after the lifting of U.S. sanctions on the country. They took steps towards the cancellation of debts owed by Sudan to world countries and international institutions. They opposed the military coup in October 2021, but, as evident, did not have a specific plan to deal with it beyond suspending all forms of cooperation and cutting all aid.

The Western powers exerted pressure on the regime until it responded to dialogue, resulting in the signing of the Framework Agreement that acknowledged the transfer of power to civilians. However, the military retreated from that commitment, and the relationship between the two partners, the army and the Rapid Support Forces, deteriorated, leading to war.

The United States, along with Saudi Arabia, intervened and provided the Jeddah platform for dialogue between the warring parties. Still, it seems that the U.S.’s preoccupation with the Ukrainian crisis and other global issues did not afford it enough time to exert stronger efforts, leading to multiple pauses in negotiations. At this stage, the United States contented itself with imposing sanctions on those it classified as warlords and held another ineffective round of negotiations in November.

Russia and China

Due to the nature of these two countries, they always prefer dealing with de facto governments, regardless of their popularity or the method of coming to power, as long as these governments can serve their interests and demonstrated their readiness to break away from American or Western influence in general. Russia has dealt with the military component in Sudan, and obtained the approval of the Sudanese military authorities to establish a military base on the Red Sea. The Rapid Support Forces expanded their relationship with Russia, engaging in gold trade, benefiting from ties with the Wagner Group for training and arming, and becoming involved in the foreign influence battle in Central Africa and some West Africa Countries. However, they began to withdraw shortly before the war, fearing the seriousness of American threats against them. The publicly stated position of China and Russia is a call for an end to the war, but there is much talk about Russian arms deals with the Sudanese army, while the Chinese position appears more reserved.


Israel entered the Sudanese political scene through General Burhan, who surprised the Sudanese and the world by meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Kampala in February 2020, with encouragement from the United Arab Emirates. Burhan’s perception was that recognizing Israel and establishing a relationship with it would open the door to American and international recognition and enable him to retain power with reasonable international support. The military leadership, in both its components, proceeded to engage with Israel despite the reservations of the civilian government, which declared that it did not have the madate in this matter. The two parties exchanged visits and promises, and then the commander of the Rapid Support Forces established a private channel of communication with Israel. There were also exchanges of visits, and the Rapid Support Forces received modern espionage devices from Israel.

However, during the war, Israel did not take a specific public stance, perhaps due to the distinct relationships it had with the warring parties. It became preoccupied with the Gaza war with Hamas, and it did not demonstrate a clear role during the conflict.

The Neighboring Countries

Some neighboring countries and their positions were mentioned earlier, such as Egypt and Ethiopia. Eritrea did not declare a specific position other than calling for a halt to the war. Chad has the same official position, although it is accused by unofficial sources of becoming a corridor for Emirati weapons to the Rapid Support Forces, and also the Libyan region controlled by Khalifa Haftar. The government of South Sudan extended multiple invitations to the warring parties to meet in Juba, hosting General Burhan, representatives of the Rapid Support Forces, and the Forces for Freedom and Change separately. However, it continued to operate within the framework of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and its initiative.

All neighboring countries, including Libya, Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, participated in a summit called by Egypt to all Sudan neighbors, and presented proposals for ending the war. Foreign ministers of these countries meet periodically in a capital city to try to push efforts to stop the war.

Written by Staff Writer

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