Why the Janjaweed Legacy Prevents Khartoum from Disarming Darfur

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report, October 15, 2017

Ten thousand members of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF – al-Quwat al-Da’m al-Sari) have been transferred from Kordofan to North Darfur to help implement a mandatory disarmament campaign in the region. Almost exclusively Arab in composition, the RSF will attempt to disarm not only non-Arab rebel forces still in the field, but also Arab elements of the government’s Border Guard Force (BGF) that are in near rebellion and nomadic tribesmen who rely on their weapons to protect their herds from thieves and predators.

Sudan Armed Forces Armor in Darfur (Nuba Reports)

Both the RSF and the BGF are products of Khartoum’s efforts to make the infamous and internationally reviled “Janjaweed” disappear. Absorbing these ill-disciplined Arab militias into better defined government formations helped support a government narrative that the Janjaweed were not government-backed marauders, but rather unaffiliated bandits that had been removed from Darfur through the efforts of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). In theory, transforming these militias into salaried employees of the state would bring them under tighter state control at a time when many Janjaweed and their commanders were beginning to have second thoughts about having sacrificed their reputation in return for empty promises from Khartoum. In practice, the RSF has transformed itself into a border control force reducing migration flows to Europe with ample funding from the European Union, while the BGF has evolved into a new formation, the Sudanese Revolutionary Awakening (“Sahwa”) Council (SRAC), which has slipped from government control with the help of enormous profits from its domination of artisanal gold mining in northwestern Darfur.

Both RSF and BGF are composed of members of the semi-nomadic Abbala (camel-raising) tribes of northern Darfur, the main source of Janjaweed manpower after the ongoing Darfur rebellion began in 2003. Some of the Abbala tribes, including the northern Rizayqat, had not been allotted specific lands for their use by the old Fur Sultanate (c. 1600-1916) or the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium administration (1916-1956).

Darfur (Human Rights Watch)

While customary arrangements between the semi-nomadic Arabs and sedentary non-Arab groups regarding land-use and migration routes continued into the independence period, these accommodations began to fall apart in the 1980s as drought and an encroaching desert placed new pressures on traditional systems. Possessing useful pastures became essential for the pastoralist Arabs, but after centuries of land allotments by Fur Sultans (the feudal hakura system) and their colonial successors, there was no unclaimed land to be had; dispossessing others was the only means of establishing a new dar, or tribal homeland.

The Baqqara (cattle-raising) Arabs of southern Darfur, whose dar-s were legally and traditionally defined, had little involvement with the depredations of the Janjaweed. Unfortunately for the Baqqara, this distinction is little understood outside of Sudan. It is also important to note that not all the Abbala tribes were involved with the Janjaweed; the Janjaweed was primarily drawn from sections of the northern Rizayqat (who were much affected by lack of land-title) and elements of Arab groups from Chad and Niger who had migrated to Darfur with the encouragement of the Khartoum regime, which suggested they carve out their own land-holdings from territory belonging to non-Arab tribes the regime viewed as supporters of the rebellion.

The progress of Khartoum’s disarmament campaign will have important consequences for the future of the Darfur rebellion, the regime’s continuing efforts to centralize power in Sudan and even the European Union’s campaign to reduce illegal migration into Europe.

Musa Hilal: From Janjaweed to Border Guard

With the possible exception of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes in Darfur, no individual is more closely associated with the deeds of the Janjaweed than Shaykh Musa Hilal Abdalla, a member of the Um Jalul clan of the Mahamid Arabs.

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir (center) with Musa Hilal (right of of al-Bashir)      (al-Jazeera)

Hilal is the nazir (chief) of the Mahamid, a branch of the northern Rizayqat tribal group (the northern Rizayqat includes the Mahamid, Mahariya, and Ireiqat groups. The southern Rizayqat are baqqara with little involvement in the Janjaweed). From his home village of Misteriya, Hilal became involved in the 1990s with the Arab Gathering (Tajamu al-Arabi), an Arab supremacist group following an ideology developed by Mu’ammar Qaddafi and the leaders of Libya’s Islamic Legion (Failaq al-Islamiya) in the 1980s. The Um Jalul began to clash with non-Arab Fur and Zaghawa tribesmen in the 1990s, leading to Hilal’s eventual arrest and imprisonment in Port Sudan in 2002 on charges of inciting ethnic violence.

Hilal’s prison term was brought to an abrupt end by the shocking April 2003 raid on Darfur’s al-Fashir military airbase by Fur and Zaghawa rebels retaliating against growing waves of government backed Arab violence against non-Arab communities. An unnerved government realized the SAF might not be capable of containing the mobile hit-and-run tactics of the rebels developed during fighting in Chad in the 1980s. After deciding to turn to local tribal militias to carry the counterinsurgency campaign, suddenly Shaykh Musa was just what the regime needed. Consequently, Hilal was released in June 2003 to organize a counterinsurgent force infused with pro-Arab ideology and armed, supplied and directed by SAF intelligence units. This was the “Janjaweed.” [1]

The strategy employed to hobble the militarily powerful insurgent forces was to cripple their support base and supply system through the destruction of defenseless Fur and Zaghawa villages. Tactics typically involved an initial bombardment by the Sudanese Air Force (usually crude “barrel-bombs” rolled out from Russian-built Antonov transport aircraft), followed by waves of horse and camel-borne Janjaweed and a final “mopping-up” force of Sudanese regulars and intelligence agents. Murder, torture, rape and looting were all part of a process intended to punish relatives of insurgents and even those with no connection to the rebels other than a shared ethnic or tribal background. Incitement of ethnic hatred, promises of immunity and a license to loot freely helped give free rein to the basest instincts of the Janjaweed; those reluctant to join in such activities were subject to imprisonment and the collective punishment of their families.

One of Hilal’s leading lieutenants during the 2003-2005 period of the worst Janjaweed abuses was Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti,” from the Awlad Mansur clan of the Mahariya branch of the northern Rizayqat, though by this time the Awlad Mansur were resident in South Darfur, having moved there in the 1980s where they seized Fur lands in the southern Jabal Marra region.

Hilal’s notoriety brought largely meaningless sanctions from the UN Security Council in April 2006. Instead of ostracism, Hilal was brought to Khartoum, where he was integrated into the government as a special advisor to the Ministry of Federal Affairs and a member of parliament in the ruling National Congress Party (Hilal later repudiated his membership in the NCP).

By 2005 the government’s campaign in Darfur had begun to attract unwanted international attention, including ill-informed but nonetheless damaging accusations of “genocide” from various media sources and celebrity activists. However useful to the regime, the “Janjaweed” had to go. The solution was integration into the Border Guards, previously a small and little known camel-mounted unit. Arab tribesmen serving in the Janjaweed for loot were now given salaries and government ID cards which helped shield the new Border Guards from prosecution for war crimes while bringing them under tighter regime control. Musa Hilal was made a top commander in the expanded BGF.

The Return of Musa Hilal

Following a dispute with the government, Musa Hilal returned to northwest Darfur in January 2014, where, despite remaining commander of the BFG, he established the 8,000 strong Sudanese Revolutionary Awakening (Sahwa) Council (SRAC) as a vehicle for his personal and tribal political agenda. By March 2014 he had brought the northwestern Darfur districts of, Kutum, Kebkabiya, al-Waha and Saraf Omra under SRAC’s administrative control by the exclusion of government forces. Clashes between Hilal’s mostly Mahamid followers and government security forces began to occur with regularity.

