Socialist Alternative

Sudan: In the Grip of Warlords and the Janjaweed Militia

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Two years after the revolution that overthrew the dictatorship of Omar Al-Bashir, shedding the blood of hundreds of people in the fight for a brighter future, Sudan remains under the grip of violent and oppressive forces that are holding back the country’s development.

Satti, ISA in Sudan

Rapid Support Forces

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which are also known as the Janjaweed militia, started their mercenary march with a number of tribal-based forces in the early 2000s, under Al-Bashir’s regime. They took advantage of the state’s armed support and its oppressive bias towards specific tribal groups and its stinking racist war. These forces were indeed used due to their Arab ethnic background, which differed from the rebel movements in Darfur. Today it has become a military force that competes with the army with financial and economic capabilities, as a result of the state’s corruption for many years and its mistreatment and persecution of ethnic minorities — in addition to various foreign interference.

In 2019, after the fall of Al-Bashir, Hemedti, the head of the RSF, announced that they had paid more than $1 billion to the Bank of Sudan, which clearly demonstrates the financial strength of these forces. According to statistics, the RSF, through their company called Al-Junaid, is the first holder of gold in Sudan. Gold amounts to 40% of Sudan’s foreign trade and is estimated at $16 billion annually, according to Africa News, and its export is also done through smuggling.

After the secession of the South of Sudan in 2011 and the loss of nearly 75% of Sudan’s budgetary income, many people turned to the gold areas. Jabal Amer in North Darfur was one of the most important tributaries of gold in Sudan, which is the mountain that Hemedti’s militias forcefully occupied in 2017 after a conflict with other militias, killing nearly 800 people according to some reports. Smuggling to Chad was in the beginning the only way to sell gold for Hemedti, but as soon as his forces were formally established and received in Khartoum, he opened the Al-Junaid Company (a company affiliated to the RSF and whose owners are Hemedti’s family) and exports could then be made through official channels, through airports to the United Arab Emirates and some other countries. This is what was revealed by a report by Global Witness (

Al-Junaid has been exploring for gold in Jabal Amer and two other areas and exporting it for years. During the past year, and under intense pressure, news emerged that the RSF had handed over the Jabal Amer gold mines to the Sudanese government. There has been confirmation of this by the government itself, but even if the news is correct, many questions remain: how much money have these Janjaweed forces made during the past years? How was that money spent? What will be required to return all the wealth extracted from this gold business during this whole time? And, perhaps most importantly: who will now have the real say about the use of this resource, considering that the RSF have a strong hold over the state machine, and Hemedti himself happens to also be the deputy chairman of the Sovereign Council, i.e., the State’s ruling body?

To avoid opaque deals and the money flowing from the gold market going into the hands of corrupt officials, ISA argues for fully nationalizing the country’s gold reserves under the democratic control of organs of popular and working-class control — along with Al-Junaid and all the other companies that are still in the hands of the military brass, the security forces and the RSF. Breaking the economic leverage of these counter-revolutionary forces is an integral part of the tasks needed to erode their influence on the country’s politics, but it is also objectively necessary to address the social and economic plight of the masses, that has remained unaddressed more than two years after the revolution.

In addition to the gold money, Hemedti now has a wide array of investments inside and outside Sudan, some in the UAE and the rest in several neighboring countries. During Hemedti’s recent visit to Ethiopia, it was suggested by several news outlets that this was a special visit related to his investments in that country. This is on top of the money that comes from the use of mercenaries for Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen and in the protection of its land borders (whose number exceeds 30,000), and on top of the money from the European Union in what is known as the “Khartoum process” aimed at stopping illegal immigration — a deal in which the RSF play the largest role by taking money from the EU, along with human smugglers and warlords in Libya.

The Army

Since the country’s formal independence, the Sudanese army has a long record of killing Sudanese people, starting with the war in South Sudan then the war in Darfur, in which people were bombed by Antonov planes. The army has been a vehicle for reactionary political parties and figures, and a tool to carry out coups against democratically-elected governments that have briefly been seen in Sudan, as well as to nip in the bud the danger of revolutionary movements (which have threatened the reign of the ruling class on three occasions since 1964). During the long rule of the Islamic fundamentalists and their corruption in all state institutions, a number of high-ranking military officers have been swimming in the sea of corruption and have become agents of the intelligence of some regional and global imperialist countries, the most important of which are the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

In the first months of the year 2019, some Russian paramilitary forces, or what is known as “Wagner”, appeared in the middle of the capital, Khartoum, accompanied by Sudanese security forces — after their presence had been limited to gold mining areas. In recent years, these forces have made a number of investments and established a number of companies. There are several reports on the US Treasury website that explain the network of investments by these forces inside Sudan.

In recent months, some news have confirmed the presence of Russian forces in the Red Sea in the east of the country at Flamingo Bay, which is the only naval base in Sudan, and the Russians plan to set up a naval base that will be their first in Africa. This happens with the approval of the Sudanese government, both military and civilian wings, robbing the country further of its already crippled “sovereignty” — one of the reasons for which the revolution took place. Work began on this Russian base, which will hold 300 soldiers in accordance with an agreement signed between Russia and Sudan for a period of more than 25 years.

This Russian base is described as a logistical base, but it comes with the same strategy as the Tartus base in Syria, which was in its beginning a logistical base and was soon attached to military reinforcements to be a complete military base. This happens in light of the ongoing global competition over the waters of the Red Sea. Importantly, this agreement was initiated by Al-Bashir in his late days in an attempt to find strong international support, which confirms the opportunism of the current government and the continuation of all the policies set in motion by the defunct regime.

