The Battle for Influence in Sudan

No To Ulez

Valent has been monitoring social media networks in the Sudanese online space since 2020. We found that unattributed accounts – ie social media accounts that serve as mouthpieces for various actors while masquerading as independent news outlets – provide real insights into actual intentions. Valent’s research back in 2020 identified around 200 networked accounts reaching about 3 million people, while Sudan’s total number of Facebook users was only about 2.2 million at the time. The use of orchestrated networks and inauthentic accounts is a direct violation of Meta’s terms and conditions. The platforms used our findings to kick off a series of takedowns that led to the removal of about 1,000 assets and a drop of about 75% in disinformation output (link to Meta’s announcement of the initial takedown in 2021).
Through a week of monitoring the online unattributed networks of the Rapid Support Force (RSF), the Sudanese military, and Islamist actors allied to the ousted regime, we have observed the following:

  • After initially staying out of the fray, in the last few days, regional actors have started using their own large, unattributed social media networks support their allies in this conflict. Egyptian networks have have come out in favour of the Sudanese military. A Turkish network is supporting the Islamists, and a UAE network is showing support for the RFS
  • Although the RSF and the Sudanese military are the main belligerents, Islamist actors of the former regime are a key driving force, using their influence operations to give the military the impression that there is an authentic support base for Islamist and, therefore, military rule over Sudan
  • The Islamists have little actual popular support as they are still strongly (possibly, overwhelmingly) identified with the ousted regime. However, they do have an extensive online influence infrastructure
  • The Islamist networks have evolved a coherent narrative around the conflict that is proving compelling to some Sudanese audiences. In the Islamists’ telling of the situation; the West (US, UN etc) instigated a revolt in Sudan through Westernised youth and then sent diaspora politicians to cause chaos. The RSF, as the defender of the pro-democracy civilians and therefore Western interest, is the true face of Western plans to dominate Sudan. The only way to thwart Western domination is to defeat the RSF once and for all
  • The RSF has sought to portray itself as the protector of civilian rule
  • Valent’s monitoring examines different audience groups in Sudan. The largest, the middle ground (more than 50% of the population), does not buy into Islamist or RSF claims. However, the middle ground have so far lent support to the Sudanese military due to the RSF’s abuses of civilians during the latest conflict, as well as massacres during the 2019 uprising.
  • The battlefield claims of the various sides suggest that the Sudanese military is prevailing. Although the Islamists are clearly expecting to be back in government, there is no guarantee their alliance with Sudan’s military will continue. The Islamists and military were at odds several times following the military’s takeover in 2021, most recently when the head of the military seemed to be contemplating establishing ties with Israel following pressure from Gulf allies.

All Sudanese audiences other than pro-Islamists (who are a very small percentage of the online population) fear that once foreign nationals are evacuated and international attention moves on, the country will be mired in violence as competing interest groups jostle for power. For a country which at one point in the mid 2000s had four separate civil wars running at once, this is a very real threat.
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