At 6 p.m., when the muezzins invite Sudanese Muslims to break the Ramadan fast, thick clouds of black smoke fill the twilight. The intermittent roar of detonations continues, well after dark. It was a little after 9 a.m. when residents of Khartoum and the two neighboring towns of Omdurman and Bahri heard the first exchanges of heavy weapon fire. "The walls are shaking and we keep jumping. It's very stressful, "says Dallia Abdelmoniem, a figure in the December 2018 revolution who lives in the Amarat district, at the forefront of the conflict. This escalation had been feared for several months without anyone really believing in taking action. However, this week, the icy relations soured between the boss of the army, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane, and that of the fearsome militia of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo alias "Hemeti" . Until clashes broke out this Saturday, April 15, first in the northern town of Merowe, then around the capital and in several other cities in this immense country in the Horn of Africa.
Since the revolution, the two generals have concealed a latent resentment, motivated by an alliance of convenience, with the aim of frustrating the democratic transition and then perpetrating the coup d'état of October 25, 2021. The Islamists, Burhane's most faithful allies , continue despite everything to hold Hemeti responsible for the collapse of the military-Islamist dictatorship of Omar el-Bashir. For his part, this former camel breeder cannot forgive the generals of the army for their contempt on the pretext of his lack of academic education. As vice-president of the Sovereignty Council, and one of the richest men in Sudan, Hemeti could therefore fantasize about revenge before finally concentrating on presidential ambitions known to all.
Rather than returning to the path of transition to a civilian government, the political process that began in December seems to have exacerbated this entrenched rivalry. The issue of security sector reform had been deliberately rejected by pro-democracy political forces. In the end, the workshop supposed to decide on this thorny subject between March 26 and 29 failed to resolve the central question of the integration of the RSF into the army. From that moment, the two leaders no longer took the trouble to look at each other during their meetings with the mediators of the international community, notes a diplomatic source.
And then the spark came from a movement of around 100 RSF vehicles on Wednesday, April 12 in Merowe, where both Sudanese and Egyptian warplanes are stationed. The army spokesman condemned this action, calling it an outlaw. "The RSF have shown surprising strength both in numbers by deploying 600 men and in method by claiming control of this site," said a security source in the diplomatic community. This is probably what prompted the military to seize the RSF camp in Soba, south of Khartoum, on Saturday morning. »
A video, which may have been taken at this first place of confrontation within the capital, shows men wearing RSF uniforms capturing army soldiers, telling them to crawl on the ground and molesting them. The two institutions, and their commanders themselves, continued, on this Saturday, to contradict each other in the declarations interposed on social networks and in the press, concerning for example the taking or not of the Presidential Palace by the RSF. On the Qatari channel Al-Jazeera, Hemeti invective his ex-partner of "criminal" while Burhane accuses his now enemy of managing "a militia supported by foreigners".
Observers doubt, however, that either of these two warlords, suspected of crimes during the Darfurian conflict, the massacre of the revolutionary sit-in of June 3 and the cruel repression since the putsch, had an interest in starting hostilities. They seemed to be benefiting from the status quo that they had maintained since the signing of the preliminary agreement of December 5 and which spared them any legal action. Eyes are turned a priori rather towards the Islamists still very present in the ranks of the army. The name of General Shams El-Din Kabbashi, a member of the Sovereignty Council particularly hostile to the December pact, comes up among the diplomatic, political and academic sources contacted by Le Point Afrique.
A Sudanese researcher specializing in militarization confides her fear of "a civil war where we would see citizens choosing sides according to their ethnic origin". "If this conflict spreads to the other states of Sudan, it would be a disaster likely to sow chaos at the international level", warned a source close to the RSF in the first hours of the conflict. Meanwhile, clashes have been reported in the Darfur and Kordofan regions in the south-west of the territory.
The UN, the United States and the European Union have called for a cessation of hostilities. "We want more than words. Western mediators and the United Nations must put pressure on their allies who have interests in Sudan, especially the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia,” said activist Dallia Abdelmoniem. Unlike the West, the Gulf countries as well as Egypt, Russia or China did not cut their financial taps to condemn the putsch. "These countries could have more impact in resolving this crisis than the rest of the international community because they retain significant leverage over both the military and the RSF," said the militarization researcher.
Whether it is only a short bloody episode or it announces the beginning of a longer conflict, this day has in any case become the first military confrontation in the capital since the independence of Sudan in 1956. At least twenty-seven civilians were killed and more than 386 were injured by stray bullets. "We, the Sudanese people, systematically find ourselves caught in a vice to pay the price of wars of political and economic interests", summarizes Dallia Abdelmoniem. Although Khartoum may have been spared so far, the citizens of Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile are sadly accustomed to this seemingly endless cycle of violence. And whose strings are at least partly pulled by the two generals who clash today in the streets of the capital.