Musa Hilal’s SRAC is also involved in a struggle with the RSF over control of Jabal Amer (northwest of Kabkabiya), where gold was discovered in 2012. The SAF withdrew from the area in 2013 under pressure from Hilal’s forces, which then defeated the rival Bani Hussein Arabs in a bloody struggle for control of the region. In 2016, the UN Panel of Experts on Sudan reported that Hilal was making approximately $54 million per year from SRAC’s control of the artisanal gold mining at Jabal Amer, though the report was not publicly released due to Russian objections. Gold is now the largest source of revenue in Sudan since South Sudan and its oil fields separated in 2011, though much of it is smuggled out of the country to markets in the Gulf States (Radio Tamazuj, April 27, 2016; Radio Dabanga, April 5, 2016).

In May 2017, SRAC spokesman Ahmad Muhammad Abakr called for “all Arab tribes in Darfur, Kordofan, and Blue Nile state to disobey the government’s military orders and refrain from participating in its war convoys.” Suggesting their cause had been “stolen by the government,” Abakr declared:

The ongoing wars are now fabricated for the purpose of a divide-and-rule policy of which the ruling elite in Khartoum is the ultimate beneficiary rather than the people of Sudan… If there is a need for war, we ask you to point weapons against those who employ you to fight on their behalf in order to take your political, economic and military rights instead of fighting a proxy war (Radio Dabanga, May 31, 2017).

The Rapid Support Forces

Prior to Hilal’s return to Darfur, Khartoum had detached the BGF’s Fut-8 Battalion (based in Nyala, South Darfur and commanded by Muhammad Hamdan Daglo) from the rest of the force and used it as the core of a new paramilitary, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The move was partly a response to internal tensions in the BGF between Fut-8 and the Hilal-commanded Fut-7 Battalion, which claimed Fut-8 was favored by Khartoum in terms of supplies of weaponry, vehicles and supplies. [2] At the same time, Daglo and his followers complained that Hilal was not distributing BGF resources fairly, especially the all-important Land Cruisers. [3]

RSF Troops, Darfur

The RSF came under the direct authority of the National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS – Jihaz al-Amn al-Watani wa’l-Mukhabarat) and continues to enjoy the patronage of Second Vice President Hassabo Muhammad Abd al-Rahman, a Rizayqat. [4]

The RSF was integrated into the SAF in 2016, but with an unusual semi-autonomous status under the direct command of President Bashir (a Nile Valley or “riverine” Ja’alin Arab). Saying that the establishment of the RSF was the best decision he had ever made as president, Bashir recently told a graduating group of 1450 RSF recruits in Khartoum that their aim must be to “show force and terrorize the enemies” (Sudan Tribune, May 14, 2017).

Despite government claims that Darfur was stabilized, the RSF took a leading role in May 2017 alongside the SAF in a bitter four day battle around Ayn Siro in the Kutum district of North Darfur last May against the Zaghawa-led Sudan Liberation Movement – Minni Minawi (SLM-MM) and the allied Sudan Liberation Movement – Transitional Council (SLM-TC), led by Nimr Abd al-Rahman. [5]

Several leading prisoners, including veteran rebel Muhammad Abd al-Salim “Tarada,” military commander of the Sudan Liberation Movement – Abd al-Wahid (SLM-AW), were reported to have been killed by NISS agents following their capture. The defeated rebels fled westward along the Upper Wadi Howar into Chad, though they later issued a joint communiqué making an unlikely claim to have driven off the government forces. The heavy losses suffered by the SLM-MM marked a disappointing return to Darfur after the movement had spent nearly two years fighting as mercenaries in Libya (Sudan Tribune, May 29, 2017; May 23, 2017; Sudan Vision, May 22, 2017; Radio Dabanga, May 23, 2017; IRIN, August 2, 2017).

RSF Commander Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti”

RSF commander Daglo claimed the Darfur rebels were aided at Ayn Siro and Wadi Howar by Chadian opposition fighters (who have also been fighting as mercenaries in Libya) [6] and insinuated that the Chadians were harbored and supported logistically by Musa Hilal, though he did not elaborate on the reasons for this new support by Hilal for Darfur’s non-Arab rebels (Sudan Tribune, June 4, 2017).

By January 8, 2017, the RSF announced the capture of over 1500 illegal migrants in the last seven months following the interception of 115 migrants several days earlier (Sudan Tribune, January 9, 2017). RSF activity along the Libyan border is intended to intercept traffickers in humans and narcotics and to demonstrate Sudan’s commitment to reducing flows of illegal migrants after the European Union made a grant to Sudan of €100 million to deal with the issue.

Most of the illegal migrants making their way through Sudan to Libya and on into Europe hail from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Yemen. The EU is funding the construction of two RSF camps equipped with modern surveillance equipment and electronics for intercepting and detaining illegal migrants. [7]

Rejecting Integration

Defence Minister Lieutenant General Ahmad Awad Bin Auf announced a reorganization of the SAF’s “supporting forces” on July 19, 2017. A central part of the reorganization was the planned integration of the BGF into the RSF. Within days, SRAC spokesman Haroun Medeikher announced the BGF would refuse to allow its integration, saying the decision was “ill-considered and unwise” and had been taken without consulting the BGF leadership (Radio Dabanga, July 23, 2017).

On news of the refusal, one of Hilal’s old opponents, Abd al-Wahid al-Nur (leader of the largely Fur SLM-AW), used radio to reach out to the Arab militia leader, stating that while Musa Hilal’s “awakening conscience may be belated,” it was “time for all the Sudanese people to stand united against the regime” (Radio Afia Darfur, via Sudan Tribune, August 20, 2017). Abd al-Wahid has always been the rebel commander most likely to seek terms with Darfur’s Arab community, recognizing the symbiotic relationship between pastoralists and farmers as well as the existence of a common enemy in the Khartoum regime.

Hilal has also stepped up his anti-government rhetoric, urging his tribesmen not to volunteer for the SAF’s campaign in Yemen, claiming Vice-President Abd al-Rahman and General Daglo have stolen millions of dollars given to Sudan by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in return for their participation in the intervention against the Zaydi Shiite Houthis in Yemen’s ongoing civil war (al-Jazeera, September 10, 2017).

Turmoil on the Libyan Border

On September 22, 2017 the RSF claimed to have killed 17 human traffickers a day earlier with a loss of two RSF men. The encounter took place in the Jabal ‘Uwaynat region where the Sudanese, Libyan and Egyptian borders meet. [8] An RSF field commander, Lieutenant Colonel Hassan Abdallah, described the intercepted group as “the largest armed gang operating in human trafficking and illegal immigration” on the Libyan-Sudanese border. The RSF also claimed to have detained 48 illegal migrants being shipped to Libya (Radio Dabanga, September 24, 2017).

A SRAC spokesman insisted those killed were SRAC members involved in trading but not trafficking, adding that the men had initially only been detained by the RSF, but were killed after three days of negotiations failed to reach an agreement on a ransom  (Radio Dabanga, September 25, 2017). One of those killed was a Hilal bodyguard, Sulayman Daoud. Leading SRAC member Ali Majok al-Momin counter-charged the RSF with “trading and smuggling vehicles over the borders with Chad and Libya” (Radio Dabanga, September 25, 2017).

The incident was not the first involving the RSF and SRAC on the Libyan border. Seven SRAC members, including leading member Omar Saga and Muhammad al-Rayes, another of Musa Hilal’s bodyguards, were arrested near the border by the RSF on their return from Libya on August 11, 2017.

