Explained | A quick guide to the unfolding crisis in Sudan

Why is the Sudanese army fighting the paramilitary in the African nation? What does this mean for Sudan’s plans to transition to democracy?

April 23, 2023 03:27 pm | Updated April 27, 2023 10:02 am IST

Smoke rises from the tarmac of Khartoum International Airport as a fire burns, in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan on April 17.

Smoke rises from the tarmac of Khartoum International Airport as a fire burns, in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan on April 17. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The story so far: Violent clashes between the army and a powerful paramilitary force for absolute control of Sudan have left more than 400 people dead and thousands injured in the last few days, dealing a significant blow to chances of a transition to democratic rule in the resource-rich country.

The rival commanders of the two forces agreed to ceasefire brokered by the U.S, but the truce didn’t last long as fierce fighting in the capital Khartoum and other parts moved into second week, with civilians reporting clashes around the military headquarters and international airport.

Many countries are looking to evacuate their citizens from the strife-torn region amid uncertainty and fading hopes for de-escalation. On Saturday, American embassy staffers were airlifted from Khartoum in what U.S. President Joe Biden said was a “precarious evacuation.” Saudi Arabia has also successfully repatriated some of its citizens. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, meanwhile, has directed officials to monitor the developing situation and prepare contingency evacuation plans for Indian nationals.

What led to the ongoing power struggle?

At the centre of Sudan’s crisis are two powerful generals — Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), who heads the ruling council, and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo of the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group (RSF). Dagalo, commonly known as Hemeti, is the council’s deputy head.

File photo of army general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. (AFP)

File photo of army general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. (AFP)

The two Generals jointly led a military coup in October 2021, halting a plan to transition to elections which were part of an agreement after autocrat Omar al-Bashir was ousted by a popular uprising in 2019. The coup worsened the economic crisis and triggered mass demonstrations against the military. The two main demands of protesters were bringing the military under civilian government and integrating the RSF with the army.

File photo of Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo. (AP)

File photo of Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo. (AP)

The military finalised a preliminary deal with pro-democracy groups in December last year to relaunch the political transition. As per the agreed framework, the military, in charge since the coup, agreed to step back from politics. The pact, however, failed to address critical issues like security sector reform (SSR) and internal conflict in Darfur and other regions. The deal also provided no guarantee that military leaders would cede real power, analysts said. 

Negotiations hit a roadblock before the final agreement could be inked. 

Disagreements emerged over security reform, which proposed to bring the 1,00,000-strong paramilitary force under the control of the army. While the army preferred a two-year timetable for integration, the RSF proposed a slower transition of 10 years. The paramilitary also called for reforms within the army.

The two leaders also engaged in a war of words over the past few weeks. While Burhan spoke in the favour of bringing the paramilitary under the army, Hemeti said he regretted the coup. Tensions escalated over the ultimate control over resources and the timeline for RSF integration before the two sides could formally adopt the deal on April 6 as per schedule, resulting in intensive redeployment of forces in the capital.

Deadly clash ensues

The RSF first deployed personnel near the capital and soon followed with redeployment across the country. The army accused the RSF of illegal mobilisation without informing the leadership. . The RSF, meanwhile, claimed that the army had tried to seize power. 

Sudanese greet army soldiers, loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan on April 16, 2023.

Sudanese greet army soldiers, loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan on April 16, 2023. | Photo Credit: AFP

Discord rose and fighting erupted over the weekend at a military base near Khartoum, with the two sides accusing each other of initiating the violence. Fighting spread to other parts of Sudan, including the strategic coastal city of Port Sudan on the Red Sea and the war-wrecked Darfur region, where U.N. facilities were attacked, leading to the death of three workers. 

At least 270 people have been killed and 2,600 injured in the fighting, as per the latest U.N. figures on Wednesday.

What about Indians in Sudan? 

Indians stranded in Sudan have told The Hindu they are facing shortage of of electricity, food and water and under threat from indiscriminate firing and bombing as fighting continues. There are around 4,000 Indians in Sudan, as per official data cited by PTI. Of them, at least 181 are from Karnataka, which has also led to a war of words between former Chief Minister and Congress leader Siddaramaiah and Union External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar. 

The Indian government, meanwhile, has said that the Ministry of External Affairs and the embassy are “continuously monitoring” developments. Authorities said they are in touch with ‘The Quartet’ countries – the U.S., U.K, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E — to ensure the safety of Indian nationals. India is also working with the U.N., which has a substantial presence in Sudan. 

Over 30 persons from Karnataka are stuck in the city of El-Fasher in Sudan.

Over 30 persons from Karnataka are stuck in the city of El-Fasher in Sudan.

On April 17, the embassy advised Indians not to venture out of their residences and stay calm. This came a day after it said that an ex-serviceman from Kerala died in Khartoum after sustaining bullet injuries.

The Ministry of External Affairs has set up a dedicated Control Room (toll-free number 1800119797) for Indian nationals in Sudan.

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.