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Sudan: Who is Hemeti, the butcher of the revolution?

By Nicholas Norbrook
Posted on Wednesday, 5 June 2019 10:18

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and deputy head of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) delivers an address after the Ramadan prayers and Iftar organized by Sultan of Darfur Ahmed Hussain in Khartoum, Sudan May 18, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/

The man who is now number two in the Transitional Military Council is now leading the pushback against the civilian uprising.

“My patience has its limits”, said Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, better known as ‘Hemeti’ towards the end of April.

This, it turns out, was a chill forewarning.

  • On 3 June, Hemeti’s Rapid Support Force (RSF) troops burst through civilian roadblocks. Killing at least 38 people and wounding hundreds, the RSF cleared protestors from their protest site in front of the ministry of defence.

“From a rural background [Hemeti] has no family ties or sentimental affiliation with the young middle class protesting on the streets of the Khartoum”, writes Fergal Keane. It is the clearest sign yet that that the hardline elements of the military want to put a halt the pro-democracy movement.

For many this is nothing new.

  • The RSF are simply a rebranding of the Janjaweed militias which terrorised Darfur.
  • There are now 9,000 of them in the capital.


“What Khartoum has experienced in recent nights is a part of the routine for those in the country’s margins, like in Darfur, like the May 4 attack in the city of Niyala. The arrival of this well-known visible violence from the margins is relatively new in Khartoum; it is like a test, another provocation to the movement. It clearly bears Hemeti’s signature”, says one protestor, in Sarra Majdoub’s excellent Hemeti profile [french].

Because if nothing else, Hemeti likes to make himself useful:

  • To the former president Omar el-Beshir himself, Hemeti was a useful counter-weight to the intelligence services and the army. Aside from a brief dalliance with the rebel JEM forces, he was a loyal stalwart during the Darfur uprising, crushing resistance in brutal manner, which burnished the value of his RSF forces for el-Bechir. The RSF were branded the ‘Men With No Mercy’ in a 2015 Human Rights Watch report.
  • To the regime, he has played the role of border guard of troublesome provinces, extending his ‘success’ in Darfur to states like the Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
  • To Europe he has also played the role of border guard, intercepting migrants on behalf of the EU. “ In fact, the RSF played a double game and filled their cars with migrants whom they sold to Libyan traffickers, who would then often jail them in torture houses. Since Muammar al-Qaddafi’s fall in 2011, migrants in Libya are commonly tortured until they call relatives and convince them to pay a ransom to set them free; those who cannot pay are turned into slaves. But on Sudanese national TV, Hemeti claimed to be acting on behalf of the EU, which he also threatened with reopening the border if he was not paid a ransom for his ‘hard work’”, according to Jérôme Tubiana.
  • To the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia and the UAE – and also to make money for the regime — Hemeti has fought in the war against Yemen, also finding the time to operate a gold mine. It was during this war that he struck up an alliance with the current Sudan chief military leader, Burhan; they presented themselves to the Gulf leaders as the men to back in Sudan.

What next?

Snap elections have been called by the military to give themselves legitimacy.

  • Expect military leaders to remove the khaki and slip on a suit, as neighbouring Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has done.
  • Full-throated international backing from the Gulf regimes — and sotto voce support from European leaders who would happily retain a military regime in Sudan for reduced migration flows — will remove any external impediment to the military.
  • The RSF/janjaweed will remain prominent; with an added risk of pushback from the army or intelligence services if the RSF seize a greater slice of the (quickly shrinking) economic pie.

Bottom line: The civilian resistance needs a new strategy to prevent the revolution being extinguished. Catalysing the revulsion of Khartoum elites at Darfur-style tactics is only the beginning.

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