Since the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on July 1, 2002, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan holds the unenviable record of the only serving head of state to have been indicted by The Hague-based court. And, not once, but twice: in 2009 and 2010. On both occasions, President Al-Bashir was accused of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide in Darfur, where his government forces militarily backed the nomadic light-skinned Arab Janjaweed militia in its murderous campaign against the black-skinned sedentary farmers of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups in the region.
At the time, a majority of Third World leaders, especially those of Africa, refused to cooperate with the ICC in its bid to execute the Warrants of Arrest issued against the sit-tight al-Bashir, who would end up tyrannizing his country for a period of 30 years before being overthrown in a mass-uprising in 2019. Baselessly, many of the leaders alleged that the ICC indictments stemmed from a Western-orchestrated conspiracy against the tyrant, while some Arab leaders specifically maintained that the indictments were an affront to Islam. Others went further to allege racial bias in the ICC’s treatment of Africans in general. Amidst these and other unfounded allegations, the ICC’s indictments remain unexecuted till this day.
Had the ICC been successful in its bid to arrest Omar al-Bashir back in 2009 and 2010, there is a high probability that most of his accomplices would equally have been indicted in course of his trial and be brought to justice. Certainly, two of such accomplices would have been General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hemedti, who led the notorious Janjaweed militia’s scotched earth campaign in Darfur, and General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who commanded the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) that militarily backed the Janjaweed’s violent activities.
Arguably, had al-Bashir, al-Burhan, and Hemedti been brought to justice by the ICC, there is every likelihood that the ongoing Sudanese civil war may never have occurred, as they would certainly be languishing in jail by now, like the Liberian warlord-turned-President Charles Taylor, who is presently serving a 50-year jail term for his ignominious role in the Sierra Leonean civil war of 1991 and 2002. Alas, both Generals al-Burhan and Hemedti rose to become the respective leaders of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in course of al-Bashir’s rule. And, in the aftermath of his overthrow in 2019, both men went on to stage a military coup against the country’s transitional civilian-military diarchy headed by Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok, and then became the leader and deputy leader of the ruling junta in October 2021.
A time-worn metaphor has it that “He who rides on the back of a tiger will soon end up in the belly of the tiger.” Apparently, the significance of this metaphorical truism was lost on the Sudanese people as both al-Burhan and Hemedti, with their blood-stained hands, assumed the reins of power in their country. Hence, it is ironical that the ongoing bloodletting was triggered by disagreements over the modalities for absorbing Hemedti’s RSF into the SAF led by al-Burhan. While that innocuous disagreement may have been the immediate cause of the bloody conflict, the remote cause is, unquestionably, the struggle for supremacy between the two former allies in Darfur, who had also collaborated to scuttle their country’s democratic yearnings following the people-power uprising that saw the ouster of the tyrannical Omar al-Bashir.
A most-unfortunate development in the ensuing bloody showdown between Generals al-Burhan and Hemedti is their shared disdain for the sanctity of human life. Both SAF and RSF fighters have seemingly borrowed a leaf from Russia’s war template in Ukraine as they have refused to discriminate between military and civilian targets since the outbreak of hostilities on April 15, 2023. Residential buildings, hospitals, schools, places of worship, water and electrical installations, civilian airport facilities, etc., are being subjected to indiscriminate heavy bombardment, with the belligerents leaving death, destruction, and misery in their wake. Casualties are mounting in their thousands, especially in the capital of Khartoum, Omdurman, Geneina, Nyala, El-Obeid, and Darfur – the RSF’s support-base. And, with each side flouting ceasefire agreements at will, while vowing to bring the other to its knees militarily, a protracted conflict threatens to tear apart Africa’s third largest country and spill over into its neigbouring ones.
Until 2011, when South Sudan gained Independence following a decades-long secession struggle, the Republic of Sudan was Africa’s undisputed largest country. It shares borders with seven others, including Egypt, Libya, Ethiopia, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Eritrea, and South Sudan, all of which are bedeviled by various forms of crisis. Ethiopia has just emerged from a bruising two-year civil war, while Libya and South Sudan are in the throes of internecine violent conflicts. The situation in Chad and CAR is not any better. Egypt and Eritrea, which seem to be enjoying some semblance of stability, are under the grips of vicious dictatorships. Consequently, the international community must ensure that the ongoing Sudanese conflagration does not spill over into any of these crisis-prone neighboring countries.
Meanwhile, all indications point to the fact that General Hemedti is a highly controversial character. Even the exact date of his birth is unknown, although he is said to have been born between 1973 – 1975. Unlike his rival, General al-Burhan, who was born in 1960 and went on to acquire formal education and military training in various institutions, Hemedti is a primary school dropout who was involved in camel trading prior to his militant activities that commenced with the Janjaweed militia at the outbreak of the Darfur Crisis in 2003. He was said to have acquired the name “Hemedti” due to his baby-faced looks (Hemedti means “Little Mohammed” in Arab motherhood parlance, just as Janjaweed means “Devils on Horseback” in Arabic).
A member of the cattle-herding Mahariya clan of Northern Darfur, Hemedti’s brutal and barbaric tactics of rape, torture, arson, looting, death, and destruction were said to have endeared him to President Omar al-Bashir, who conferred on him the army rank of “Brigadier General,” much to the chagrin of regular army officers who had risen through the ranks by dint of hard work and training. In 2013, al-Bashir reconstituted the Janjaweed militia into a paramilitary force that became known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), and provided it with heavy weapons and appropriate training facilities so that it could serve as a counterweight to the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). Al-Bashir also stylishly nicknamed Hemedti as “Himayti” (My Protector), and as he rose in power and influence, so did his stupendous wealth, obtained largely from illegal gold mining activities in the Jabel Amir hills of North Darfur.
Like most African countries blessed with vast deposits of valuable natural resources, the discovery of gold in Jabel Amir in 2012 has turned out to be a curse rather than a blessing to the Sudanese people. Suffice to say that the struggle for control of the gold resources by both domestic and external predatory opportunists, like the Russian Wagner Group (a mercenary group led by the unscrupulous businessman, Yevgeny Prigozhin), is one of the untold stories of the ongoing civil war. Another untold story is the attempt by the nationalistic and irredentist Vladimir Putin to establish a Russian naval base capable of handling nuclear-powered vessels in Port Sudan – a move vehemently opposed by the US and its Western allies.
From all indications, the solution to the ongoing war in Sudan lies in a total overhaul and ultimate eradication of the status quo, which is symbolized by the country’s corrupt military leaders and armed militiamen, who are represented by the duo of Generals al-Burhan and Hemedti. Also, the immediate enthronement of a democratically elected civilian government is imperative. The country was moving progressively in that direction following the 2019 overthrow of Omar al-Bashir’s tyrannical rule in a people-power revolution spearheaded by the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) under the leadership of Abdallah Hamdok. Alas, the gains of that revolution were reversed in 2021 by the combined forces of Generals al-Burhan and Hemedti, who are now locked in a do-or-die struggle for dominance.
Perhaps, it’s time for the international community to make it abundantly clear to the Sudanese armed forces and their rival paramilitary forces, as well as those of other African states, that military usurpation of state power under any guise is an aberration that must be shunned at all costs. For, to say the least, the African masses have had more than enough of armed usurpers of political power who masquerade as revolutionaries, liberationists, salvationists, redemptioners, emancipators, etc., while plundering and pillaging their countries to the point of underdevelopment. It’s time for popular democracy to reign supreme in every African state as dictatorship, especially the military variety, tends to corrupt the polity in absolute terms.
- Dennis Onakinor, a global affairs analyst, writes from Lagos – Nigeria. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]