In Sudan, Rapid Support Forces seize Wad Madani and worsen the humanitarian crisis

“I have 202 babies in these premises

In Sudan, Rapid Support Forces seize Wad Madani and worsen the humanitarian crisis

“I have 202 babies in these premises. All the city authorities fled. Where is the governor? Where are the ministers? State services? We are the sacrifices of this nation,” implores Radwan Abdeljabar, before breaking down in tears. This director of an orphanage makes this desperate call for help in a video taken from his office in the town of Wad Madani. On Monday, the capital of Gezirah state, 170 kilometers southeast of Sudan's capital Khartoum, fell under the control of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, better known under the nickname “Hemetti”, who have been confronting the Sudanese Armed Forces (FAS) of General Abdel Fattah Al-Bourhane since April 15.

An unknown fate awaits these children crowded into a makeshift hospital in Wad Madani. They had already been evacuated for the first time in June from the Maygoma orphanage in Khartoum, where 50 babies died because they could not be treated in the middle of the fighting.

The assault on Wad Madani was sudden. On Friday, December 15, columns of paramilitary vehicles from Khartoum moved south. First repelled by regular army aviation, the approximately 2,000 combatants – some of whom were minors – on the offensive, according to estimates by experts and eyewitnesses, ended up taking control of the first infantry division of the FAS, one of the main garrisons in the country estimated before the war at nearly 25,000 men.

After having been defeated in Darfur and Kordofan, it is now in its eastern stronghold that the regular army is routed. The soldiers withdrew further south, towards the state of Sennar, sometimes retreating in civilian vehicles. The army issued a rare statement Tuesday evening saying it was opening an “investigation” into the withdrawal of its troops from the city.

Feeling of panic among residents

“It’s a shock to Sudanese public opinion. The army shows that it does not have the capacity or inclination to fight. It is a strategic and humiliating loss. The regular army is on the verge of collapse. Sudan's neighbors and the international community must wake up. The humanitarian cost of this war and the risk of regional destabilization are increasing staggeringly every day,” warns analyst Suliman Baldo, founder of the think tank Sudan Transparency and Policy Tracker.

Strategically, the capture of Wad Madani now allows the FSR to cut the regular army's supply lines to the capital and to hold the axes allowing them to project towards the east of the country. A crossroads bordered to the east by the Blue Nile and to the west by the White Nile, the Gezirah region is also the breadbasket of Sudan, with millions of hectares of fertile land. The World Food Program (WFP) warns of a risk of famine as the fighting spreads to this agricultural region.

Above all, the advances of the FSR arouse a feeling of panic among the inhabitants of this region hitherto spared by the war. In the rest of the country, the conquests of the paramilitaries have systematically resulted in multiple abuses against civilian populations, rapes, looting and massacres of an ethnic nature in West Darfur in particular.

In three days, 300,000 people fled Wad Madani in the face of the RSF's lightning assault, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced on Monday. “People left preemptively. On foot, by car, by truck. But many no longer have the means to leave. They simply don’t have any more money,” explains Faiz Abubakar, a photographer from Khartoum who collaborated with Le Monde and who had taken refuge in Wad Madani.

“Sudan descends into hell”

“I oscillate between anger and despair. The RSF are expanding the front, they are expected to take over the entire country. I fear that the scenario that awaits us is that of a generalized ethnic war,” continues the photographer, who took the road to Port Sudan on Saturday with his family and is now seeking to flee the country.

A humanitarian catastrophe now threatens the Gezirah region. One more in Sudan where more than half of the population now needs help. Since April 15, nearly 7 million Sudanese have been internally displaced and a million have taken refuge in neighboring countries.

Until its conquest by the RSF, Wad Madani had become a refuge for populations and humanitarian workers trying to escape the fighting in the capital. The city's hospital system had been restructured to receive the injured in critical condition as well as patients treated for chronic illnesses. In the nearby town of Rufaa, residents documented the assault on a hospital where a nurse and a civilian were killed.

From now on, all humanitarian organizations have been forced to suspend their activities. “The civilians who remain are the most vulnerable. Wad Madani was already overcrowded with the arrival of more than 87,000 displaced people from Khartoum. Humanitarian conditions were deplorable. People slept on the floor, crammed up to eight families into classrooms, says Mathilde Vu, advocacy manager for the Norwegian Refugee Council who visited the site in October. After eight months of war, the world has forgotten Sudan, she concludes. It was already one of the largest population displacement crises in the world and we can expect the crisis to take on even more uncontrollable proportions. Sudan is descending into hell. »