Widespread Abuse and Human Rights Violations

The military forces have been committing extreme brutality and violence against the Sudanese people, either directly (such as the bombing of Al-Antanouf, the use of internationally prohibited gases etc), or indirectly, such as by recruiting mercenaries and providing support to paramilitary forces, as it happened with the RSF. It is important to underline the deep connection between the army and the RSF. For example, the General Al-Burhan, who is currently the Chairman of the Sovereign Council, is considered to be the officer responsible for the establishment of the Janjaweed.

Under the watch and complicity of state forces, the RSF have continued to wreak havoc across the country after the revolution, including by regular outbreaks of deadly violence against the Darfuri populations, but also against activist and opposition forces perceived as a threat to their grip on power. A number of reports have thus recorded the arbitrary and unlawful arrests by the RSF of a number of Sudanese civilians and activists.

This has included, last December, the killing of a young revolutionary activist, Bahaa El Din Nuri, who died in an RSF detention center after his kidnapping near his home. 5 days later, the prosecution called his family to tell them that their son was in the morgue. They falsified the forensic doctor’s report to make his death appear as a natural death resulting from illness, but after constant pressure from the streets, the prosecution returned the autopsy to confirm that the death occurred under torture.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) demanded at the time that those who participated in the kidnapping and torture of Nuri be handed over for prosecution, and the closure of all Rapid Support Forces detention centers. Until now, however, nothing has happened and the perpetrators are still free to operate normally. This is only the tip of the iceberg concerning the widespread abuses by these forces. Much more does not filter, as they have become accustomed to operate in impunity.

And even this is of course still a very small part of what these barbaric forces have done inside Sudan since their establishment in 2003. Between 2003 and 2005 alone, over 300,000 citizens were exposed to famine, drought and diseases due to the conflicts the RSF and other regime forces waged in Darfur. Many atrocities have been committed in Darfur, including mass rapes, killings and the burning of villages, and countless violations covered up by the Sudanese government of the time, and without, up to this day, fair trials that could do justice to the numerous victims.

The hope of the revolution was to put an end to these crimes and to redress the victims with fair trials, but these trials are still, even after two years, being continuously stalled. The clearest example is in the case of the surrender of Al-Bashir to the criminal court, something that Al-Burhan, Hemedti and all the members of the “Coup Council” stand against, because they know that they are themselves an integral part of the crimes that occurred in Darfur and elsewhere, and that investigations would easily prove their direct involvement.

These officers have remained a stumbling block in the way of democratic aspirations and freedoms since the revolution. The last example of this was the ratification of the “Law on Combating Information Crimes”, which was initially presented as a law to protect privacy but in reality, provides the security forces with the powers to spy on people. It has already been used against a number of political activists, on the charge of insulting the reputation of the army. These have been particularly aimed at breaking activists’ efforts in exposing the role of the Military Council in brutally dispersing the sit-in outside of the General Command in Khartoum on June 3, 2019, which led to the killing of hundreds of revolutionary protesters, and was witnessed by thousands of Sudanese people.

The Second Anniversary of the Dispersal of the General Command Sit-in

On May 11, the families of the martyrs called for a Ramadan breakfast at the General Command of the Sudanese Army, which is the same place where their sons and daughters were massacred two years ago, as a remembrance. After the breaking of the fast, the families of the martyrs released a statement in which they accused the Rapid Support Forces, represented by Hemedti and his brother, the First Deputy of the RSF, of being the ones who crushed the General Command sit-in, and the ones who killed the revolutionaries. They were given a deadline of June 3 to admit to having committed the crime, and the mobilization would escalate until the perpetrators are handed over.

But on that day, the Military Council confirmed that they think they still live in the era when they could kill undeterred. Live ammunition was unleashed onto peaceful protesters and at least two of them were killed. This fully confirms that the biggest obstacle to the revolution is this Coup Council — as well as all those civilian leaders who have been collaborating with it or have allowed its existence, by compromising on the goals of the 2018 December revolution and by accepting the sharing of power with the reactionary remnants of Al-Bashir dictatorship.

At the same time as the killing of activists and protesters continues even on the second anniversary of the June 3, 2019 massacre, the official investigations regarding the dispersal of the sit-in are being delayed up until now. In an interview with Newline magazine, Nabil Adeeb (the lawyer who was nominated at the head of the inquiry commission) said that “The result could lead to a coup d’état or to mass unrest in the streets.” However, the threat of destabilization does not come from the outcome of the work of this committee that was formed to reveal the facts about the killing of peaceful protesters. It comes from the vested and powerful position the forces that have commanded this massacre occupy up to this day within the state apparatus, as well as in the country’s economic life.

This situation results from the fact that the revolution which started in December 2018, while revealing the immense power of the Sudanese masses, was not carried through to its necessary end goal, i.e. the complete overthrow of the old regime and of the capitalist system upon which it has thrived.

As ISA has often explained, no long-term and stable co-existence is possible between the unmet demands of the revolution and the counter-revolutionary designs of the parasitic and corrupt junta in power. Millions of suffering workers, young people, women and oppressed are aspiring to a Sudan free of violence and poverty, while the generals and warlords who rule and loot the country are only waiting for their moment to strike back more forcefully to defend their power and profits. Therefore there is no time to waste to build a strong revolutionary and democratic socialist alternative in Sudan, to be ready for the struggles that will emerge from this contradiction.

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