By Amjed Farid Eltayeb
July 7, 2014 - In January 21, 1991, the state collapsed in the republic of Somalia, leaving the country in a state of brutal chaos that did not reach an end until today. This collapse was inevitable result of the policies of General Mohamed Siad Barre’s military regime who violently took the power seat in 1969 coup, nine years after the independence of Somalia. Barre’s political scheme was based on centralization of powers using military forces and para-formal militias in different ways until this over centralization swallowed the state itself.
Many similarities are found between the Somalian fate and the current situation in Sudan;
• The harassment, detention, and torture of political opponents.
• The over expenditure on military forces (reaching up to 80% of state expenditure in both cases) at the expense of other public services.
• The involvement on international and regional conflicts that is bigger than the capacity of the state (the cold war in the case of Somalia and the Arab gulf – Iranian conflict in the case of Sudan).
• The economic collapse because of corruption and political favoritism.
• The formal espouse of social discriminating, chauvinistic and hegemonic discourse to camouflage grass root flaming social and political issues.
An endless list of similarities with the most perilous one being the heavy reliance of the two regimes on tribal and para-formal militias protecting their power seat by proxy.
In the 70s of the last century, Siad Barre created his red berets troop whose members were recruited from particular Somalian clans (majority the Mareehan, Barre’s clan) and another paramilitary force named “Victory Pioneers” as protectors of his authority and used them as main tools of oppression against political opponents descended from other clans especially northern ones. His justification for this was an allegation of a failed assassination attempt against him. Those forces had full legal impunity and answered only to president Barre. Observers reported various crimes against civilians and nomads committed by the “Red Berets” especially in Northern Somalia during Somalian civil war. The victory pioneer had similar accusations by crimes of torture, random killing and rape on ethnic bases. By 1989 torture and murder became the norm of the day in Mogadishu and other Somalian cities. This clan monopoly of the state institutes and its illegitimate violence pushed to the known end.
History repeated itself in Sudan:
The story reiterated with similar attributes in the formation of Janjaweed militia in Darfur in the beginning of the crisis in 2003. The Sudanese regime used ethnic and tribal factors to recruit fighters from Darfurian-Arabic tribes creating the Janjaweed militia as main counter-insurgency force fighting the rebels and resistance groups. Janjaweed were not the first time Omer Al-Bashir regime created and used para-military militias. In early 90s the Sudanese government formed the (Popular Defense Forces) which was composed of members and supporters of the National Islamic Front who planned for and executed the coup brought Al-Bashir to power in 1989. At least then, the regime tried to set a law to control this militia within a legal framework. This was not the case for Janjaweed, whom government denied any formal link to them as its first line of defense when their crimes came public.
Janjaweed and their story bring to mind the picture of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation in the Bible. Especially the pale horseman of death who was “given the authority to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth”. This horseman accurately symbolizes Janjaweed whom their name in Arabic stands for; the demon man on horse with a gun.
The modern Janjaweed landing started in 2003. Musa Hilal, a tribal leader of Arab descendant clan (Al Mahamid) in Darfur played the central role of it. Hilal, who was imprisoned for criminal offences with some of them of racial nature at that time, was secured a release and judicial pardon by Sudanese vice-president Ali Osman Taha. Hilal was asked in return to recruit members of Arab tribes in Darfur to side the government in its fight against rebels in Darfur. Two years later, he confirmed this story in an interview with HRW but denied any personal involvement in any violations. He argued that his militia works under directions from the federal government in Khartoum and described their deeds as a holy war “Jihad” recalling the same hegemonic discourse that the regime used in describing the civil war of South Sudan. Soon, other tribal leaders from Arab origins in Darfur followed Hilal’s path to maintain their links with the government while few leaders refused to participate in this random para-militarization. Though the regime continued to deny any associations with Janjaweed claiming that these forces are merely tribal militias formed by local tribes in self-defense, evidences including testimonies from defaulted members of the militia emerged confirming the governmental funding, arming and direction to Janjaweed.
The inevitable consequences:
With such random recruitment, no formal military training, heavy arming, desire to achieve quick and decisive victory and lawless boundaries, Janjaweed committed serious violations and crimes against civilians and villagers in Darfur leading to a further escalation of the crisis in the burning region. Not surprisingly, the list of crimes, which included rape, mass killing, genocide among other war crimes, and crimes against humanity resembled those of the Red Berets and Victory Pioneers in Somalia.
