Despite the tentative ceasefire and lull in fighting in Sudan, few believe this is the end of the conflict and there are questions about how things could unfold in the next few weeks and months.
1) A swift military victory
This seems unlikely as both sides have advantages that favour them in different phases of conflict.
It is a military junta that has split in two – with the rivals both claiming early victories.
- The army is led by Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the junta’s president
- The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) is headed by Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, the junta’s vice-president.
It appears, from testimony from those leaving the capital, Khartoum, that the RSF have the slight upper hand in the city.
It is a mobile, guerrilla force that can adapt more quickly than their more conventional opponents. This capability has favoured them in the running battles in Khartoum’s city centre.
But the army is thought to have access to far greater firepower, be it tanks, artillery or dominance in the air.
With diplomats and foreigners leaving the city, it is feared this may soon be turned on Khartoum.
“In large parts of the city the RSF is swarming residential areas with fighters who are occupying homes,” says Alan Boswell from the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank.
“They are essentially daring the army to destroy its own city. One would presume [the army doesn’t] want to destroy Khartoum, but for them this is an existential fight.”
Both sides can also call on help from external backers, which could help prolong the fighting, according to independent Sudan analyst Jonas Horner.
The army is thought to have the full backing of regional powerhouse Egypt – though officially the northern neighbour has remained neutral.
The RSF, meanwhile, has the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Russia’s Wagner mercenary group and other regional militias on its side.
2) A prolonged conflict
There are many ways this conflict could evolve, none of them good for the people of Sudan.
“It definitely has all the elements in becoming a prolonged civil war,” thinks the BBC’s Mohanad Hashim, who is himself Sudanese.
“There has been a lot of agitation from those loyal to the former regime of Omar al-Bashir and his National Congress Party, who hold an Islamist ideology.”
Bashir was ousted from power by the army in 2019 after mass street protests. During his 30-year rule, many well-armed ethnic militias emerged.
“Bashir worked very assiduously to create these divisions between these different ethnic groups, which then created militias,” says Mr Horner.
“The security vacuum created [by his ousting] has meant that there has been a re-opening of militias because they’ve had to manage their own security.”
Were the militias to take sides, this conflict may evolve into something even more dangerous which could “widen this conflict and make it much harder to put it back in the box”, Mr Horner believes.
The potential ethnic element has many observers genuinely worried. It is also something both generals have sought to turn to their advantage.
“Before the war started, we saw both Hemedti and Gen Burhan stoking ethnic divisions, addressing their own constituencies,” says Hashim.
“We could see a scenario where the RSF, having recruited in marginalised parts of the country, tries to present itself as a figure to unify the rural areas,” says Ahmed Soliman of the Chatham House think-tank.
This could split the country with the RSF moving “to its Darfur heartlands to try and re-supply and mobilise more fighters”.
3) A peace deal
Diplomats are trying to get the two generals to agree to extend the ceasefire but when it comes to starting peace talks, no-one thinks they are likely to start any time soon.
There is also the question of what could be acceptable to ordinary Sudanese.
Hashim was in Khartoum during the revolution of 2019 and has watched the generals repeatedly fail to hand over power to civilians, culminating in the 2021 coup.
“They have had a year and a half after the coup where they failed to run the country. What sort of deal could these two men reach that could be palatable to the Sudanese?” he asks.
Everyone seems to agree that a deal will only come from external pressure.
“The idea we’d be able to get a full cessation of hostilities without significant leverage, political pressure, economic pressure being applied by regional allies, such as Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, is difficult to imagine,” says Mr Boswell.
The problem is that there are too many competing interests, many of them mutually exclusive.
Mr Horner believes that the “regional powers have some preference for a military or powerful individual to come out on top of this. This is bad news for civil society.”
However, there is a fear that if peace talks do not start soon – as are being proposed in neighbouring South Sudan – the conflict could fragment making it harder to find a resolution.
“There is still a window for peace talks. The challenge is that there isn’t a willingness to de-escalate on either side. And unfortunately the short-term diplomatic focus remains on engaging with what the two generals want, at the expense of civilian democratic ambitions,” says Mr Soliman of Chatham House.
The problem is that what both men want is directly at odds not just with the other, but more importantly with the wishes of the Sudanese people.
This is a war about power, control and wealth, one which both sides increasingly see as existential.
There is a heavy price to be paid for the ambitions of two men, and it is the people of Sudan who will pay it.