A power struggle has erupted in Sudan between two military generals—Abdel Fattah al-Burhan of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (better known as Hemedti) of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia.
This poses a huge challenge to the mass revolutionary movement in Sudan that has emerged since 2018.
Over 800 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in fighting in the capital Khartoum, as well as in regions such as West Darfur.
Residents in Khartoum are struggling to find food and water, and medicines are in short supply.
Around 800,000 people are thought to be internally displaced and over 250,000 have fled to neighbouring countries.
Many of the displaced are malnourished, particularly children, with safe corridors for aid unable to be established. Despite the country being resource rich and producing wealth for a select few (including the warring military generals), one third of the population already relied on humanitarian aid before the conflict.
Women and girls have increasingly been victims of sexual violence, perpetrated predominately by the RSF, but SAF soldiers have also been accused.
In 2019, a mass popular movement of millions forced the military to oust dictator Omar al-Bashir.
In his place a transitional civilian-military government was established that was meant to lead to a democratic government after three years.
In October 2021, the military staged a coup and removed their civilian partners to again cement military rule over Sudan.
Al-Burhan became the de facto head of state alongside Hemedti as his deputy—at this point they were both on the same side. Huge protests erupted demanding democracy and civilian rule, but the military was able to withstand the impact.
But tensions between the two military leaders—each depending on their own separate military force for support—has now led to conflict over who has ultimate control of the country.
Since independence in 1955 Sudan has often been under military rule. In every country the military is part of the core of the state—and ultimately defends capitalism and the interests of the rich and powerful.
But in Sudan this is particularly sharp. Both wings of the military control vast swathes of the economy and the country’s wealth.
Al-Burhan oversees a network of private and state-sponsored companies. According to some analysts, this accounts for about a quarter of the country’s economy.
Hemedti and his RSF control around half of Sudan’s GDP with their businesses. In Darfur, the region where the Janjaweed militia—the precursor to the RSF—massacred 300,000 civilians, the RSF took over the Jebel Amer gold mines by force in 2017. This is one of the biggest gold mining operations in the country.
Both al-Burhan and Hemedti fear that their wealth would be threatened by civilian rule.
The waves of mass protests and strikes since 2018 have produced neighbourhood Revolutionary Committees across the country.
These grassroots organisations have played an essential role since the fighting began in distributing essential goods such as food, water, and medicines. They have also been integral to communicating where safe passages to leave Khartoum lie.
There are over 5000 Revolutionary Committees across Sudan, with more than 800 in Khartoum. They are made up of ordinary Sudanese who organise in their geographical area to coordinate protests as well as distribution of essential goods and services.
The hope for change lies with renewed mobilisations of the revolutionary movement that grow into workers’ strike action that paralyses the economy and cuts off the source of the generals’ wealth. The kind of mass strikes that forced out al-Bashir are going to be necessary again to win democracy in Sudan.
Sudanese activists are adamant that they will not accept military rule, or any form of power sharing deal.
This will require breaking the power of the military and smashing the existing state through winning over sections of the army to the revolutionary movement.
In Australia, we can support the struggle in Sudan by demanding our government ceases selling weapons to Sudan, and welcomes refugees from Sudan fleeing the conflict.
We must demand that the more than 500 Sudanese refugees stuck in Indonesia—some of whom have been there since 2011—are granted permanent protection in Australia.
We must support the Sudanese people in their fight for democracy, and oppose any demands for compromise with their oppressors in the military, such as those coming from the United Nations and United States.
As Sudanese activists have demanded, there can be no compromise, no negotiations, and no legitimacy given to the army or the RSF.
Only by smashing the power of the military will Sudan be able to achieve democracy.
By Luke Ottavi