The regime denial of affiliation did not stand for long and the government had to decrease its reliance on Janjaweed militia after the whole world recognized its crimes. Especially after prosecution of crimes committed in Darfur reached the head of regime, General Omer Al-Bashir whom the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against him for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur in 2008. However, this was just the end of a first chapter of Janjaweed’s story, which concluded with a military mutiny of Hilal himself after his tribal interests, conflicted with the regime equation for powers balance in the region.
A Janjaweed dies hard:
Following the independence of South Sudan, the re-ignition of war in South Kurdofan and Blue Nile states in addition to the ongoing conflict in Darfur and the establishment of the Sudanese Revolutionary Front in 2011 as an alliance unifying rebels in Darfur, South Kurdofan and Blue Nile, the regime re institutionalize its militia but this time as formal troops. The Sudanese regime, which fights a civil war in wide half circle takes in the west and south of the country, established the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) as part of its National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) whose agents have full impunity in the Sudanese legal framework. This incorporation was not a new creation, but a rehabilitation of one of the Janjaweed militias that already existed under the command of the (currently) Brigadier Mohammed Hamdan Dgulw aka (Hemiditi).
Brigadier Hemiditi, who is now the field commander of these forces, was one of the Janjaweed leaders during the first decade of Darfur conflict. He even had a period of insurgency against the regime during the conflict. He revealed so in a video report with Channel 4 reporter; Nima Albagir in 2008 for financial disputes and other reasons believed to be related to demands of formal recognition and official military ranks for himself and his militia (Ref. in Arabic; an interview with Hemiditi, April 2013). Until then he was insisting that he is not part of any formal apparatus and he is fighting in Dafur in response to a personal request from president Al-Bashir to bring his men and join the fight against rebels. Out of the blue, the man who had no previous formal military career or training was announced as Brigadier-General in the ranks of NISS in 2014.
A major variance between Hemiditi and the old-fashioned Janjaweed leaders is that Hemiditi does not share the social status of tribal leadership, which Hilal’s and other leaders have. The man build his constituency using his financial influence as a successful self-made businessman. He grantees the loyalty of his men by securing them a generous regular income. He pointed this in his press conference in May 2014, in which he stated his ability to recruit 100 thousands fighter to fight for the regime if needed because they do not have other sources of income. This actually introduced a new attractive factor to join the Janjaweed, the financial factor that reminds us of the fact that the economic conflicts over resources was one of the main reasons to flame the Darfurian conflict in its first page.
The previous difference was an advantage for Hemiditi in the eyes of the regime. He was seen as being hungry for the social status and recognition which military rank gives. As well, he has no traditional tribal interests to protect that might intersect with the regime equation for powers balance in the region as happened in Musa Hilal case. He was the perfect candidate for the job; unadulterated sell-sword. Thus, when NISS decided to take over the mission of fighting the rebels after the continuous failures of Sudanese Arm Forces (SAF), Hemiditi and his men were ready to be bought.
Remarkably, the first appearance and mission of the newly formed RSF was not in Darfur nor Nuba Mountains nor Blue Nile or any of the vast war zones in Sudan. It was not even against any of the military rebels. It was against peaceful protesters in Khartoum during the September 2013 uprising in which – according to General Ali Alnaseeh Algala’a the director of the Operations Commission of NISS- RSF had done well during the events and restored the stability. The results of their well deeds were about 200 protesters shot dead in the streets of Khartoum in addition to hundreds others seriously wounded in few days of peaceful protests.
Following this notable introduction, RSF continued setting its brutal record with the highly announced “Hot Summer Operations” campaign in Darfur and Nuba Mountains in the beginning of 2014. Their operations resulted in serious deterioration of the humanitarian situation to extent exceeded its status in the beginning of the conflict in 2003. The United Nation Mission to Darfur declared that the number of internally displaced in the first three months of 2014 exceeded 215,000 with unknown scale of casualties and numbers of villages been looted and burned down to the ground. UN in its report directly attributed the escalation of violence to the introduction and operations of RSF. RSF literally set Darfur on fire in just less than half year in 2014. RSF operation resulted in similar consequences in different areas of Nuba Mountains, South Kurdofan and Blue Nile and continued its harassment to citizens even in non-war zones like what happened in North Kurdofan and led to their clash with the ruler Ahmed Haroun in Mid February 2014. It seemed that the authorities and powers of the recycled militia have grown far beyond the control of the regime but this was only a sketchy indication of what RSF is turning to.
