The periphery is taking revenge on the elite in Sudan and Hemedti profits from it

Never did Sudanese shepherd boys penetrate the center of power. The periphery is taking revenge on the elite in Sudan and is doing so for the first time in the cities. Now an endless civil war threatens, as in Somalia.

Since the battle broke out more than a month ago between the bush fighters of Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo’s Rapid Support Forces – also known as Hemedti – and the government army of General Fattah al-Burhan, the RSF fighters have been firing at random, as if they were still in the desert. They plunder from the urban elite they look down on, just as they misbehaved against civilians during the guerrilla war in the bush of Darfur in Western Sudan at the turn of the century. “The RSF soldiers do not want to talk to you, they just give orders to civilians and if you don’t react quickly, you will get a beating. The presence of these desert rats feels like occupation,” says a resident of Khartoum.

When the autocrat Omar al-Bashir was overthrown in a popular revolution in 2019, RSF soldiers settled in Khartoum and set up their own, separate bases, although they are officially part of the national army. Just before Bashir’s fall, the RSF numbered 20,000. Now that number has increased to 100,000, due to massive recruitment among the numerous militias in Sudan itself and in countries in the region.

Already before the war broke out, these shepherd boys, adorned with amulets and magical bracelets, raced at high speed on their pick-ups through the narrow streets, ignoring other road users. Although the inhabitants of Khartoum are known for their special hospitality -according to the traditions on the hot sands of the Sahel and the Sahara- for them the RSF shepherd boys remained the odd one out. “They treat us like dirt, they pretend we don’t exist,” residents of the Sudanese capital complained.

Never in Sudan have shepherd boys from marginalized rural areas penetrated the center of power. They see the government as booty. Such a war as now in Khartoum, with warlike youth from the bush, had never happened in modern Africa, only in Mogadishu in 1991. Nomadic warlords then divided Somalia’s capital into blocks, exploited the city dwellers and threw the country into civil war. At the time, the Somali nomads took revenge with their “arrogant” behavior on what they considered to be a decadent elite in the city.

The Nile elite

All Sudanese leaders, such as presidents Jafaar Numeiri and Bashir and now Fattah al-Burhan, originate from an area north of the capital, where the Nile makes sharp turns. Light-skinned Arabs or highly Arabized people monopolize the economy in favor of the Nile Valley riparian people. They exclude other peoples – especially of African descent, but also Arab nomads like Hemedti – from the central power, unless they need them to quell rebellions on the periphery.

“Since its independence, Sudan has therefore always been at war with itself,” says Kenyan Simon Simonse, an anthropologist with extensive work experience in the country. “The rulers imposed an Arab identity on the country and used the differences between the populations as a divide-and-conquer tool.”

Mutual suspicion and the unfamiliarity with each other’s cultures and customs determine the mutual relationships. In addition, the history of the slave trade by Arabs among black Africans in the south and west hangs like a shadow over the present; a significant portion of the population is descended from slaves.

In the bush of South Sudan, guerrillas and traditional chieftains spoke out against the clique in Khartoum “where terrible people live.” A well-educated trade unionist in Khartoum, confronted with this hostile image of ‘the never-to-be-trusted Arab’, replied: ‘We were taught as children that the people of the south are bad. That is stamped in my mind.”

South Sudan wanted nothing more to do with the north and separated in 2011 after a long war. In what remained of Sudan, a mixture of those who call themselves Arab and African peoples remained. Although discrimination was always the biggest in South Sudan, not everyone was on an equal footing in North Sudan either. This was revealed by an investigation in 2000 by opposition Sudanese into the origins of civil servants in all government bodies. In the so-called Black Book, they proved with figures the dominance of northern Arabs and Arabized Sudanese in all branches of government. Since independence, most of the ministers have come from the region North of Khartoum, where only 5 percent of all Sudanese live.

“There has never been a serious attempt to build a nation-state since independence,” says Sudanese journalist Abdulrahman Mohamed. “The so-called tribal societies were not involved, and the two major political parties were exclusively regionally based.” The Islamic fundamentalists who seized power in Bashir’s coup in 1989 did have a national project. “But they did not want to build a nation state but an Islamic state. Their reign was the final blow to nation building. Since then, it has only gone downhill with Sudan.”

General Hemedti

General Hemedti is a product of this violent political market of Sudan, where power is divided as in horse-trading. As an outsider of the Khartoum establishment, he is now seen by some Sudanese as a hero of the downtrodden and marginalized peoples of Sudan, even though he has blood on his hands and thousands of deaths on his conscience.

His RSF consists of Arab or Arabized Sudanese who live off their cattle and are known as Janjaweed. Their battle began in 2003 hundreds of miles from the Nile, in a thirsty and overcrowded landscape. On their horses and camels, but equipped with modern communication equipment, they fought alongside the government army against Sudanese of African descent.

