The violence that has exploded in Sudan as the country’s two top generals grapple for power has unfolded at a terrifying, breakneck speed.
But, by many accounts, the clash was long in the making — the culmination of years spent by the international community legitimizing the two military rivals as political actors, entrusting them with getting a democratic transition across the line in spite of many signals they had no intention of doing so.
Now, the two men, who started their careers in the killing fields of Darfur, the western region where a tribal rebellion erupted in the early 2000s, have pitted their forces against each other and appear intent on ripping Sudan apart. The African Union has warned that the clash “could escalate into a full-blown conflict,” roiling stability in the wider region.
General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudan’s military ruler and head of the army, and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (widely known as Hemedti), the country’s deputy and head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group, had shared power since carrying out a coup in 2021, when together they pushed civilians from a transitional government. That alliance, forged on a mutual disdain for the Sudanese people’s democratic ambitions, has crumbled into what now resembles a fight to the death.
Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo
Rival generals are battling for control in Sudan. Here’s a simple guide to the fighting
In the weeks before the conflict broke out, the two generals flirted with a deal that was aimed at mollifying their remaining disputes — largely security sector reform and the integration of the RSF into the army — and moving the country toward a long-awaited, civilian-led democracy.
They met with foreign mediators and made pledges to hand over power. Meanwhile, in the capital Khartoum, personnel carriers and tanks were seen rolling down the streets, fortifying and reinforcing both sides.
“The fact that these forces were poised and at the ready to descend into this level of violence so swiftly should come as no surprise to anyone,” said Cameron Hudson, a former CIA analyst, now an Africa specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, adding that the foreign powers involved in the negotiations — the United States and Britain, as well as the United Nations, and African and Arab governments — had made a serious miscalculation to believe that both generals were willing parties on the verge of an agreement.