Politicians and the beast:
In mid-May, after the word went out about the RSF crimes, Elsadig Almahdi publically criticized the militia. The man, who is the strongest supporter of the regime fuzzy offer of unshaped political dialogue and who previously protected the regime –at least twice in the previous 3 years- of being overthrown by a popular revolution with his insistence in a “soft landing deal” as the only mechanism for change, made simple remarks about RSF operations and demanded their crimes to be investigated. They were simple words for political consumption from a political leader whom Darfurian tribes are his party lost historical political constituency. Nevertheless, the reaction of the regime was at maximum. First, they filed a legal case against Almahdi with charges of crimes against state that carries a maximum punishment of execution. He was summoned in a very humiliating manner for interrogation and two days later NISS detained him from his house.
In the same day of Almahdi detention, Hemiditi arrived to Khartoum – with three brigades of his troops- and started his biggest media campaign re-introducing himself as the ranking field officer of a disciplined formal troop. His press conferences and public speeches were well prepared and attended by senior officers from NISS. He used this presence as a sign legitimacy of his militia emphasizing repeatedly that RSF is part and works under the command of NISS. The naïve man and his advisors did not recognize that this emphasis actually confirm the illegitimacy of his troops since the not the law nor the constitution gives the security agency the authority to form or control fighting troops but what is the law and constitution to a man like Hemiditi ?? He publically refers to them in his talks as (Your Law) and (Your Constitution), in a clear reflection of the man understanding of meaning of the state let alone being a formal part of it.
Alsadig Almahdi detention –which lasted for almost a month -was clearly a result of RSF pressure on the government. It was a sign for the political community of the extent of their influence, Since Almahdi (who is not just a political leader but a religious one as well) who is approaching his 80s was one of the few lasting supporters of regime manipulative offer of dialogue, if not the only one. Whether the regime is serious in its offer or not might be questionable but what is certain is their need of time until 2015 elections. Obviously, Hemiditi’s pressure was any influence of any political plans the regime prepared. The man speaks only with bullets and its seems that he has a lot more.
Alsadig Almahdi was released out of his detention after his party was forced to apologize in a formal letter but mean while another political leader got detained for the same reasons. Ibrahim Elshikh, the head of the Sudanese Congress Party was detained after a political symposium in his hometown “AlNuhood” in which he made similar critics of RSF. He was immediately detained in the same night with charges similar to those directed to Alsadig Almahdi. His detention was followed by a wave of security arrests of members of his party that said to refuse apologizing and demands a court trial. The clear message was this militia is a red line for any political entities and the regime might found out that he was feeding the beast.
The de facto is RSF is being transformed into a separate political entity. An entity that even the regime and the ruling party do not have full control over it. It does actually have the power and the influence to pressure them even against their formal political line. Although the security agency “NISS” has always been involved as, a political entity in the political process during the reign of Omer Al-Bashir, but it was always under civilian oversight, “Only two directors of the agency came from military background during the 25 years of Al-Bashir ruling”. However, this fact does not prove or disprove anything since there is no more damage to the political process can be done by NISS than what it already did during the last 25 years.
This dangerous transformation of the informal militia into independent political entities was a major factor in the collapse of the state in Somalia and it resembles in some aspects what is currently happening in Syria. Nevertheless, the consequences of the Somalian or the Syrian scenarios in Sudan would be far more catastrophic not only in Sudan but for the whole region. Sudanese-made arms are already flaming conflicts all over the region with the presence of a central state. The scenario of these arms manufacturing capabilities to fall in the hands of militias would be disastrous. The road to this disaster seems paved especially with the support of the international community to the regime to maintain its seat, believing the illusion that the alternative to it is chaos. The reality is actually the opposite. The survival of Omer al-Bashir regime is not only leading to more crimes and oppression against the Sudanese people, but it also taking the country and the whole region in the road of bloody chaos.
The author is the Sudan Change Now spokesperson