Behind the RSF’s vigilance against Hilal supporters on the Libyan border is Khartoum’s fear that Hilal is establishing cross-border contacts with “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA – actually a strong coalition of militias under Haftar’s command that oppose the internationally recognized Libyan government in Tripoli). Hilal also has important ties to militarily powerful Chad, whose president, Idriss Déby Itno (a Zaghawa), is Hilal’s son-in-law. Further complicating matters for the government is the high probability that many Mahamid and other Arab members of the RSF could defect to the BGF in the event of a full-scale conflict between the two.

Musa Hilal reportedly sent 200 vehicles full of armed fighters to besiege the RSF camp until those RSF members involved in the September 22 killings were turned over to the BGF (Sudan Tribune, September 26, 2017). A battle between the BGF and the RSF was averted when the two sides agreed to third-party mediation. The process favored the BGF, with the RSF making concessions over control of the gold workings at Jabal Amer and handing over vehicles, military equipment and BGF members detained in the attack (Radio Dabanga, September 29, 2017).

SRAC claimed on October 7, 2017 that two columns of armed RSF Land Cruisers, one from Ayn Siro and one from Kabkabiya, had been sent to “punish Hilal” by defeating his forces and bringing him in to Khartoum “dead or alive” (Radio Dabanga, October 9, 2017; Sudan Tribune, October 8, 2017). The accusation was not new; Shaykh Musa has claimed for years that Khartoum is intent on his assassination.

Conclusion

According to SRAC spokesman Haroun Medeikhir, Musa Hilal met in August with BGF commanders and traditional leaders across Darfur to discuss what he termed Khartoum’s attempt to “dismantle the Arab tribes” (Sudan Tribune, August 14, 2017). Key to bringing the Arab tribes to heel would be disarmament. It was no surprise then that the tribes were alarmed when Vice-President Abd al-Rahman announced a new six-month campaign to disarm Darfur’s militias beginning on October 15.

The SAF and RSF are also taking over 11 military bases being abandoned by the United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). [9] The world’s second-largest peacekeeping force is in the first phase of a withdrawal prompted largely by international exhaustion with the complex Darfur issue and UNAMID’s annual budget of $1.35 billion. Khartoum, which never wanted the mission in the first place, began to push for an early UNAMID exit after the mission called for an investigation of the mass rape of 221 women and underage girls by SAF troops in the Fur village of Tabit in October 2014. [10] Khartoum maintains that Darfur has been stabilized and rebel fighters either expelled or neutralized.

Khartoum’s new effort to consolidate its power in Darfur raises renewed possibilities of an alliance of Arabs and non-Arabs against Khartoum, but the events of the last three decades have left a massive and deeply ingrained distrust between the two. Arab and non-Arab rebel groups in Darfur have toyed with the idea of an alliance against the center since 2007, when some Arab factions began to realize their international reputation had been irreversibly stained from manipulation by an insincere Khartoum regime that never had their interests in mind. [11] In addition, the services and development programs promised to the Arabs for their participation in the Janjaweed campaigns never materialized, leaving the Darfur Arabs no better off than they had been in 2003. Tension between the Darfur Arabs and the riverine Arab groups that control the government (the Ja’ailin, the Danagla and the Sha’iqiya) tend to bring out the strong prejudices that exist between the two Arab groups. The riverine Arabs regard the Darfur Abbala and Baqqara as backwards and “Africanized.” The Darfur Arabs, however, claim descent from the great Juhayna tribe of Arabia; some extremists seeking to shed the control of the riverine Arabs have described the latter as “half-caste Nubians.” [12]

Even Musa Hilal has at times demonstrated a broader understanding of Darfur’s ethnic make-up and the methods used by Khartoum to create and exploit racial and ethnic divisions. In 2008, Hilal told a gathering of Baqqara and Abbala tribal leaders that all Darfuris were “Africans” of mixed Arab and African origin who needed to work on restoring their traditionally cooperative social fabric. [13] In a private meeting with U.S. diplomats that followed, Hilal said “We found out that we have more in common with the Africans of Darfur than with these Nile Valley Arabs,” and even made a surprising recantation of the Arab supremacist philosophy he had followed for decades, suggesting that, based on their better education and moderation, “the Fur should lead” in Darfur, a return to the leadership structure of the old Fur Sultanate. [14]

Complete faith in Daglo’s loyalty does not exist in Khartoum, where conciliation is common when it is in the regime’s interests but indiscretions are never completely forgotten. In this case the issue is Daglo’s mutiny against the government in 2007 over RSF salaries, land and a dispute with Musa Hilal. Unable to assert its authority in Darfur and unwilling to see large numbers of armed Arabs join the rebels, the regime was forced to make major concessions to keep Daglo’s forces onside. When the salaries still went unpaid, Daglo threatened to storm Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. Money and arms eventually brought an end to the mutiny, but not the suspicion. [15]

While some Arabs and non-Arabs may discover they have a common enemy in Khartoum, they are still far from having common goals. In recent years, Khartoum has shown little interest in mediating disputes between Arab groups in Darfur that leave these groups weak, preoccupied and unable to unite against the center, especially at a time when budget cuts related to the loss of oil-rich South Sudan make it difficult for the regime to buy cooperation. The consequent environment of perpetual tension and suspicion does not bode well for the success of a campaign to seize the weapons of Darfur’s armed factions by force. In making the attempt the regime will encounter the consequences of its long-standing cynicism and duplicity on the Darfur file and a divide-and-rule policy that has left it with fewer friends in the region than when the rebellion and counter-insurgency began in 2003.

NOTES

  1. The term “Janjaweed,” which predates the counter-insurgency, was used colloquially in reference to armed bandits. The term was not used by the Arab militias themselves or the government.
  2. “Border Intelligence Brigade (Al Istikhbarat al Hudud) (AKA Border Guards)” Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment (HSBA), Small Arms Survey, Geneva, November 2010, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/facts-figures/sudan/darfur/armed-groups/saf-and-allied-forces/HSBA-Armed-Groups-Border-Guards.pdf
  3. Julie Flint, “Beyond ‘Janjaweed’: Understanding the Militias of Darfur,” Small Arms Survey, Geneva, 2009, fn.78, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/working-papers/HSBA-WP-17-Beyond-Janjaweed.pdf
  4. For the RSF, see, “Khartoum Struggles to Control its Controversial ‘Rapid Support Forces’,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor, May 30, 2014, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=852
  5. The SLM-MM is named for its Zaghawa commander, Minni Minawi (a.k.a. Sulayman Arcua Minawi). Like Hilal, Minawi joined the government in Khartoum from 2006 to 2010 as Senior Assistant to the President of the Sudan before returning to the rebellion in Darfur. Nimr Abd al-Rahman was captured by government forces in the battle and replaced as SLM-TC head by al-Hadi Idriss Yahya.
  6. See Jérôme Tubiana and Claudio Gramizzi, “Tubu Trouble: State and Statelessness in the Chad-Sudan-Libya Triangle,” Small Arms Survey, Geneva, 2017, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/working-papers/SAS-CAR-WP43-Chad-Sudan-Libya.pdf; “Rebel or Mercenary? A Profile of Chad’s General Mahamat Mahdi Ali,” Militant Leadership Monitor, September 7, 2017, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4010 .
  7. See Suliman Baldo, “Border Control from Hell: How the EU’s migration partnership legitimizes Sudan’s ‘militia state’,” Enough Project, April 2017, https://enoughproject.org/files/BorderControl_April2017_Enough_Finals.pdf
  8. For Jabal ‘Uwaynat and RSF activity in the area, see: “Jabal ‘Uwaynat: Mysterious Desert Mountain Becomes a Three-Border Security Flashpoint,” AIS Special Report, June 13, 2017, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=3930
  9. The UNAMID bases are located at Eid al-Fursan, Tullus, Muhajiriya, al-Malha, Mellit, Um Kedada, Abu Shouk, Zamzam, al-Tine, Habila and Foro Baranga.
  10. “Mass Rape in North Darfur: Sudanese Army Attacks against Civilians in Tabit,” Human Rights Watch, February 11, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/02/11/mass-rape-north-darfur/sudanese-army-attacks-against-civilians-tabit
  11. See Andrew McGregor: “Darfur’s Arabs Taking Arms against Khartoum,” Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies Commentary (November 2007), http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=559
  12. Julie Flint and Alex de Waal: Darfur: A New History of a Long War, Zed Books, London, 2008.
  13. “Iftar with the ‘Janjaweed’,” U.S. Department of State Cable 08KHARTOUM1450_a, September 25, 2008, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08KHARTOUM1450_a.html
  14. Ibid.
  15. “Border Intelligence Brigade (Al Istikhbarat al Hudud) (AKA Border Guards)” Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment (HSBA), Small Arms Survey, Geneva, November 2010, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/facts-figures/sudan/darfur/armed-groups/saf-and-allied-forces/HSBA-Armed-Groups-Border-Guards.pdf; Julie Flint, op cit, 2009, pp.34-36, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/working-papers/HSBA-WP-17-Beyond-Janjaweed.pdf

