‘Sudan May Not Recover’: Pro-Democracy Activists Say World Ignored Their Warnings

As fighting continues in Sudan between two rival factions, local activists tell VICE World News that their peaceful efforts and warnings to the international community against involving military factions in political processes were ignored.
fire broke out after a house was hit in the Lamab district during clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Khartoum, Sudan on April 20, 2023.
Fire broke out after a house was hit in the Lamab district during clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Khartoum, Sudan on April 20, 2023. Photo: Omer Erdem/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Hopes are fading in Sudan for a de-escalation of the ongoing conflict and a future peaceful transition to civilian rule almost a week after residents in the capital Khartoum woke up to the sounds of gunfire, heavy artillery and airstrikes. Across the country, fierce battles continue to rage between forces loyal to General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group and General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, chair of the Sudanese Armed Forces. Civilians are forced to shelter in their homes with dwindling food and water supplies or risk their lives in a bid to flee the carnage.


As battles for control of strategic locations sweep across the capital, activists and members of neighbourhood resistance committees who played an integral role in removing former President Omar al-Bashir during the 2018-2019 revolution, expressed despair and anger that their peaceful efforts and repeated warnings against involving military factions in political processes went unheeded.

“Time and time again, the political forces repeated the same mistakes by sitting at the [negotiating] table with the military,” Sara Hashim Hamdan, a member of an active resistance committee said in a text message to VICE World News from Khartoum. “They bypassed the resistance committees and the demands of the street, the demands of the families of the martyrs, the missing, detained and injured, those most affected.”

The outbreak of conflict has left Ahmed Mostafa, a pro-democracy activist in Khartoum, fearful that a victory for either of the two military factions may end hopes for civilian rule and reforms. “If al-Burhan wins, the repressive Islamist regime of Omar al-Bashir will return,” Mostafa said from a relative’s home in the south of the capital, where he has been sheltering since Saturday. “If Hemedti takes over, a regime led by militias will come into place. There are many people who have died without having any involvement in this war, especially children and the elderly. I fear that Sudan may not recover from this.” 


Despite the perils, Mostafa and his friends in various neighbourhoods across the city have been coordinating over the phone to ensure that food, water and electricity reach those still besieged in their homes by the fighting.

The abrupt descent into conflict comes at a time when the duelling generals were supposed to have agreed upon a handover of power to a civilian government, as well as critical security sector reforms that would limit the role of military bodies to security matters and bring about the integration of the RSF into the armed forces. As the deepening rift between the two leaders began to surface and the political process showed signs of deterioration, foreign diplomats and UN officials continued to push for tenuous agreements. As a result, activists could only watch as international bodies legitimised both Hemedti and al-Burhan as viable political actors despite their implication in grave human rights abuses throughout the country. 

Hemedti once commanded the Janjaweed, a group of notorious militias that were armed and recruited from Darfur’s Arab tribes in the early 2000s by former president al-Bashir. On behalf of the Sudanese government, they waged brutal counterinsurgency campaigns against predominantly non-Arab armed groups in the region, causing al-Bashir to be indicted by the International Criminal Court for instigating a genocide. Until recently, the RSF and the military remained partners in using excessive violence to quell dissent. Since the dawn of the December 2018 revolution, both groups have participated in the killings and enforced disappearances of pro-democracy protesters and activists in Khartoum and beyond.


In recent weeks, as tensions between the two generals mounted and minimal efforts were made to resolve the disputes, the RSF began deploying hundreds of troops to Khartoum, setting up the stage for the current conflict.

The mistrust of security forces by activists stemmed in part from the events of the 3rd of June 2019, when al-Burhan and Hemedti oversaw the violent dispersal of a sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum, killing at least 120 people and leaving hundreds more wounded or missing. No punitive actions were taken against the generals, and a committee tasked with investigating the massacre suspended its activities shortly after the resignation of civilian prime minister Abdalla Hamdok in January 2022. With accountability mechanisms eroding, many of those who participated in the revolution had little hope that the bloodshed would end, or that the generals were truly committed to surrendering power to civilians. Their scepticism was reinforced by al-Burhan’s RSF-backed military coup in October 2021, after which protesters returned to the streets under the slogan “no negotiation, no partnership, no legitimacy” for the junta. A volatile military leadership has now brought about the levels of violence and instability that pro-democracy activists have long feared, and which show few signs of abating.

Salih Hussain, a 26-year-old who survived being shot in his back on the night of the 2019 massacre, told VICE World News that “revolutionaries rejected the [December 2022] settlement [with the military] from the beginning because its clauses did not uphold our authority, it did not fulfil our demands.” Hussain suffers from paraplegia as a result of his injury but managed to flee Khartoum to a neighbouring state on the 19th of April with the help of his family. “After all the sacrifices that the martyrs and the wounded have made to build our country, all [our efforts] have now been lost,” he told VICE World News. “These are very difficult feelings, even to leave our own homes behind.”

As official death tolls climb to 413 people, a Facebook group that was set up for sharing and seeking information on missing and disappeared persons during the uprising has been inundated with posts by civilians desperately pleading for news about their loved ones, some of whom have not been heard from since the fighting broke out on Saturday morning.

Successive international attempts at brokering a ceasefire and establishing humanitarian corridors have failed, with Hemedti and al-Burhan trading blame for violating the truces. Meanwhile, civilians have been relying on community networks to navigate safer passages for residents to evacuate the embattled areas. From her home in Khartoum just a few neighbourhoods from the clashes, Hamdan added, “Although many innocent citizens have died or fled their homes because of the war, this will not frighten or discourage us from pursuing our demands. The war will end, and we will take to the streets once again.”