Sudan’s rival generals battle for control


Briefly: Africa’s third largest country plunged into chaos over the weekend as rival generals fought for control of key strategic sites across the country.

The backstory here is more complicated than a Christopher Nolan film, but in short, dictator Omar al-Bashir ran Sudan for 30 years until jubilant mass protests led to a 2019 coup that ousted him.

Following another coup in 2021, two generals ran Sudan jointly: the country’s military chief was leader, while a powerful warlord (head of the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF) was deputy. The plan was to return Sudan to civilian rule this month, but the two generals couldn’t agree on how to incorporate the RSF into Sudan’s military.

And those tensions boiled over into military clashes this weekend, leaving dozens of civilians dead in the capital Khartoum and across Sudan. Despite a brief humanitarian pause on Sunday, the rival factions vow they’ll fight to the end.

Intrigue’s take: The one thing potentially worse than a brutal dictator is the anarchy that can emerge after they’re gone. Here, however, the power struggle between rival generals doesn’t necessarily reflect broader divisions across Sudan, where support for a path to democracy remains high.

But there’s a geopolitical angle here too: external powers have long been drawn to Sudan’s resources and strategic location. And this time around, Egypt is close to Sudan’s military, while the Saudis and Russians prefer the RSF. If these external players try to help their preferred general prevail, things could get even messier.

Also worth noting:

  • In February, Sudan’s military endorsed a proposed Russian naval base which would grant Russia a foothold on the Red Sea (home to 30% of global container trade). The RSF had already endorsed the proposal.
  • The ICC issued two arrest warrants for former dictator Bashir in 2009 and 2010 over alleged war crimes in Darfur. He’s still serving a jail term in Sudan for corruption after $130M in cash was found in his home.
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