Sudan no closer to peace as Dagalo's African tour angers Al Burhan

Blueprint for truce signed by paramilitary chief on his visit to Ethiopia unlikely to end war, experts warn

Gen Mohamed Dagalo, left, commander of the paramilitary RSF, and Sudan's army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan were once allies but are now at war. AFP
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After months out of sight, Sudanese paramilitary chief Gen Mohamed Dagalo emerged on the international stage, meeting African heads of state and discussing his country’s future with politicians from Khartoum.

But analysts who spoke to The National say Gen Dagalo’s high-profile diplomatic drive and acceptance of a political blueprint to end Sudan’s eight-month war and restore its transition to democratic rule have hardly moved the nation closer to peace.

Instead, Gen Dagalo's charm offensive may have buried any immediate peace prospects, with the ruinous war between his Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the national army set to continue.

Army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan is reportedly angered by his rival's diplomatic moves, which are seen as an attempt by Gen Dagalo to position himself on the international stage as a legitimate leader of Sudan.

Gen Dagalo, better known by his nickname Hemedti, visited Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa and Rwanda. On these trips he swapped his trademark camouflage fatigues for a business suit and tie and met national leaders, presenting himself as statesman.

In an angry outburst while addressing troops in eastern Sudan, Gen Al Burhan called Gen Dagalo a clown, traitor and coward.

“The whole world witnessed these rebel forces committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in West Darfur and the rest of Sudan,” he said. "For that reason, we will have no reconciliation or agreement with them.

“I have a message for the clown and traitor: where was he the last eight months? He is a coward who cannot face anyone."

Gen Al Burhan was alluding to Gen Dagalo's disappearance from the public eye shortly after the war broke out. His retreat gave rise to speculation he had been badly wounded in the fighting.

The two generals last month agreed in principle to a face-to-face meeting proposed by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an East African trade bloc, but the chances of that meeting taking place or producing positive results now look thin.

Sulaima Ishaq, a veteran political activist and prominent women’s rights campaigner, said Gen Dagalo’s attempt to gain domestic and international legitimacy had infuriated Gen Al Burhan, who insists he is the only legitimate leader of Sudan.

“Hemedti has been acting like a victorious conqueror and those who presented him with a road map to peace and democracy did so without paying heed to how most Sudanese feel about the Rapid Support Forces,” she said.

“It all reeks of opportunism and a political project dead at birth."

Sudan, a vast and impoverished Afro-Arab state, has been devastated by the conflict, which has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, displacing more than seven million people and leaving half the population of nearly 50 million in need of assistance.

The fighting was initially confined to the capital Khartoum but later spread to the western regions of Darfur and Kordofan and more recently to central Sudan, where the RSF has captured the strategic city of Wad Madani.

The RSF now controls most of the capital and most of Darfur. It has made inroads in Kordofan and is on the march south after taking Wad Madani. The army remains in control of northern, eastern and, for now, southern regions of Sudan. It is also holding on to several military bases in Khartoum and is entrenched in a series of isolated garrisons in the west.

The two generals are one-time allies who staged a coup in 2021 that toppled a civilian-led government and derailed the nation’s democratic transition, two years after dictator Omar Al Bashir was ousted.

“Walk the streets of El Geneina [in West Darfur state] or anywhere in Sudan and you will see what the people will do to you,” Gen Al Burhan dared Gen Dagalo last week, showing how far apart they have drifted.

Both sides accused of war crimes

Gen Al Burhan has been highlighting in recent public comments the crimes allegedly committed by the RSF in Khartoum and Darfur since the war broke out, including killings last summer of thousands of members of the African Masalit tribe in the town of El Geneina.

The RSF has also been accused of widespread looting, sexual assaults, arbitrary detentions and torture in Khartoum, having previously been blamed for the deadly break-up of a sit-in protest in Khartoum in June 2019 in which more than 100 activists were killed.

The US has accused the RSF, whose forerunner is the notorious Janjaweed militia, of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in Darfur during the current war. The International Criminal Court is investigating the killings in El Geneina.

The army also stands accused of war crimes, such as the killing of civilians through reckless use of air strikes and artillery shelling in Khartoum and other cities.

The army is also accused of being behind the deadly crackdown on anti-military protests after the 2021 coup, killing more than 100 people and injuring thousands.

Blueprint for peace unlikely to be accepted

The political blueprint that Gen Dagalo accepted in Addis Ababa on January 2 was presented by a new, broad-based alliance of political forces led by former Sudanese prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, who led the government toppled in the 2021 military coup.

The alliance, known by its Arabic acronym Taqadum, said it was seeking Gen Al Burhan's endorsement of the plan. Mr Hamdok says he urgently wants to meet Gen Al Burhan.

However, analysts have warned the blueprint is unlikely to be accepted by both sides, given their current relations.

“That the agreement was presented to one party and not the other could only mean that Al Burhan will reject it,” said Sudanese analyst Tariq Osman.

“It also ignores several key issues, foremost of which are the violations against unarmed civilians blamed on the Rapid Support Forces.

“But most importantly, there is really nothing that Al Burhan or Dagalo can do to save the country from being completely lost," he added, explaining that both military leaders lack the vision and foresight to deliver the nation from its worst crisis since independence in 1956.

According to the blueprint endorsed by the RSF, it will negotiate directly with the army for an unconditional ceasefire that will be monitored by local, regional and international parties. The paramilitary will also open humanitarian corridors into areas under its control and, as a goodwill gesture, release 451 prisoners of war.

It also proposes the creation of “a suitable climate” for the return home of Sudanese displaced by the fighting.

The document envisions a federal, civilian and democratic political system in Sudan, reforming security agencies, placing all armed groups, including the army and the RSF, under civilian leadership, dismantling the 29-year regime of Al Bashir and launching a transitional justice system.

Another Sudanese analyst, Faisal Mohammed Saleh, contends that the politicians who drafted the blueprint should have instead focused their ideas exclusively on ending the war.

“Still, the meeting with Hemedti opened a window that may lead to peace but a huge effort and a broader vision are needed to finish the job,” Mr Saleh said.

Al Shafie Ahmed reported from Kampala, Uganda

Updated: January 10, 2024, 9:10 AM