On Tuesday 16 May 2023, the ACRPS Political Studies Unit held a symposium titled “The Army-RSF Conflict and the Future of the Crisis in Sudan”. It featured presentations by Abdelwahab El-Affendi, President of the Doha Institute and Vice President for Academic Affairs; Hamid Ali, Associate Professor and Dean of the School of Economics, Administration, and Public Policy at the Doha Institute; Ahmed Abushouk, Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Qatar University; and Hamza Baloul, former Sudanese Minister of Culture and Information. The symposium discussed the causes of the outbreak of conflict between the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and its consequences for security and politics.

Roots of the crisis

Ahmed Abushouk opened the symposium by exploring the roots and true causes of the crisis. More than a struggle between the army and the RSF, this complex conflict blends civilian and military elements with regional and international implications. Abushouk discussed the origins of the Sudanese Army as a key component of the post-independence state. Subsequently, however, the recruitment of soldiers with particular political alignments came underway, contrary to the Armed Forces Law that defines the army as a regulated, non-partisan fighting force with a national structure. There was, hence, an incursion from within, by which the military establishment went on to take part in uprisings backed by political parties.

Abushouk mentioned that it was the leadership of the military institution that created the RSF to back the armed forces in their struggle against armed political action movements in Darfour. Its leadership took on a tribal character, as most of them had not undergone training and recruitment like the rest of the rank and file. Next, Abushouk described the contradictions of the political arena, deconstructing how the Revolution Forces (i.e., the civilian component) relate to the military component, as well as the role regional and international powers played in exacerbating the situation and uncovering these contradictions. The Framework Agreement, he argued, may not have been the only reason for the outbreak of the crisis, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Toward a national democratic state-building process in Sudan

Hamid Ali discussed proposals aimed at addressing the consequences of the crisis, outlining the tasks of the next phase such as rebuilding the National Army into the backbone of the state, and indicating flaws present in the armed forces establishment due to its interference with politics and use of militias for its internal wars.

Ali spoke of the need to address the humanitarian crisis given UN assessments of the country’s deteriorating conditions, as well as the need to deliver aid, provide security and keep the peace, and create supply chains in coordination with neighbouring states. Moreover, the return of the displaced to their regions and cities would be among the priorities of the transitional government. Next, Ali noted the necessities of economic reform as a priority that must be addressed to rehabilitate and deregulate the agricultural sector, then mentioned the need to achieve transitional justice and instil the principles of rationality-based justice to avoid extremism and polarization. He concluded by speaking about the importance of repairing foreign relations and the need to review some existing agreements, to serve the public good and help achieve tangible gains in development, economic prosperity, and support for the disadvantaged and underprivileged.

Militias and the militarization of the civilian movement

Abdelwahab El-Affendi argued that Sudanese citizens can no longer speak in terms of the so-called democratic period, developing his theory of (in)security narratives that strongly promote political polarization and militarization. Calls for revenge and fearmongering create defensiveness and “competition over extremism” in an atmosphere of intimidation.

El-Affendi illustrated the dangers of the Framework Agreement, while also stressing the lack of an alternative given the need to continue work on a true democratic foundation, and a constitution that limits the authority of those in charge and ensures the security of all groups; this, too, is consistent with the need to extract the army from politics. El-Affendi argued that the Framework Agreement, in the form in which it was proposed, gave Hemedti and the RSF immunity from the internal reform to which the army is subject. Instead, the RSF was given ten years to integrate into the army, bearing in mind that the former was able, over four years, to increase its power and grow its presence in the country. How, then, can we “expect it to have competition in ten years”? In this way, the form of the agreement paved the way to the war, portending the collapse of the state in Sudan in the absence of a true democracy capable of generating national consensus.

The political approach to conflict in Sudan

In his concluding contribution, Hamza Baloul addressed the background of the political dialogue following the 25 October coup. Outlining the most important issues resolved by the political agreement, Baloul offered a brief comparison between the Framework Agreement and the 2019 constitution, criteria for the selection of the parties to the agreement, and the most important results of the Framework Agreement workshops, where there was consensus on the basis of security and military reform. Here, Baloul considered some of the points made in the paper on principles of reform, addressing the disagreements over the time period of integration and forming military leadership, then concluded by discussing how to end the war and return to the starting point: the Framework Agreement.