Another Battle for Oil? Arab Tribes Clash in East Darfur

Andrew McGregor

AIS Tips and Trends: The African Security Report

June 30, 2015

East Darfur MapEast Darfur in Sudan

The conflict in Darfur continues to evolve in unforeseen ways due to government manipulation, arms proliferation, struggles over diminishing resources and seemingly unstoppable cycles of ethnic and tribal-based violence. In recent months the focus has shifted to a feud between two Arab tribes in East Darfur that has killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands. Clashes between the Ma’aliya and Rizayqat began in 1966 over disputed land and intensified after 2007, leading to massive attacks with heavy weapons in which civilians are routinely targeted:

  • In August 2013, fighting between the tribes killed 150 to 200 people and drove a further 51,000 from their homes (Sudan Tribune, August 31, 2014; Radio Dabanga, May 10, 2015).
  • UN figures indicated that more than 300 Ma’aliya and Rizayqat were killed in fighting around the Umm Rakubah area of the Abu Karinka district in August 2014. The fighting was sparked by the theft of Ma’aliya livestock blamed on the Rizayqat (Sudan Tribune, September 1, 2014). As Rizayqat attacks continued, all Ma’aliya representatives in East Darfur state institutions resigned, citing Rizayqat dominance of these institutions (Sudan Tribune, September 21, 2014). The Ma’aliya also protested what they claimed was the participation of several government paramilitaries on the Rizayqat side, including the Border Guards, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the Popular Defence Forces (PDF) and the Central Reserve Police (a.k.a. Abu Tira).The RSF, effectively a reorganization of the notorious “janjawid,” are led in the field by Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti,” a Rizayqat from the Mahariya branch of the northern Rizayqat of Darfur.[1]
  • The two tribes clashed near Abu Karinka on April 1 with the loss of 16 Rizayqat and four Ma’aliya after the alleged theft of 500 cattle from the Rizayqat and 600 sheep from the Rizayqat in the preceding days (Sudan Tribune, April 1, 2015).
  • In late April 2015, the Rizayqat accused the Ma’aliya of attacking them in al-Fado (roughly 35 kilometers north of al-Daein), killing 20 people while stealing 650 head of cattle. The region’s breakdown in authority was displayed when two policemen were killed during pursuit of the raiders (Radio Tamazuj, May 1, 2015).

East Darfur state is a relatively new creation, having been formed from territory formerly part of South Darfur in accordance with the 2012 Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD). The Ma’aliya, however, have officially boycotted participation in the new regional administration in response to the government’s failure to address attacks by Rizayqat gunmen, though a handful of Ma’ali individuals have agreed to participate as ministers and commissioners despite tribal opposition. One such is ‘Ali al-Sayid ‘Uthman Gasim, the state’s Minister of Social Affairs, who survived an assassination attempt by his one of his own relatives in mid-May (Radio Dabanga, May 14, 2015). The Ma’aliya are demanding the abolition of East Darfur state as a precondition to any peace agreement with the Rizayqat (Sudan Tribune, May 14, 2015).

Rizayqat Assault on Abu Karinka

After several days during which both Rizayqat and Ma’aliya gathered their forces around Abu Karinka, the two sides finally clashed in a violent struggle in the morning of May 11, 2015. Scores of people died, many when the Rizayqat attacked homes in Abu Karinka with missiles and other weapons. The Rizayqat “victory” may have been rather Pyrrhic, with heavy Rizayqat losses reported (Radio Dabanga, May 14, 2015). A Ma’aliya leader claimed the Rizayqat raiders used weapons and vehicles belonging to Border Guard units and the Rapid Support Forces (Radio Tamazuj, May 12, 2015).  A Ma’aliya tribal leader, ‘Ali Muhammad ‘Ali, said that government military identification cards had been found on some bodies, while tribal spokesman Yusuf Hamid insisted Border Guards units participated in the fighting (Radio Tamazuj, May 13, 2015). According to  the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), the generally ineffective “hybrid” UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, most of Abu Karinka was destroyed in the fighting, leaving a small number of civilians struggling to survive without power, food, water or fuel (Radio Tamazuj, May 15, 2015).

Following an emergency meeting of First Vice-President Bakri Hassan Saleh with Sudan’s intelligence director and the ministers of defense and the interior, a central government delegation was sent to El-Daien on May 12, but Rizayqat leaders refused to meet with it and a group of Rizayqat youth demanded the delegation leave the region within 24 hours (Sudan Tribune, May 12, 2015; June 2, 2015; Radio Tamazuj, May 28, 2015).

Mardas Guma’a, the speaker of the Ma’aliya Shura Council, complained that authorities had been notified by letter on May 7 that a Rizayqat attack on the Ma’aliya was imminent, but the government chose to supply government weapons such as “Dushka” machine guns (the Russian-designed DShK heavy machine gun), rockets and mortars to the Rizayqat militia. Guma’a singled out Sudanese second vice-president Hassabo Muhammad Abd al-Rahman (a Rizayqat) as a prime supporter of the Rizayqat militia (Sudan Tribune, May 14, 2015).

Shortly before the attack, Rizayqat deputy leader Mahmud Musa Madibbo accused the Ma’aliya of killing 11 Rizayqat tribesmen and stealing cattle during the February peace conference in Merowe. Madibbo further suggested that the Rizayqat were tired of government inactivity in restoring security in the region and were prepared to deal with the Ma’aliya themselves (Radio Tamazuj, May 11, 2015). Meanwhile, Ma’aliya tribal spokesman Yusuf Hamid declared that the Ma’aliya might turn to the International Criminal Court (ICC) if the government failed to implement justice in the region (Radio Tamazuj, May 18, 2015).

