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War in Sudan and the RSF Axis of Support

Africa Analyst

The war in Sudan has just entered its first year with no suggestion of an imminent end to the conflict as both parties involved continue to rule out the possibility of mediation efforts, seeing the battlefield as the only avenue for victory. The international community's attention to the conflict is minimal as global attention has fixated on the unfolding situations in Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas War, and the potential for future conflict in the Middle East. Meanwhile, in Sudan, the conflict rages on, with civilians facing the prospect of famine, all while bearing the brunt of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.


Both sides have committed atrocities, specifically, the Rapid Support Force, which the United Nations accused of genocidal attacks in Darfur against Non-Arab populations. Whilst the ethnic cleansing in Darfur is ongoing, the RSF has achieved strategic gains with a recent battlefield victory against the Sudanese army and as of late last year, it has effectively controlled and displaced the Sudanese army from 4 of the 5 states in the Darfur region. Most prominently is control of Al-Gezira, placing the RSF strategically positioned towards advancing into the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. The recent military gains and the widespread atrocities committed by the RSF testify to their power as a force in the region, with reportedly being around 100,000 men strong. This provokes the question: from whom or where does this force secure its support?


Most contemporary conflicts worldwide have witnessed the intervention of external actors and the war in Sudan is no exception. Both sides (the Sudanese Army and the RSF) have been heavily backed and supported by external actors with military materials over the course of the war. The support network of the RSF has been subject to notable scrutiny due to the forces’ use of atrocities to achieve their aims, methods which in turn continue to undermine political settlement as a potential avenue to peace by fostering understandable resentments.

The use of violence and perpetuation of heinous crimes against civilians by the RSF is rooted in its history, as the Janjaweed militia turned state force has a troubling legacy of committing genocide along ethnic lines in the Darfur region during the Darfur conflict in the early 2000s, under the leadership of Hemedti, it current leader during the regime of Omar al Bashir, reminiscing a similar scenario to the current situation in Darfur region,  this echoes the current situation in the Darfur region, where a similar pattern of atrocities is unfolding, albeit on a larger scale, and with significant power within the country and global influence.

The RSF wields an extensive support network that can be broken down into two categories: internal and external. Internal support includes the finances committed by RSF personnel towards the war, as well as contributions made towards securing international support and as an incentive to prompt defection from the Sudanese armed forces. External support predominantly consists of those funds coming from the RSF and Hemedti’s friends and allies; these include the United Arab Emirate and the Russian Wagner group (African Corps) and also other external network peripheries through which this flow of support travels, such as the neighbouring Chad, Libya, Uganda, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

The UAE has been a major player in arming and providing support to the RSF, reflecting the pre-war relationship between the Hemedti-RSF and the Gulf country, a relationship founded in part by the illegal gold mining activities of the RSF being sold on the Emirati gold market. This lucrative arrangement provides an incentive for the UAE to ensure that the RSF maintains its grip on power in Sudan. Likewise, RSF's victory over the Sudanese army holds significant importance in maintaining Emirati hegemony in the country and solidifying influence over its rival Saudi Arabia; with both gulf states vying for influence in the country, securing victory over the Saudi-backed Sudanese army is a testament to Riyadh’s diminishing influence in the country.


Most of the sophisticated weapons used by the RSF on the battlefield are allegedly provided by the UAE, specifically advanced artillery and drones, which are used to attack SAF positions. The delivery and supply of these weapons, as well as ammunition and logistical support, first make their way through neighbouring countries like Chad before being diverted to the RSF in Sudan. The UAE has also been accused of setting up a field hospital in north-eastern Chad for injured RSF fighters.

Russian’s Wagner group (African Corps) has also been a critical player in arming the RSF as well; while the group has boasted a heavy presence in the country since before the war during former leader Omar al-Bashir's regime, it has in recent years deepened ties with the RSF in the gold mining business, the profits from which go towards funding the war in Ukraine. The group has allegedly provided the RSF with a surface-to-air missile system and MANPADS (Man-portable air defence system), which has been used to shoot down SAF fighter jets and disrupt the Sudanese armed forces air superiority, as well as deploying active Wagner forces to fight alongside the RSF. There is also an accusation of close coordination between the UAE and the Wagner group in supporting the RSF.

Furthermore, the role peripheral countries play in the RSF support network is critical in serving as transit routes for these deliveries of weapons and military support from major allies such as the UAE and the Wagner forces, keeping the channel of supply open outside of Sudan itself. Chad has been at the forefront of allowing the passage of military support and mercenaries to the RSF through the UAE. However, it is essential to note that while Chadian Leader Mahamat Derby is critical of the RSF, the leverage UAE has on the other strong tribal network, as well as Hemdeti’s personal relationship with the Chadian Military, allows for the free flow of the weapons, through its porous border.

On the other hand is Libya, where the Wagner group has a heavy presence of about 2,000 forces fighting alongside the Eastern base leader Khalifa Haftar through these ties and other military equipment from its country to Sudan. Other countries like the Central Africa Republic (in which the Wagner group also provides regime security) have transported weapons, with the MANPADS allegedly transferred from CAR, and Uganda has also allowed the same support to flow free through its cargo planes carrying tons of Weapons to the RSF.

This multi-frontal support for the RSF from allies around the world will continue to give Hemedti forces strategic leverage over the SAF in the war, which in turn expand the conflict and bolster its strength and capacity to commit widespread atrocities in the Darfur region, including RSF's imminent assault on El Fasher in Darfur.

A concerted international community effort is required to stop the flow of weapons to the RSF to further prevent and diminish the threat of impending atrocities. While there have been sanctions imposed on the Wagner group for its support, sanctions and international pressure should also be mounted on the UAE to cease its support to the force while also not ignoring the essence of halting the transit routes that facilitate the flow of support from the periphery countries, through international pressure or sanction of actors’ complicity in enabling support to the RSF.


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