The R.S.F. Stole Sudan’s Future

On the evening of April 14, 2023, I was at a concert in Khartoum. The end of Ramadan was near, and the audience listened to the ouds, tambours and kanoons of Bait Al Oud, an orchestra set up to preserve traditional Sudanese instruments. I sang along to songs made popular by the 2019 revolution and then floated home, my spirits high.

The next day I watched fighter jets fire rockets into the neighborhoods where I grew up.

Thousands of people have been killed since fighting erupted just over a year ago between the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces, a powerful paramilitary group that is the latest iteration of the janjaweed, or devils on horseback, which was central to the ethnic cleansing in Darfur in the 2000s. The R.S.F. helped to crack down on pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019 and, with its general Mohamed Hamdan (widely known as Hemeti), was part of a power-sharing regime that fell apart in April.

Now it is at war with its former partners in government, and the Sudanese people have become collateral damage. A report from Human Rights Watch in May detailed the R.S.F.’s ethnic-cleansing campaign against the Masalit and other non-Arab people in West Darfur. There have been other reports of summary executions, torture and rape. Across the country, more than 11 million people have been displaced. Homes have been occupied and looted. Museums have been targeted and their contents probably sold, destroyed or just taken.

In the 2021 coup, the R.S.F. and the military delayed the revolution’s dream of a democratic, pluralistic Sudan. Now the R.S.F. is intent on destroying any evidence that another Sudan could ever exist or ever did. If the rest of the world continues to look away, it may succeed.

My aunt spent the first few days of the war huddled on her living room floor with her children and grandchildren, trying to avoid errant antiaircraft bullets. Soon R.S.F. soldiers broke in and forced her family, including an 8-month-old, to lie facedown in the dirt with guns to their heads, she told me. The house in Khartoum that she had lived in for over 30 years was torn apart, and her house was covered in human excrement. Her family fled, leaving everything behind.

My great-uncle fled to Egypt when the fighting began. Soon afterward, he heard that the R.S.F. had emptied his house, including the china his wife had collected over 50 years, onto their trucks. Relatives told me that the soldiers had defecated on his children’s beds on the way out. My great-uncle died a refugee a few months later and never saw his house again.

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