The Baqqara Arabs of Darfur

Baqqara 1Baqqara Arabs on their Seasonal Migration

The pastoral Arabs of Darfur generally fall into two main groups, defined by the type of herding each group does, either camels (the northern aballa group) or cattle (the southern baqqara group). In southern Darfur, cattle have long proved more resistant to local fly-borne diseases than camels, thus determining the type of herds. In recent years this division has become less clear, with more northern Arabs migrating south (including the aballa Rizayqat) due largely to changing environmental conditions and the opportunity to seize lands from non-Arab groups displaced by the conflict in Darfur. The search for useful pastureland has led the Arab groups into conflict with indigenous sedentary populations in southern Darfur as well as semi-nomadic baqqara tribes. The Arab tribes of East Darfur have a core population based in towns and villages while young men take the herds on seasonal migrations in search of good pastures.

In practice, despite the often elaborate claims to descent from the noblest tribes of the Arabian Peninsula, the baqqara Arabs of Darfur are often physically indistinguishable from their “non-Arab” neighbors after centuries of intermarriage.

The Ma’aliya, who compose roughly 40% of the population of East Darfur, are centered on the town of Adila. The Ma’aliya were also involved in clashes with the Hamar tribe in May 2014 in the vicinity of al-Geraf in East Darfur. The fighting, in which at least 20 Ma’aliya were killed, began when Ma’aliya members took offence when a Hamar tribesman entered their territory looking for his stolen cattle. The Hamar tribesman returned with armed companions and began killing Ma’aliya (Radio Tamazuj, May 25, 2014).

Baqqara MapThe center of the baqqara Rizayqat is in al-Daein, the largest town in East Darfur state. The baqqara Rizayqat have been ruled by chiefs from the powerful Madibbo family since the 19th century, when the famed Musa Madibbo led Rizayqat resistance to the Fur sultans based in al-Fashir, often evading the Sultan’s punitive expeditions by melting into the southern swampland of the Bahr al-Ghazal region until the Sultan’s army was compelled to return to the capital. Since independence, the baqqara Rizayqat’s traditional leadership has supported the Umma Party of Sadiq al-Mahdi, who was overthrown as president by Colonel Omar al-Bashir (now president and wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur) and the National Islamic Front of Hassan al-Turabi in 1989.

Negotiations

A July 2014 effort by Second Vice-President Hassabo Abd al-Rahman to mediate between the parties was aborted when the Ma’aliya rejected his mediation due to his membership in the Rizayqat. Emissaries of the latter claimed that certain Ma’aliya representatives were actually members of other tribes (Sudan Tribune, August 31, 2014). The Ma’aliya accuse the vice-president of allowing the violence to continue and point to the Rizayqat’s use of sophisticated weapons similar to government stocks (Sudan Tribune, June 2, 2015). The largely Zaghawa Justice and Equality Movement (JEM – one of the most important and capable of Darfur’s rebel groups) has described Hassabo as a “warlord” who had been appointed by the president to lead a racial war in Darfur (Sudan Tribune, April 1, 2014).

As the two groups entered a second set of negotiations in Merowe in February 2015 with the mediation of first vice-president Bakri Hassan Salih, their positions were summed up by a representative of the East Darfur Rizayqat; according to Muhammad Issa Aliu, the Rizayqat claimed the Ma’aliya did not own any land in the area so the position of nazir (paramount chief) should belong to the Rizayqat, while the Ma’aliya claimed to own land in the region and thus demanded retention of the post of nazir awarded in 2003 (Radio Tamazuj, February 26, 2015).

Though the final document produced at the Merowe conference called for the retention of a Ma’aliya nazir, it also declared that the Adila and Abu Karinka areas belonged to the Rizayqat. Unsurprisingly, the document was immediately rejected by the Ma’aliya, though there is little doubt that the Rizayqat would have done the same had the decision gone against them. The main stumbling block was over interpretation of local hawakir (traditional land grants – sing. hakura), a system of land distribution started by 17th century Fur Sultan Musa bin Sulayman and continued under the Anglo-Egyptian administration (1916 – 1956).[2]

Sources of the Rizayqat-Ma’aliya Conflict

One source of the conflict lies in East Darfur’s tribal leadership. Formerly, the Ma’aliya had been under the formal leadership of the Rizayqat nazir (established by the Anglo-Egyptian administration of the 1930s), but in 2003 the Khartoum government created a new independent nazir for the Ma’aliya, a move rejected by much of the Rizayqat leadership who regarded it as a means of reducing the influence of the Rizayqat traditional leadership and the Umma Party, [3]  particularly after the baqqara Rizayqat failed to respond to the government’s call for the formation of Arab militias (e.g., the “janjawid”) to combat the emerging rebellion of non-Arab tribes in Darfur (especially the Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit). Since then, however, government intelligence agents have used arms shipments and cash to encourage the development of a younger, alternative Arab leadership more amenable to Khartoum’s aims in the region.

The flow of arms to Darfur has increasingly been used to pursue Arab tribal agendas, even those involving competition with other Arab groups over access to water and pastureland. Arms proliferation in Darfur has reached the point that government security forces find themselves routinely outgunned by the feuding parties. The Ma’aliya, in particular, have complained that the absence of law enforcement is a contributing factor in the ongoing conflict (Sudan Tribune, June 1, 2015).

The discovery of oil in lands currently used by the Ma’aliya has naturally intensified the struggle over land ownership (Sudan Tribune, September 20, 2014). Ma’aliya chief Muhammad Ahmad al-Safi claims that compensation to local residents for environmental disruption has been unsatisfactory, while lack of employment opportunities in the oil fields has led to unrest amongst youth in the region (Gulfoilandgas.com, February 3, 2012).  The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and several smaller Arab firms are active in both exploration and production in Darfur. Despite enthusiastic estimates of massive reserves by Sudanese authorities (some five to fifteen billion barrels), these estimates appear to be exaggerated.

The Ma’aliya have also been involved in a bloody struggle with the Hamar tribe over ownership of the Zarga Um Hadid oil field in East Darfur, leading to a suspension in production in April 2014 (Radio Dabanga, April 6, 2014). The Khartoum government has become frustrated with the slow pace of oil exploration in Darfur and the interruptions created by local security issues. Having lost some 75% of its oil reserves with the separation of South Sudan in 2010, Khartoum is eager to replace fuel imports with local production that will also help finance government activities (Sudan Tribune, September 14, 2015).

Projections

The secretary-general of the Ansar (Mahdists, closely tied to the National Umma Party of Sadiq al-Mahdi), Abd al-Mahmud Abbo, asked in early June what has been achieved by the conflict in Darfur, “as ethnic hatred has spread throughout the region, resources have been destroyed, corruption has entered all levels of government and the door has been opened to foreign interference… neither the killer nor the slain know anymore why the killing occurred” (Radio Dabanga, June 3, 2015).

Khartoum may feel little need to intervene in the Rizayqat-Ma’aliya conflict and other tribal struggles over land and resources in Darfur. Many of the region’s Arabs are fed up with the Khartoum ruling class, which consists mostly of members of Sudan’s troika of powerful northern riverain Arab tribes; the Ja’alin, the Shaiqiya, and the Danagla. For the northern ruling group, the heavily Africanized baqqara Arabs are useful as agents of government policy but remain social inferiors unworthy of inclusion in any meaningful way in the central government. The mere fact that large-scale tribal battles continue to occur year-after-year in East Darfur does not speak to any commitment of resources by Khartoum, whose policy continues to be reactive rather than proactive. Rather, the government’s failure to address tribal rivalries in Darfur suggests that such conflicts aid in preventing the region’s baqqara Arabs from uniting against the center, or, even worse, allying themselves in large numbers with some of the region’s non-Arab rebel movements.

