What’s behind Sudan’s Janjaweed militia’s economic and political power?

May 3, 2022
Protest in Sudan
Protest in Sudan. Photo: Keep Eyes on Sudan

Hundreds of thousands of families have transmigrated from West African countries such as Mali, Niger, Cameroon, Central Africa and Chad into Sudan, as part of a deliberate strategy by Sudan’s Janjaweed militia (also known as the Rapid Support Forces, RSF), to strengthen its tribal power base in the country.

This transmigration has been made possible by the considerable economic and financial empire created by the Janjaweed during the dictatorship and the huge military force that owes it loyalty.

To carry out this massive relocation, the Janjaweed militia has established a Land Commission, directly connected to militia commander Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo, known as “Hemedti”. The role of the commission is to provide residential lands for militia members and their families. The Janjaweed also enjoys Emirati, Saudi, Egyptian, Israeli and Russian protection and support.

Keeping the Janjaweed’s political and economic empire from disintegrating has become vital for the leaders of this tribal militia, to enable them to advance at a faster pace toward their ambition to rule Sudan.

The evidence shows that the militia are working full swing and in a race against time to achieve this aim.

Economic sphere

Hemedti’s economic empire has become immense, and has expanded into all aspects of the economy. As well as the General’s “investments” in clans and tribal leaders, he has interests in vital sectors such as roads, bridges, land, real estate, mining, import and export.

This mysterious economic empire is represented by a company called “Al-Junaid” run by Hemedti’s older brother Abdul-Rahim Hamdan Dagalo. Dagalo suddenly appeared on the scene with the rank of Lieutenant-General and is the second deputy in the Janjaweed militia. Other family members manage the rest of the operation, away from media scrutiny.

Al-Junaid now has branches around the country, specifically in the mining sector. It turned to mining in areas of the Darfur region, specifically in the Jebel Moon region, located west of El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur State.

As recently as December and January, fighting again broke out in the region, leaving hundreds dead and wounded. Tens of thousands of families were forced to flee their villages for El Geneina. It was the second-largest wave of mass displacement in the region since the outbreak of the bloody conflict there.

The outbreak of violence was a deliberate act to force the region’s Indigenous people out of the area following the discovery of huge deposits of uranium and gold. The Jabal Amer mine, controlled by the Janjaweed, is located there. The militia has continued to loot and smuggle the mine’s reserves out of Sudan and into the United Arab Emirates (UAE) via Russia.

On the regional level, the Janjaweed has extensive relations with and interests in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi regime continues to benefit from the supply of Janjaweed soldiers to fight its war in Yemen. The UAE has become the first destination for the export and smuggling of gold extracted from the various mines affiliated with the militia. The militia also maintains good relations with Egypt after signing huge agricultural investment partnerships with it, in addition to Ethiopia, Chad and the state of South Sudan.

On the international level, the militia has close relations and shared interests with Russia. Recently the militia’s relationship with the Israeli government has been extended through mutual visits.

Political sphere

Janjaweed leaders have engaged public relations advisors in countless fields, with whom they plan their next steps. These advisors are engaged in improving the militia’s image and glossing over its criminal acts, which include killings, torture, rape, arrests, raids on homes and flogging and humiliation of peaceful demonstrators.

It has emerged that the Janjaweed paid a Canadian public relations company to improve its image abroad, in an attempt to open up and gain acceptance and recognition, especially in European countries.

During the outbreak of the popular revolution in December 2018, one local Janjaweed leader coerced many activists — by intimidation or enticement — into praising the militia’s “charitable work” in the country. This “charity” was only made possible by the gold, livestock and cash crops, such as gum arabic, cotton and oilseeds looted by the militia and smuggled out of the country.

Moreover, using the funds raised by their forces’ participation in the war in Yemen and Libya, the militia intensified its activities among civil tribal leaders, pouring money on them. The militia also made cash donations to the teachers’ union, university professors and members of the army, police and security services.

Militia leaders and their accomplices have also intensified the creation of social media accounts, to attempt to polish their image and undermine the charges against them. They now have a special department under the supervision of some elements of the former regime, working with Russian actors to create fake accounts to spread messages of support.

Military field

Janjaweed leaders refuse absolutely to integrate their forces into the national Sudanese army, because they are fully aware that if they lose control over these forces, they will lose much of their power and influence in the political and economic arena. They are doing everything they can to destabilise Sudan in every aspect that does not accord with their desires, aspirations and ambitions — foremost of which is the complete and unilateral control of these forces.

Contracted military leaders associated with the previous regime have been brought in to work for the militia. It is remarkable that all the commanders of the regions in Darfur states in particular, and all those who work in sensitive circles within the Janjaweed militia are from the same tribe or ethnicity. These leaders are the backbone of the militia and have contributed to massacres, attacks and displacement carried out in the Darfur region.

There have been high rates of defection from the national armed forces and other military and security agencies, such as the police and intelligence during the past three years.

Former members of these agencies have joined the Janjaweed for two reasons:

First, because of the high financial return — many times greater than wages in the national armed forces, police, security and intelligence services; and secondly, the promise of being sent to Yemen to fight under the command of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, where they receive large salaries. This is largely reflected in the improvement of the economic conditions of their families in Sudan. This, in particular, is why it has become very attractive for many soldiers to join these forces and give up service in the national army of Sudan.

Importantly, this also means the Sudanese national army is seriously threatened with losing its position in the balance of power, in favour of the Janjaweed — which has the funds, equipment and arms — and only lacks the military’s aviation sector.

Information has been leaked that militia members are receiving secret training in Russia and Belarus in military aviation. This may mean that, in the next stage of the Janjaweed’s strategy, we will see the establishment of a militia air force, almost completely superior to the national armed forces in all aspects.

Its leaders are also active in all the states as “social incubators”, drawing in local clan leaders and civil administrators to build the militia’s base in preparation for the next election, which could be held next year.

All the evidence on the ground indicates that the Janjaweed are moving in one direction: unilateral rule of the country. It is building a base made up of tens of thousands of fighters, bolstered by the thousands of migrants crossing Sudan’s western border, a fully-equipped armed force and the support of sections of the international community.

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