Then President Omar Al-Bashir invited Arabs from all over the Sahel and Sahara to come and plunder in Darfur. He used, among others, Mohammad Hamdan Dagalo, whom he nicknamed Hemedti, which means “my protector” in local Arabic. In this war of annihilation, the Janjaweed captors who raped African women uttered cries like “We are going to make you little Arabs” and “You are slaves, not human beings.”

That criminal act by the Janjaweed, now called Rapid Support Forces, continued when the desert warriors landed in Khartoum and had traded their camels for pickup trucks. Together with the government army of General Fattah al-Burhan, they tried to destroy the unique popular revolution of 2019.

For weeks, hundreds of thousands of protesters had held a sit-in in front of the military complex and celebrated their liberation from Bashir. They demanded the exit of all military forces from politics. It was one of the most hopeful, citizen-supported revolutions ever seen in Africa. For the first time in a long period, Sudanese Arabs and African descents  embraced each other. But the revolutionary movement was highjacked by the military.

After two months, the RSF fighters fired live fire at the demonstrating civilians and evacuated the sit-in. They retaliated by raping young women in their barracks and dumping the bodies of their victims in the Nile. They continued to do so when civilians continued to demonstrate weekly against the military.

The monster created by Bashir and then nurtured by Burhan now wants all the power, at the expense of the regular army and civilian politicians. As fighters, the RSF soldiers do surprisingly well, moving like elusive hares in the streets, dodging the bombs of the Sudanese air force. They are more mobile and braver than the government soldiers. If they win, an endless civil war awaits Sudan, just like in Somalia.

This article was first published in NRC on 17-5-2923

Sudan: The flight for safety of Abdelmonim


Civilians are left behind in the fighting between the two generals in Sudan. Human rights activist and teacher Abdelmonim Ali (33) fled two weeks ago on his moped from the capital Khartoum to Gedaref in the east. His diary starts the day before the fighting broke out.


A nice evening out

“Friday I went to my friend’s house. It was a nice evening. On the way back home I see armored vehicles in front of the presidential palace, and yes there are more than usual, but I’ve gotten a bit used to army units in the city. Although a premonition creeps up on me, I sleep well that night.”

Sudan was plunged into heavy fighting on Saturday, not only in the capital Khartoum but also in numerous other cities. Hundreds were killed, thousands fled.

Although civilian groups and military vie for power after the fall of Islamic fundamentalist autocrat Omar al-Bashir in 2019, a battle has now erupted between two generals: Abdel Fattah al-Burhan of the regular army and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hemedti, whose militia the Rapid Support Forces(RSF) is part of the national armed forces, but has never been integrated into that national army. Citizens are watching. One of them is Abdelmonim Ali, a bachelor, a 33-year-old human rights activist, member of the resistance committees against the army, and an English teacher, living in the Almansoura neighborhood.


Impacting bombs

“After a good night’s sleep I get ready to go to the university where I teach English. When I want to get on my moped, there is a deafening sound and the universe is filled with artillery fire and exploding bombs. I hear my neighbor scream. She is in a panic, her children are still playing outside. She quickly calls them in. I hesitate to go to university. After all, I promised my students that I would teach them one more time for their exams. But the barrage of gunfire continues and it is clear to me: I stay home.”


Nothing left for dinner

“My neighbor, who comes from South Sudan, offers me something to eat, but immediately adds that there is nothing left for dinner. In the morning my neighbor and me decide to take shelter again at home from the violence. We hide from bombs and bullets. A bullet lands in my neighbor’s bedside table. The shops are closed, the streets deserted, there are only cats and dogs to be seen and there is no sound other than bombs and other weapons. For a moment I try to go out into the street and see that the usually blue sky of Khartoum is clouded by raging fires in buildings and cars. I’ve never seen anything so terrifying except in movies. I now blame myself for not seeing this coming, for not preparing for this war. There is no food in the fridge, my kitchen is empty. How long can humans go without food, I wonder. I remember my mother when I was a child telling me “seven days”.

“The eldest son of my neighbor is called Daniel. Do I dare to go out with him to get some food? Even if it’s just a piece of dry bread. I have read many books about famine and war, that people then consume everything edible, including leaves. But where do you find leaves? And how can you survive without drinking water?

As we walk through the streets I for the first time see fear in Daniel’s eyes. He is responsible for the family after his father’s death last year. I, too, am now overwhelmed with fear. Will his six siblings survive this? Life sometimes seems so unfair. What wrong Daniel and his family did that they had to flee South Sudan because of the war there, only to end up in another war that they are not a part of. The generals don’t feel sorry for them.