[1] The RSF comes under the direct authority of the National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS – Jihaz al-Amn al-Watani wa’l-Mukhabarat) and enjoys the patronage of Second Vice President Hassabo Muhammad Abd al-Rahman, a Rizayqat. For the RSF, see Andrew McGregor, “Khartoum Struggles to Control its Controversial ‘Rapid Support Forces’,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor, May 30, 2014, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=852

[2] Mahmood Mamdani: Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror, Crown/Archetype, May 25, 2010, pp. 115-118.  See also RS O’Fahey and J.L. Spaulding: Kingdoms of the Sudan, Methuen, London, 1974, where the hakura is defined: “An hakura may be defined as an estate, comprising usually a number of villages, less often a group of nomads, granted by the sultan to a member of his family, a title-holder or a faqih [religious authority]” (p. 157).

[3] See Jérôme Tubiana, Victor Tanner and Musa Adam Abdul-Jalil: “Traditional Authorities’ Peacemaking Role in Darfur,” United States Institute of Peace, Washington DC, 2012, p.19, http://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/traditional%20authorities%20peacemaking%20role%20in%20darfur.pdf

 

Are Sudanese Arms Reaching Libyan Islamists through Kufra Oasis?

Andrew McGregor

From Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report

Aberfoyle International Security, April 2015

Once again, Khartoum has been accused of supplying arms and transport to Islamist militias in the ongoing struggle between rival Libyan pro-Islamist and pro-secular governments based in Tripoli and Tobruck respectively. The latest accusations by a spokesman for the Libyan army claim that Sudan sent a convoy of 70 trucks of ammunition and 60 SUVs carrying Misratan Islamist fighters through Darfur and across Libya’s southern border to take the strategic south-east Libyan desert community of Kufra  (Asharq al-Awsat, March 7, 2015). However, Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) spokesman Colonel al-Sawarmi Khalid Sa’ad insisted that foreign militants had no presence in Darfur while Egyptian military intelligence said it had no information regarding the passage of such a large convoy close to the border it shares with Libya and Sudan (Sudan Tribune, March 7, 2015; SUNA, March 7, 2015).

Kufra Oasis 1Kufra, the pre-colonial headquarters of the Libyan Sanusiya Order that led resistance to Italian, French and British imperialists, consists of a 50km by 20km basin containing a town and a half dozen oases. Sand seas on both sides of the basin force all traffic coming north from Sudan to pass through the region, giving it strategic importance. Kufra is inhabited mainly by local Tubu tribesmen and their rivals, the Zuwaya (or Zwai) Arabs that seized the region from the Teda Tubu in 1840. The two communities have clashed repeatedly since the collapse of the Qaddafi regime, requiring deployments of northern government-allied militias to restore order. In May 2014, Tubu leaders denied bringing Sudanese Tubu mercenaries north via the route to Kufra to help establish an ethnic-Tubu state in south-east Libya (al-Jazeera, May 9 2014).

Sudanese authorities have a special dislike of the new commander-in-chief of the Libyan National Army (LNA), General Khalifa Haftar, who is regarded in Khartoum as an agent of American influence in Libya due to his long-standing ties to the CIA and as an enemy of the Islamist movement due to his close relationship with Egyptian president Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi, whose hard-line on the Egyptian Brotherhood has led to the loss of hundreds of lives. Haftar has likewise accused Sudan (along with Chad and Egypt) of infiltrating armed Islamists into Libya and has expressed his dislike of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir (Washington Post, May 21, 2014).

Kufra Oasis 2Jabal Uwaynat: Where Three Borders Meet

LNA officials have made it clear they regard they regard the Sudanese regime as one dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and thus ready to aid the Muslim Brotherhood elements based in Benghazi (the Sudanese regime is in many ways a collaborative effort between the Sudanese military and various Islamist factions, including some former and current members of Sudan’s independent branch of the Brotherhood, popularly known in Sudan as the Ikhwan [brothers]). In response, Khartoum has emphasized the indigenous nature of its own Islamist movement while distancing the regime from the Egyptian Brotherhood and its Gulf-state counterparts. The Haftar-aligned commander of the Libyan Air Force, Brigadier General Saqr Jeroshi, is a major proponent of the Sudanese arms to Libyan Islamists scenario, describing it as a “hellish” scheme overseen by Ahmed al-Zaway, a Libyan Muslim Brother with alleged tribal links in the Sudan (Sudan Tribune, September 7, 2014).

In June 2014, Khartoum declined to comment on reports the Sudanese capital had been visited by veteran jihadist Abd al-Hakim Belhaj, the Tripoli-based leader of the Libyan al-Watan Party. These reports were soon followed by accusations from Haftar’s LNA that Sudan was using its air force to deliver Qatari arms to Belhaj’s fighters (Youm al-Sabaa [Cairo], June 6; Sudan Tribune, June 6, 2014).

Libyan authorities were reported to have seized a Sudanese military plane carrying ammunition during a refuelling stop in Kufra on the way to Tripoli’s Matiga Airport in September 2014, a story that originated with a Haftar-supported Libyan satellite TV channel and soon gained currency in government quarters, with LNA spokesmen going on to accuse Khartoum violating Libya’s “national sovereignty” by flying military supplies to “terrorist groups” (al-Jazeeea, September 8, 2014). Sudan claimed the incident was a “misunderstanding,” saying that the plane had only carried equipment needed by the joint Libyan-Sudanese border force tasked with tackling cross-border smuggling and human trafficking. This explanation proved unacceptable and an international spat followed, with Sudan demanding an apology and the Libyan government reportedly expelling the Sudanese military attaché (Sudan Tribune, September 7, 2014).

However, Khartoum pointed out that no communications were received regarding this expulsion and noted that the attaché was in Khartoum at the time and had since returned to Tripoli. The Sudanese government further produced documentation and a recording of the plane’s radio exchange with the tower at Kufra Airport showing that the end destination of the flight was Kufra, not Tripoli. The story received a final blow when Lieutenant Sulayman Hamid Hassan, the Libyan commander of the joint Libyan-Sudanese border force, confirmed sending a request to Khartoum for “ammunition, arms, an ambulance, a water tanker and fuel” for the force and stated that the plane’s cargo had been unloaded in Kufra in the full view of local officials and national security personnel. These observations were confirmed by a letter from the Libyan Minister of Defence (Sudan Vision, September 28, 2014; Sudan Tribune, September 7, 2014). The joint border patrols were established by an August 9, 2012 bilateral protocol and play an important role in intercepting human-smuggling operations despite underfunding and political chaos in Libya.

After Qaddafi’s Libya used the Kufra to Darfur route to supply anti-Khartoum rebels of the Darfur-based Justice and Equality Movement (which nearly toppled the regime in 2006), Khartoum is wary of militants of any stripe using the traditional desert route to infiltrate the Sudan or supply Darfur-based insurgents. In the midst of Libya’s anti-Qaddafi rebellion, a Sudanese column was reported to have crossed into Libya to briefly seize Kufra and its nearby military base to secure its northern border (Telegraph, July 1, 2011).

