Displaced Sudanese families waiting  to receive food from a charity kitchen, as a year of war between two generals has driven more than 5.8 million people into poverty
Displaced Sudanese families waiting to receive food from a charity kitchen, as a year of war between two generals has driven more than 5.8 million people into poverty

After a year, Sudan’s war rages on

A year of war between Sudan's army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has driven more than 8.5 million people from their homes, creating the world's largest displacement crisis and uprooting families multiple times, as people struggle to escape to neighbouring countries with economic and security problems of their own.


Sudan’s conflict erupted on April 15, 2023, in the heart of the capital, Khartoum, amidst a standoff over plans to fold the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) into the army. 

The leaders of the factions, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the army leader and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, “Hemedti”, the head of the RSF, were uneasy partners in the toppling of long-time dictator President Omar al-Bashir in 2019 and the overthrow of a government in 2021, competed to protect their interests during a planned political transition back to civilian rule.

Civilian government

After jointly dissolving the civilian government in a 2021 coup, relations between the two were perpetually strained when neither was willing to concede to the other on the issue of merging their forces into one. By early 2023, increasingly at odds and under heavy outside pressure to abide by a commitment to restore civilian rule, both commanders had positioned their troops for a showdown.

It is unclear who fired the first shot, but what followed was an incontrovertible disaster for the entire country. It was also unprecedented: Sudanese governments have waged war on rebels in the country’s peripheries for much of the period since independence in 1956, but never before had the fighting engulfed Khartoum or other parts of the riverine heartland. 

Nationwide civil war

Over the course of the year, the battle for the capital has grown, morphing into a nationwide civil war, with a widening variety of groups throwing in their lot with one side or the other in a country awash with guns.

In the first days of the war, the army lost ground to the RSF's more nimble units across the capital, and then later in Darfur and el-Gezira State, south of Khartoum. But early this year, it regained some footing, particularly in Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum and largely holds north and eastern Sudan, including Port Sudan, on the Red Sea.

According to analysts, Hemedti’s RSF has outmatched the army for much of the war, seizing most of Khartoum in the early days of conflict and keeping the momentum for some time as its foe struggled to fight back. 

Greater Khartoum

After expanding its grip on Greater Khartoum in the first months of the war, including by seizing Sudan’s main oil refinery, a boon for its operations, in October and November, the RSF turned its attention elsewhere. 

It conquered most of Darfur, the western region, where it had first emerged from the remnants of the Janjaweed, a Bashir-backed militia responsible for atrocities against the area’s non-Arab majority in the early 2000s. 

The RSF also launched new offensives in the Kordofan region, and shocked many Sudanese by launching its first strike south east of Khartoum in December, where it captured Wad Medani, capital of the breadbasket Gezira State.

Civilians killed

Since the beginning of the war, thousands of civilians have been killed, though death toll estimates are highly uncertain. Each side has been accused of war crimes, and the RSF and its allies have been blamed for ethnic cleansing in West Darfur. Both factions have largely denied the accusations against them.

The World Health Organisation said that the crisis could worsen in the coming months as the distribution of humanitarian aid and medical supplies remains restricted.

Fighting tore through the capital and unleashed waves of ethnically-driven violence in the western region of Darfur, before spreading to other areas including Gezira State, an important farming region that became an aid hub where many had sought refuge.

Third largest country

Though parts of Sudan, Africa's third largest country, remain relatively unscathed, many displaced rely on charity as conditions worsen and nearly five million people face extreme hunger. Since the beginning of the war, Sudan's health system has collapsed, allowing outbreaks of diseases, including measles and cholera. Aid agencies say the army restricts access for humanitarian relief, and what little gets through is at risk of looting in RSF-controlled areas.

Both sides have denied impeding aid efforts. But on the ground, volunteer-run "emergency rooms" linked to the pro-democracy networks from the uprising that toppled autocratic former leader Omar al-Bashir in 2019 have been left to provide minimal food rations and keep some basic services running.

18 million people

The UN reports that 18 million people, more than one third of the population, face acute food insecurity. Both warring parties have hindered humanitarian efforts by impeding access to relief operations. About 90 per cent of those suffering acute food insecurity are stuck in areas of active conflict, including millions of residents in Greater Khartoum and Gezira. 

The two sides generally show callous disregard for civilians’ plight, with the RSF demanding sky-high fees from aid trucks at checkpoints or stealing their cargo while the army tries to block relief in RSF-held areas, where many camps for the internally displaced and devastated towns have been unable to receive assistance. 

In April, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, which supplies analysis of food emergencies to UN bodies and relief agencies, urged “stakeholders to act immediately to prevent famine” while warning that “data gaps” and “connectivity challenges” had prevented it from updating its analysis since December.

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