Over the last month, Sudan has been convulsed with violence as a power struggle between two rival military leaders erupted into full-scale warfare. Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands more injured, with more than three hundred thousand Sudanese displaced from their homes.
The rival claimants to power are Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemeti. The two men previously joined forces in October 2021 to stage a military coup and clamp down brutally on Sudan’s revolutionary movement that was struggling for democracy. Now they have turned their guns on each other.
The descent into violence discredits the approach of the US and other Western governments that legitimized the coup instigators and sought to build a negotiating process around them. This did not begin after the coup: since 2019, international diplomats had strongly supported a partnership setup that kept the two generals in power, claiming that it would result in a transition to civilian rule.
But the resistance committees that brought down the dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir are organizing on the ground to protect communities from the ravages of the latest conflict. It is their efforts that are sowing the seeds of a better future for the people of Sudan.
Descent Into War
For weeks, the militarization of the Sudanese capital Khartoum had been escalating significantly. Soldiers and military vehicles belonging to the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) were already a familiar sight in the capital and many other Sudanese cities, even before the coup of 2021 took place. The RSF is a paramilitary force that has its origins in the Janjaweed militias deployed in Darfur.
Yet the recent escalation was different. It stood in stark contrast to the official news of progress in negotiations between the military and civilian ex-partners of the failed transitional government. The key matters for discussion included the issue of merging the SAF and the RSF.
On the morning of April 15, fighting broke out between the SAF, under al-Burhan’s command, and Hemeti’s RSF. In less than four hours, the army’s fighter jets were bombing the capital. It is important to understand that both parties to the fighting have their buildings located in the middle of residential areas. That includes the army headquarters and several RSF buildings that had been turned into barracks, which made the capital a ticking time bomb.
The slogan of the protesters, “army to the barricades, RSF to be dissolved,” was no longer simply a call for the military factions to be removed from political decision-making. It was a demand for the physical removal of the military and all militias from residential areas as well.
For more than a year, since the coup on October 25, 2021, the Sudanese resistance front has organized weekly protests led by neighborhood resistance committees. The demonstrators chant slogans calling for free education and health care, public safety, the army’s return to barracks, and the dissolution of the RSF (in Arabic: صحة تعليم مجان والشعب يعيش في امان والعسكر للثكنات والجنجويد ينحل).
The international diplomats who invested their efforts in advocating and facilitating talks and agreements with the coup perpetrators judged these demands to be unrealistic and immature. However, the resistance committees continued their work on the ground, protesting in the streets to reduce the ability of the coup regime to legitimize itself, as well as engaging in a countrywide deliberation process charting the future they seek for Sudan.
More than eight thousand neighborhood resistance committees engaged in the process that produced the Revolutionary Charter for the Establishment of People’s Power. This was a document that included a road map for rebuilding the government from the bottom up, starting from local councils, all the way to a national legislative body that would select and oversee the executive.
The committees presented this agenda as a path to sustainable peace that would address the core issues of the Sudanese people and allow them equal access to political decision-making. Career politicians from the national and international elites ignored or even ridiculed their vision.
When the fighting broke out, it was the experiences and tools of popular organizing that came to the rescue of the Sudanese people. Khartoum’s neighborhood resistance committees issued a joint statement on the second day clarifying their position: “We are not impartial as we are engaged in peaceful struggle against the militarization of our country.”
The statement branded al-Burhan and Hemeti as enemies of the Sudanese revolution and urged the people to organize to provide for themselves. This remains the popular view, even though the SAF and the RSF have both engaged in propaganda campaigns to equate their own cause with that of the Sudanese people and their revolution.
The fact that the SAF and the RSF have borrowed the language and slogans of the revolution to advocate for their war is a clear sign of how the revolutionary organizations, while ignored by most international bodies, have transformed politics in Sudan. Yet these propaganda campaigns have encountered little success, as the reality of people’s needs on the ground remained the priority for the resistance front.
No Quick Victory
Fighting continued despite SAF statements promising a quick win over the “rebels,” while the RSF boasted about its progress against the “coup forces.” In reality, there was no speedy end to the fighting in sight.
The RSF took over more areas in the capital, including hospitals, areas where medical supplies were being stored, and power-supply stations. The SAF showed minimum regard for human life as it focused on the use of air strikes, with homes and schools bearing the brunt of the war.
The army’s priority was to regain control over the presidential palace and the national radio station. It did not make the same effort to evict RSF forces from hospitals, power stations, or other institutions that actually have a direct impact on people’s lives and well-being.
The Sudanese army has controlled the lion’s share of the country’s budget and resources for decades. It has revealed itself to be yet another governmental institution weakened by corruption, inefficiency, and the rise of a private sector substitute — in this case, the RSF militia.
“No to War, Yes to the People”
On the ground, neighborhood groups were created on messaging apps such as WhatsApp, focusing on the provision of services for the residents of their neighborhoods. This work included providing updates on what shops and bakeries were open and the availability of water and electricity sources, as well as information on safe routes and assistance with evacuations from high-risk areas.
As the fighting continued and the fragile infrastructure of Khartoum collapsed, these groups started operating previously closed health centers as a substitute for hospitals that were now impossible to reach. As the capital’s residents fled to other regions, similar groups and neighborhood resistance committees around the country set about organizing to provide the displaced people with housing, food, and medication when needed.
Along the roads linking Khartoum to other states, groups of youngsters stationed themselves offering water and snacks for travelers and inviting them to stay in their villages. When thousands of displaced Sudanese found themselves stuck at the Egyptian border in the north with no international organizations present to assist them, several popular initiatives came to their support. The resistance committee of the nearest city, Dongola, organized a convoy to reach the border and provide for them.
Back in Khartoum, the newly formed emergency rooms communicated with technicians to restore power supply in areas damaged by the war. These examples and many others show that on the ground, resistance committees have combined the slogan “no to war” with practical assistance for the Sudanese people, relying on their own power.
International diplomats also fled the city, moving to the new temporary capital of Port Sudan. Without having critically examined their previous efforts, they continued talks with both combatants, announcing one failed ceasefire after another. The Sudanese people ridiculed their efforts, joking about how each “ceasefire” simply resulted in more violence than the previous one.
It was the very same diplomats who foisted a failed “partnership agreement” with the military upon the Sudanese people, as well as the Juba peace agreement, from which we can draw direct links to the coup. Having legitimized the generals with their coups and wars, they still somehow consider themselves experts with the capacity to end the violence, although they have never been held accountable for their previous failures. This makes any hope for a positive intervention from the international community tenuous to say the least.
This statement holds true not only for Sudan but also for many other conflict zones where the corrupt logic of international diplomacy has prioritized deals with war criminals over addressing the root causes of injustice and conflict. In the name of “realism,” diplomats supported a setup that left the leaders of the SAF and the RSF in control of Sudan’s weapons and wealth while somehow expecting that they would not utilize that control to expand their power.
A truly realistic and sustainable approach is being created by the people of Sudan in the face of the war. As the Sudanese people take control of their own lives and resources, the power and wealth available for the generals to fight over will diminish. In this revolutionary scenario, there can be an end to the war as popular power organizes itself into a countrywide resistance front.
Support for the Sudanese people in this struggle will never come from the existing international organizations, which have no interest in real democracy that serves the popular will. The people of Sudan can only ask for help from fellow revolutionaries and fighters for peace and justice, demanding accountability and ethical guidelines for the work of international diplomacy. The backing of our comrades around the world is vital to ensure that no international intervention imposes further destruction on Sudan. The central slogan remains “no to war, yes to the people.”