The route passing from Sudan into Kufra has a history as an arms conduit, being used in World War One in largely unsuccessful attempts to supply the Sultan of Darfur in his battle against the British-led Egyptian Army, and again in World War Two, when the route was heavily used by the British-led Sudan Defence Force (SDF) to supply the Free French garrison in Kufra after the French combined with the British Long-Range Desert Group (LRDG) to expel the Italian garrison in 1941. [1] Besides commercial traffic, the route is now most commonly used by smugglers and human-traffickers shipping refugees to the Libyan coast for onward transport to Europe. In the meantime, while unverified reports abound of Sudanese arms shipments to Libya’s Islamists, most of these claims appear to originate with Khalifa Haftar’s LNA, no friends of the Bashir regime in Khartoum.

Note

  1. For SDF activities on the route in WWII, see “The Kufra Convoys,” http://www.fjexpeditions.com/frameset/convoys.htm

UNAMID to Shut Down Peacekeeping Operations in Darfur as Khartoum Expands Oil Exploration: What Now?

Andrew McGregor

From Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report

Aberfoyle International Security, April 2015

unamid 1With plans to boost production in its hard-pressed oil sector, Sudan is looking to establish full control over northern Darfur, where new exploration and drilling projects are planned to help replace the oil production lost in the 2010 separation of oil-rich South Sudan, which represented nearly 75% of Sudan’s pre-separation output. There are hopes for new development in northern Darfur’s Block 12A concession, worked by Saudi Arabia’s al-Qahtani company, and Block 14, where South Africa’s PetroSA has engaged in exploration work in the desolate regions near Sudan’s northern borders with Libya and Egypt (Middle East Eye, March 20, 2015). The Sudanese Ministry of Oil also expects to bring new wells in eastern Darfur’s Abu Karinka region into production later this year (Radio Dabanga, February 17, 2015). As continued rebel activity in Darfur threatens new government revenue streams, Khartoum is eager to consolidate full control over the unsettled region and eliminate international meddling in what the regime considers an internal matter. To this end, Khartoum is seeking the withdrawal of the United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), a large, expensive and relatively ineffectual peacekeeping mission that the regime nonetheless regards as an irritant in its efforts to reshape Darfur’s ethnic composition.

A working group of Sudanese, United Nations and African Union representatives met on March 17 to begin drawing up a strategy for UNAMID’s eventual withdrawal from Darfur. [1]The group, acting under pressure from Khartoum for a speedy withdrawal, will present a report to the UN Security Council by the end of May.

UNAMID, self-described as a “joint hybrid” operation involving UN and African Union forces, conducts its affairs under a UN Charter Chapter VII mandate which allows for armed measures to protect civilians as well as “such action by air, sea or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.” [2]

Impetus for the withdrawal was provided by a late 2014 dispute between Khartoum and UNAMID over the latter’s demands for a transparent investigation into reports of mass-rape by Sudanese security forces in the town of Tabit. The UN claimed its own initial investigation was hampered by a massive military and police presence in the town focused on intimidating witnesses. In yet another display of the acrobatic approach to logic his regime has become famous for, President Omar Bashir claimed that the mass rapes proved “UNAMID has failed to protect civilians and [has] instead become protector to the rebels” (Sudan Tribune, December 1, 2014).  By February, Khartoum was demanding the complete withdrawal of UNAMID (Sudan Tribune, February 19, 2015).

After the Congo-based MONUSCO (see Congo article in this issue), UNAMID is the world’s second largest peacekeeping force with an annual budget in excess of $1.3 billion. The UN is not against at least making the forcer leaner and more effective – a recent internal review of UNAMID activities concluded that many of the units serving in the peacekeeping force were incompetent and should be sent home (Reuters, March 11, 2015).

The Rebellion Twelve Years On

Though the pace is slower, the rebellion in Darfur against the central government continues. The Sudan Liberation Movement faction led by Abd al-Wahid al-Nur (SLM-AW) claimed to have taken the SAF garrison at Rokoro in central Darfur on March 13, seizing large quantities of arms and war materiel after killing 58 militiamen and SAF personnel (Radio Dabanga, March 13, 2015). While raids of this type continue, the leadership of an ever-proliferating number of new rebel movements continue to flirt with the regime, accepting integration into government security forces at one moment, and deserting to resume rebellion in the next. Many of these acronym movements seek nothing more than favorable concessions and/or salaries from the central government in exchange for laying down arms. A long string of government settlements with these minor movements has done little to restore security in Darfur so long as the major non-signatory movements (such as the Zaghawa-led Justice and Equality Movement [JEM], the Sudan Liberation Army- Minni Minawi [SLA-MM – largely Zaghawa] and the SLA-AW [largely Fur]) cannot be enticed to reach an agreement with the regime in Khartoum, which is deeply distrusted by the major movements.

Three reports presented to the UN Security Council on March 18 by Hervé Ladsous, the UN under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, suggested that the security situation in Darfur is actually deteriorating due to “the ongoing Government of Sudan and the Rapid Support Forces’ military offensive.” [3]  Noting that government forces had weakened the rebel formations in Darfur, Ladsous also noted that this success had come at the cost of a rate of displacement that was now higher than at any previous time since the rebellion began in 2003 (Radio Dabanga, March 18, 2015). Meanwhile, security issues remain unaddressed, with government troops and militiamen continuing to commit gang-rapes of “non-Arab” women and girls across Darfur. While senior officers routinely maintain they are searching for the culprits, these searches apparently do not extend to government barracks.

An Epidemic of Tribal Warfare

Beyond the ongoing conflict between various rebel movements and government troops and/or allied militias (now in its 12th year), Darfur now finds itself caught up in a plague of tribal conflicts, often encouraged by local and central government authorities.

Arab Rizeigat and Fellata clashed in southern Darfur last year after Rizeigat tribesmen prevented Fellata (the Kanuri term by which members of the Fulani/Peul ethnic group are known in Darfur) livestock traders from crossing their lands (Radio Dabanga, October 1, 2014).

In recent weeks, dozens have been killed or wounded in clashes between the Fellata and the Salamat, a nomadic group claiming Arab heritage, many of whom were encouraged by Khartoum to migrate into Darfur from their homes in Chad and northeast Niger to occupy lands from which Black Africans had been expelled by the paramilitary Janjawid and elements of the Sudanese Army. As is often the case, the spark behind the conflict was relatively trivial (the theft of some cows, not an unknown occurrence in Darfur), but the proliferation of modern firearms in the highly racialized atmosphere promoted by the regime of President Omar al-Bashir now tends to turn every minor conflict into a series of massacres and counter-massacres. Matters are complicated by a government-encouraged turn away from elders’ councils and other traditional and moderating forms of influence in the so-called “Arab” tribes of Darfur in favor of younger leaders eager to nourish more direct ties to Khartoum in return for arms, cash and the influence these commodities wield in their communities.

On March 26, the Darfur Bar Association summed up the dangers of this policy in a statement calling on authorities to cease the distribution of arms and its politicization of the tribal system:

By arming certain tribesmen, distributing military uniforms and four-wheel drive vehicles among them, and letting them assault, rob, and terrorize innocent civilians with impunity, the regime affirms that it has withdrawn its responsibility, and pushes the people to take up arms themselves in response (Radio Dabanga, March 26, 2015).

A recent conflict in East Darfur between the Ma’alia and the Rizeigat (both “Arab” groups – it is often difficult to visually distinguish between Darfur “Arabs” and “Black Africans”) that killed over 500 people and displaced another 55,0000 brought criticism of the inability of the tribes’ traditional leadership to end the conflict from President Bashir (Sudan Tribune, March 19, 2014), who conveniently overlooked his own government’s role in undermining the influence of the region’s traditional leaders. There are also serious clashes at the northern Darfur goldmines of Jabal Amir between the Rizeigat and the Arab Bani Hussein. Nearly 800 people were killed at the mines in early 2013 alone.

