The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

The Generals Clash, Ordinary People Pay

May 1, 2023

This article is translated from the April 28 issue #2856 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

The people of Sudan have been living the horrors of all-out war since April 15. Two generals fight for power, locked in a life-and-death struggle which hits civilians hard.

The three-day truce signed at the urging of the U.S. was never likely to last, no more than a previous truce at the end of Ramadan which only lasted a few hours. At that time there were 420 deaths and 3,700 people injured.

Everyone who can flees from the areas where fighting rages. Citizens of the so-called great powers like France and the U.S. were airlifted with the protection of special military units. They were followed by citizens of Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and citizens of African countries. But most Sudanese people have no choice but to hide in their homes. They can only venture out in fear. Most hospitals no longer function. Water, electricity, and phone service are cut off almost everywhere. Trying to get food at the few places remaining open means risking automatic weapons fire and bombings. But what’s there is just rice sold at exorbitant prices.

Behind this horror, there is the struggle of two generals, head of state Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his vice president, nicknamed Hemedti. They had united to crush resistance by the population, which had been mobilized since the overthrow of dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019. But now they fight each other. Al-Burhan commands the official army, with its tanks, helicopters, and air force. Hemedti leads the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), with its pickup trucks armed with modern machine guns. Together they control all sectors of the economy. Industrial and commercial enterprises are in Al-Burhan’s hands, while Hemedti literally controls gold. Sudan is the second largest producer of gold in Africa.

The fighting is not only in the capital city, Khartoum. All major cities in Sudan are affected, as well as rural areas like Darfur, which has already suffered its share of deadly war. Sudanese refugees flee en masse to neighboring Chad, which is now using its army to close its border.

If today the great powers appeal for an end to the fighting, so far, they have helped arm both protagonists to the teeth via their regional allies. Behind Al-Burhan is Egypt, abundantly equipped militarily by France and the U.S. One of the first acts in this civil war was the capture by the RSF of an air base where Egyptian and Sudanese air forces were carrying out joint maneuvers. The RSF captured Egyptian pilots. Hemedti’s men are no longer just the “demons on horseback” they were called in Arabic when they hunted the people of Darfur in the 2000s, claiming 300,000 lives. They became dictator al-Bashir’s praetorian guard. They also fought in the war in Yemen alongside Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which stocked their war supplies.

This conflict threatens to set the whole region on fire. Either protagonist might gain the upper hand in some part of the country and install his own power there. Sudan’s unity is fragile. The country brings together a multitude of peoples, many of whom want to secede, as already happened with South Sudan. Both camps appeal to their regional sponsors. Neighboring countries might take advantage of the opportunity. For example, eastern neighbor Ethiopia hopes to recover a border region, the Fashaga Triangle, where armed incidents are multiplying. Meanwhile Egypt opposes Ethiopia for building a dam on the Nile that could deprive Egypt of part of the river’s water.

In this powder keg, the population has nothing to expect from the great powers except more escalation of the war—just as wars have bloodied Ethiopia, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. The ordinary people of Sudan can only count on themselves to ward off these criminal generals, just as they did in 2019 in overthrowing al-Bashir.