News coming from Sudan has overwhelmed state and non-state actors alike in Africa.
Diplomats, businesses and most importantly, the ordinary people of Sudan sit on tenterhooks as fighters loyal to the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese military clash. Ports and planes have not been spared.
The commander of the RSF—who is also the number 2 of the military government—has vowed to capture all military bases and be in control of the state. This is happening after an arrangement for the commencement of the integration of the RSF in the regular army failed earlier in the year.
How did we get here?
Despite all the complex events and processes that have contributed to the current mayhem in the Horn of Africa country, the most outstanding factor has been the determination of former President Omar Al Bashir to personalise power in Sudan.
During the Darfur conflicts in western Sudan in the 2000s, Khartoum had treated the situation as a major national security problem. Huge resources was therefore committed towards the war. Al Bashir had his own plans of doing it.
Instead of using the national army and resource it for the purpose, he created a militia of local fighters and loyalists. With this, the long time ruler had personalised the conflict and put it under his direct control. The regular forces had no command over these forces. That’s the genesis of RSF.
The RSF is reported to have committed abuses and war crimes that included massacres during the war. Also, a war economy was created out of Darfur where Al- Bashir allowed the RSF leadership especially its current commander to control mining and agricultural interest that empowered the militia.
Obviously, Bashir did not want competition from the regular army that had more legitimacy with the people.
Interestingly, when Sudan decided to fight on the side of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, Al Bashir used RSF instead. This gave the RSF commander leverage among Gulf powers.
Unfortunately for Bashir, the RSF participated in the coup that ousted his government in 2019. It joined the transition government and suppress pro-democracy protests. The current conflict is due to the groups determination to be independent from the Sudanese army and control resources.
Across Africa, many leaders have over the time build “private” armies and elite forces for their personal interest. These forces are often better equipped than the regular forces.
For this trend to stop, there must be efforts towards building strong institutions and a push by the masses for democracy.