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From Coup d’état to Coup d’état the Sudanese Generals Never-ending Bloody Rule

By J.D. Pitts

“Who are the guys with machine guns riding in the backs of trucks?” I asked Abdulla, my Sudanese colleague, and self-appointed cultural guide. “The Janjaweed,” he said. “They’re special fighters. Keep your distance from them.”

“But some of them look like young boys. The Janjaweed use kids?” I asked. “They’re taught to fight when they’re young. They have God on their side. Remember, keep your distance.”
“What do you mean “They have God on their side?” I asked. Abdulla didn’t answer; he just looked at me like I was clearly missing something.

This was in the early 2000s and only a few weeks after I had arrived in Khartoum. I was there to work with a humanitarian agency, but I also wanted to learn as much as I could about what was really happening on the ground, not from books or articles written by Westerners with PhDs, but from the Sudanese themselves.

To this end, I decided to live in one of the sprawling Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps on the outskirts of Khartoum with a Sudanese family from the Darfur region. Abdulla, the family patriarch, was a colleague of mine and a very well-respected man from the community – an absolute necessity for me to be able to not only be welcomed into life in the camp but to merely live safely within the camp.

I soon began to understand more with regard to the tribal and ethnic dynamics at play in Sudan and how Omar al-Bashir, the country’s self-appointed leader, had come to power in 1989 when he led a military coup that ousted the democratically elected government of prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, exploited his Arab tribal roots to use the Janjaweed militias to further his genocide against the black African tribes of Darfur.

In early 2003, the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement rebel groups began fighting against the government of Sudan, which they accused of oppressing Darfur’s non-Arab population. This resulted in Omar al-Bashir unleashing the Janjaweed to target villages throughout the Darfur region as part of its counterinsurgency war against the rebels. The Janjaweed would oftentimes be given ground and air support by government forces as they attacked villages and committed atrocities and war crimes throughout the region.

The full-blown evilness of the Janjaweed was put on display for the world to see throughout the Darfur genocide, which claimed the lives of an estimated 300,000 civilians, forced 1.6 million people to flee their homes inside the country, and a further 600,000 refugees to escape across the borders into neighboring countries.

The Janjaweed were made up primarily of fighters from Arab tribes loyal to Omar al-Bashir, and by 2003 were being led in part by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, generally referred to as Hemedti, a Sudanese general from the Rizeigat tribe of Darfur. The Janjaweed would eventually become the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group formed by Omar al-Bashir in 2013 as a government-sponsored militia, and would soon be led solely by Hamedti.

Ironically, the very man who helped Hemedti rise to power inside of Sudan would go on to be targeted by Hamedti as he played a key role in overthrowing Omar al-Bashir from power in the April 2019 coup d’état.

Following the coup d’état in April 2019, the Transitional Military Council (TMC) took control of the government in Sudan, which led to months of protests and political turmoil, as many Sudanese citizens demanded a civilian-led government.

In August 2019, the TMC and opposition groups signed a power-sharing agreement that established a transitional government to lead the country for a period of three years. The agreement provided for a sovereign council composed of both military and civilian members, with a civilian prime minister appointed to head the government.

Despite the signing of the power-sharing agreement, there were ongoing tensions between the military and civilian members of the government, and there were significant concerns about the role of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Sudanese politics, primarily stemming from the well-documented human rights abuses and war crimes committed by the RSF.

In April 2021, there was yet another coup in Sudan, in which the military seized power and arrested several members of the transitional government, including the prime minister. This led to renewed protests and unrest, with many Sudanese citizens calling for a return to civilian rule.

General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the leader of the Sudanese Army, has been the de facto ruler of Sudan since 2021. He has promised a transition to civilian rule by the end of 2023, which for anyone whose head has not been entirely buried in the Sudanese sand since Omar al-Bashir came to power in Sudan in 1989, following the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, knows is an entirely false premise and idea.
The truth of the matter is that both Burhan, the leader of the Sudanese Army, and Hemedti, the leader of the RSF paramilitary force, have zero intention whatsoever of allowing for democratic elections and civilian rule of the country. Indeed, both men have full intentions of becoming the next leader—AKA dictator—of Sudan, and the power struggle they are in with one another has now turned violent, and Sudan is once again trapped in bloodshed and war.

About the Author

J.D. Pitts is Founder and Principal Advisor for Ahlan International, a firm specializing in equipping clients to operate successfully in Arab and Islamic contexts worldwide. Prior to founding Ahlan International, J.D. lived for 15 years in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Sudan, Yemen, and Mauritania. While there, his professional experience included both the education and business sectors, as well as over a decade of deep involvement in humanitarian work ranging from small, grassroots operations to large-scale, UN-managed operations.

The views and opinions expressed in this paper are the author’s and not necessarily those of the Lobo Institute. For more information on the institute or to get on the mailing list for our papers and LoboCasts, please go to Lobo Institute.