“We find some food, some beans and bread. We get home safely, although the bombs are still hitting everywhere and the walls are shaking.”


Internet again after a few hours

“It is the third day of fighting and today my internet of the MTN network is down, but luckily that of the rival Zain is still working. In recent years, those fucking generals always immediately shut down the internet during confrontations between the army and civilian groups, but now Hemedti and Burhan need the connection to communicate with their troops and to attack each other with vicious communiqués. After a few hours, MTN’s internet returns. It is our only source of information, if it is lost we become completely isolated. Pray for Sudan.”


Corpses on the street

“On the fourth day, members of resistance committees tell me stories about civilians starting to flee the city. I myself see how corpses lie on the street in my neighborhood and read on the internet that only a few hospitals are still functioning, because they are also under attack. Friends call me and tell me about RSF soldiers of Hemedti looting. I conclude that it is no longer possible to live in Khartoum. Shall I also try to leave? But what then is Daniel’s fate? Still, I have to get out of here.”


Bring clothes and computer

“All night I’m worrying what to do. At sunrise Wednesday I make my decision: I will take the risk. I only carry the most important things with me, some clothes and books, my computer, shoes and of course my rescue tool: my moped.

I tell Daniel I’m leaving. I offer him to come with me on the back of my moped, he refuses because he has to take care of his family. I can’t save them and have to leave them behind. If I stay here, it could cost me my life.

I see thousands of women and children walking down the street towards the suburbs. The sound of war hurts my ears, the corpses in the streets are starting to smell, it’s hard to breathe the air. I’m short on gas because none of the gas stations are open. I get some fuel on the black market. The price is unbelievable, it has doubled a hundred times. I need at least twelve liters to cover the distance of 350 kilometers to the eastern Sudanese city of Gedaref, where my sisters and brothers live. I buy four liters for $100 and hope to buy the rest out of town.

I manage to escape through Madanistraat. I am stopped twice by soldiers of the RSF. They gesture for me to open my two shoulder bags and I say: ‘books, clothes, pens and shoes’. What else do they expect in a bag from a teacher, I wonder irritably. They let me go.

After four hours of continuous driving, I arrive in the town of Wad Madani and am halfway there. I find petrol, but where to spend the night?”


With my brothers and sisters

“On Thursday I continue my journey and the road appears to be safe. And as I am driving, my worry is about the safety of the resistance committee members at Gedaref and Khartoum as the elements of Islamists and security services are targeting our colleagues. I should keep low profile when I reach my hometown as my colleagues and I, were arrested many times. For the first time in my life I feel abandoned in this landscape of sand and rocks, even though I grew up in this region. Four hours to go.

At the city entrance of Gedaref, a policeman checks my motorcycle papers. He sees nothing wrong with it but insists on asking me why I’m not wearing a helmet. What! He wants to fine me! I scold him. I’m really not going to pay. Even now they are corrupt. After a long wait, he lets me go. As I am driving, my hoodie put on, I reach the house at 12 o’clock, where my sisters and brothers receive me happily. They say they only heard gunfire in Gedaref last weekend. However, the elements of Islamists and security are arresting active resistance committee members in the neighborhood. Once in bed I fall into a deep sleep.”


I can’t stand joy anymore as I am feeling anxious

“After some hours of sleep, I wake up frightened. “How is Daniel in Khartoum?” “How are my colleagues who are arrested in Gedaref?” my mind flashes. I will contact Daniel immediately. He says that there is still fierce fighting. I promise to send him money to escape, but don’t know how that money can reach him. And about my colleagues I have no idea since I do not receive news about them.

Today is the end of Ramadan and my sisters offer me all kinds of sugary sweets and pastries. But I can’t stand joy anymore as I am feeling anxious.”


I stay home, anxious and ponder what my next move shall be as the Islamists are very active these days in Gedaref. They are organizing a march to support the Sudan Army against the RSF and at same time arbitrarily detain and even assassinate the active members of the resistance committees. These Islamists are very well organized. They are criminals.

I had an accident in 2021 with my moped and did find out later it was an attack on my life. If the Islamists who are hiding behind general Burhan win this fight, and of course they are, I will not be safe anymore in Sudan. I have to leave Sudan.


One of my colleague, a resistance committee member warns me via phone call to get out from Gedaref. I manage to get an Ethiopian visa in Almatama, and cross the border. As I am heading towards Gondar town, I don’t know where to go to, but as long as I am safe out of Sudan, I will figure it out.

This article first appeared in NRC 22-4-2023

It is not just the generals who are bidding on the political marketplace of Sudan

In Sudan, it is not only about the fight between generals Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hemedti. Many more parties are bidding on the marketplace.

Sudan’s politics have always resembled a marketplace, where, as in horse-trading, politicians and men in khaki pursue their own interests. That is how national unity was undermined, the country became fragmented and when two generals recently took up their weapons, Sudan even ended up in a deadly fight for power. “If this battle continues, Sudan will not split in two but will fall apart into many parts,” predicts Peter Adwok, a Minister of Higher Education of Sudan now living in South Sudan.

Nile Valley

Rulers in Sudan almost always originate from the Nile valley, from the water-rich areas in the otherwise bone-dry country. That only temporarily changed when in 1881 tens of thousands of fighters of the Mahdi, ‘the Chosen One’, driven by radical Islam, conquered the capital. “Most of Mahdi’s army came from western Darfur and Kordofan, hundreds of miles from the Nile,” says Adwok. “Since they were chased out by the British settlers, only leaders from around the Nile have ruled, such as current President Burhan and then President Omar al-Bashir.”

 According to many Sudanese, this historical injustice must be rectified for the benefit of the marginalized parts of the country. This sense of injustice is particularly strong in remote Darfur, the region of Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, alias Hemedti. “With Hemedti, the descendants of the Chosen One are back for the first time in Khartoum, in the center of power. The Nile Valley establishment feels threatened by this,” said Adwok. “This is one of the undercurrents in the current conflict, a competition between the center and the periphery.”

In Darfur, Hemedti predominates

destroyed village in Darfur

Destruction in Darfur

The course of the battle thus far points to victories for Burhan’s army in the east and along the Nile. In Darfur, on the other hand, the men of Hemedti’s Rapid Support Forces predominate in towns such as Nyala and Al Fashar, controlling airports and military bases. If Hemedti were to flee Khartoum, he would therefore have his own power base there and could split Sudan in two.

But many civilians in Darfur do not support him. His fighters are of Arab descent and in 2003, in collaboration with Bashir’s government army, fought against rebel groups of African descent. After a peace deal negotiated by Hemedti in 2020, these groups moved into the cities and engaged in horse-trading. Despite the peace agreements, they have not yet been disarmed.

Minni Minnawi, leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), warned in March that he would not disarm his fighters because of “ongoing recruitment campaigns” in Darfur. He pointed an accusing finger at Arab militias, adding: “The recruitment or mobilization of fighters means preparation for war.”

Shadow economy

Since independence in 1956, military governments have run Sudan, with only ten fragmented years of civilian rule. The military got used to playing a role not only in the government, but also in the economy, where they benefit from a network of shadow companies. Military and security forces control hundreds of large and medium-sized companies in gold mining, ranching, weapons, telecommunications, banking, construction and agricultural projects along the Nile. Hemedti’s militiamen and relatives earn well from their shares in banks and the gold trade in North Darfur.

According to estimates, after Bashir’s ouster in 2019 due to a popular uprising, only 18 percent of the country’s revenues ended up with the state. The dismantling of this ‘deep state’ built up under Bashir’s Muslim Brothers has been one of the biggest sticking points in recent months in both talks about the division of power between civilians and the military, and now between the factions in the army.


The fundamentalists make up only a small percentage of the population, but are well organized, and many Sudanese believe they play a role behind the clashes between Hemedti and Burhan that began on a Saturday in April. Numerous fundamentalist generals who bet on Burhan serve in the army. Hemedti now presents himself as a fighter against the fundamentalists. He asked his international “friends” in the United Arab Emirates to unite against Burhan, whom he called a “radical Islamist” who “bombs civilians from the air” – a method already used during the wars against rebels in Darfur, in which his militia took part. “We are fighting against radical Islamists who want to keep Sudan isolated, in limbo, and far from democracy. We will continue to pursue Burhan and bring him to justice,” Hemedti said.

The Forces for freedom and change, a civilian group that until last month was negotiating with the military over a transfer of power to a civilian regime, referred to a role of fundamentalists in a statement saying it was “raising the alarm about the plans of members of the former Bashir’s party to plunge the country into a devastating war aimed at blocking the path to a civil-democratic transition. They started this war, and they are the ones who hope to reap its results.”

“The rise of the fundamentalists and the rise of Darfurian fighting groups in Khartoum are now the main undercurrents, but other outlying areas are also stirring,” says Peter Adwok. “Whereas in the past the rulers of the Nile Valley went to the marginalized areas and handed out gifts, the leaders from those regions now come to Khartoum themselves and claim their share on tribal lands. The fragmentation was already under way before this war between generals started”.

The horse-trading within Sudan’s elites sidelined ordinary citizens, but sometimes also prevented conflict. Perhaps Burhan and Hemedti may still come to a deal in such a way, because they share interests. Both have blood on their hands, millions in their pockets and crimes on their conscience. If they ever have to hand over power to a civilian regime, it could cost them their necks.

This article was first published in NRC on 21-4-2023