Escalating attacks by the “Arab” Ziyadiya against the indigenous Black African Berti in March began to look more like an attempt to eliminate the Berti rather than merely punish them for an alleged breach of a truce between the two groups earlier this year. Local and largely Ziyadiya units of the paramilitary Border Guards and the Central Reserve Force (popularly known as “Abu Tira”) have joined Ziyadiya tribesmen in large-scale attacks on Berti in the Melllit region, north of the Darfur capital of al-Fashir. A string of assaults by gunmen and paramilitary forces equipped with Russian-made 108mm DShK “Dushka machine guns and mortars culminated with the massacre of over 40 civilians in villages near Mellit on March 28 (Radio Dabanga, March 22, 2015; March 29, 2015). The raids, which killed over 80 Berti in March alone, have been accompanied by widespread looting, rustling and destruction of property.

unamid 2Osman Muhammad Yusuf Kibir

North Darfur governor Osman Muhammad Yusuf Kibir, a Berti member of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), has been accused by his rivals of using his office to strengthen the position of his own tribe and forming a Berti militia (Sudan Tribune, September 17, 2013).

Former Janjawid leader and arch-rival to Kibir, Shaykh Musa Hilal (an Umjallul/ Mahamid Arab and a member of parliament for the ruling National Congress Party [NCP – al-Mu’tamar al-Watani]), incited an Arab militia in-training with a 2013 speech describing the Berti as led by “a bastard slave” (i.e. Governor Kibir) and knowing “only how to cook watermelons” (Sudan Tribune, September 15, 2013). Hilal now poses as an opponent of the “corrupt regime” in Khartoum as the leader of al-Sahwa [Awakening] Revolutionary Council, which declared in late February that it would boycott this month’s elections (Radio Dabanga, January 13, 2015; February 25, 2015). It appears, however, that Musa Hilal’s main differences are with Governor Kibir rather than al-Bashir, who has traditionally acted as Hilal’s sponsor and guardian.

Nonetheless, a March 17 statement from al-Sahwa condemned Khartoum’s tribal policy in Darfur: “The regime still indulges in reckless policies towards this crisis in the country as it still incites and scatters the seeds of discord among the Arab and non-Arab tribes in Darfur” (Sudan Vision, March 19, 2015). Al-Sahwa controls territory and communities in the western part of Northern Darfur, where it has set up its own administrations.

The regime has tried to downplay the eruption of tribal violence in Darfur as a “normal” condition. In mid-March, Hassan Hamid Hassan, the Sudanese deputy ambassador to the UN, told the UN Security Council that “tribal violence in Darfur is as old as Darfur itself. We cannot condition the withdrawal, the exit of the [UNAMID] mission, on these phenomena which are as ancient as Darfur itself” (Reuters, March 17, 2015).

Conclusion

Some 770 UNAMID staff were scheduled to be cut from the mission’s strength by the end of March 2015, as part of a restructuring prior to eventual withdrawal (Radio Dabanga, March 1, 2015). General elections in Sudan on April 13 are fully expected to return the ruling NCP to power, providing it a self-confirmed mandate to restore order and expand economic development, even if it comes at the expense of the 2.5 million Darfuris who remain displaced. While UNAMID does not have much in the way of accomplishments to justify the loss of over 200 peacekeepers since it began operations, it has nevertheless provided the international community with eyes and ears in turbulent Darfur. The racialization of communities once known for cooperative and generally harmonious relations by the Arab-supremacists within the NCP government cannot be quickly undone, and with the proliferation of all types of small-arms in the region, growing ethnic and tribal conflicts now threaten to supplant the multi-headed rebellion as Darfur’s greatest security threat. UNAMID may be characterized as a costly failure, but its absence will still be deeply felt by Darfur’s civilian population, much of which can expect further displacement through government “pacification” campaigns led by ill-disciplined paramilitaries.

Khartoum Struggles to Control its Controversial “Rapid Support Forces”

Andrew McGregor

May 30, 2014

Since independence in 1956, Sudan’s central government has formed a habit of using tribal-based (usually Arab) militias and paramilitaries to squash regional rebellions.  Usually well-armed but poorly disciplined, these groups have operated under the light hand of various security agencies willing to ignore atrocities and war crimes to re-establish central government control. Now, however, this long-standing policy has begun to backfire on the Islamist-military regime in Khartoum, with the recently formed “counter-terrorist” Rapid Support Forces (RSF) begins to operate outside the control of government authorities, creating even greater resentment against the government in Sudan’s numerous regions of unrest.

Major General Abbas Abd al-Aziz Reviews RSF Fighters

The RSF commander is Major General Abbas Abd al-Aziz, a Ja’alin Arab from North Sudan and a trusted relative of President Omar al-Bashir as well as a senior member of the National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS – Jihaz al-Amn al-Watani wa’l-Mukhabarat), Sudan’s much-feared internal security organization, under whose command the RSF operates. His deputy and field commander is Muhammad Hamdan Daglo (a.k.a. Hemeti), a member of the Mahariya branch of the Northern Rizayqat of Darfur. The paramilitary of 5,000 to 6,000 men is believed to have the patronage of Sudanese Second Vice President Hassabo Muhammad Abd al-Rahman, a native of Darfur and the political secretary of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). The commander of the South Kordofan-based RSF-2, Colonel Hussein Jabr al-Dar, was killed in a mid-May battle with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army Northern Command (SPLM/A-NC) near the South Kordofan capital of Kadugli (Sudan Tribune, May 24; Radio Dabanga, May 26).

A common demand of much of Sudan’s armed and political opposition is the dissolution of the. The creation of a large, well-armed militia under its own command and officially tasked with “counter-terrorism” activities is an important step in entrenching itself within the larger national administration (Middle East Online, May 21).

According to General Abd al-Aziz, the RSF includes in its ranks retired and experienced military men as well as recruits from various parts of the country who receive four months of training before deployment on the battlefield, including lessons on international human rights and the rights of civilians in war zones (Sudan Vision, May 29; AFP, May 21). However, there is widespread concern that former members of Darfur’s notorious Janjaweed militias implicated in serious war crimes are being brought into more formal formations such as the Border Guards and RSF to shield them from prosecution.

The leading rebel movements still active in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army of Abd al-Wahid al-Nur (SLM/A-AW) and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army of Minni Minnawi (SLM/A-MM) urged the UN Security Council in April to launch an “immediate investigation of the recent escalation of genocide in Darfur by the Rapid Support Forces from February 28 this year to date” (Radio Dabanga, April 23).

NUP Leader Sadiq al-Mahdi

Two-time Sudanese president and current leader of the opposition National Umma Party (NUP) Sadiq al-Mahdi was detained and interrogated by national security prosecutors in mid-May after making public remarks critical of the RSF for its violence against civilians (the NUP has a significant power-base in Darfur) and its alleged inclusion of foreign (mostly Arab) fighters from the Central African Republic, Chad, Libya and Mali in its ranks. National Assembly speaker al-Fatih Izz al-Din even accused al-Mahdi of “treason,” saying the RSF deserved praise for its anti-insurgency operations (Radio Dabanga, May 15).  NISS charges against the former PM included “inciting the international community against Sudan” and “causing unrest among the regular troops.” Al-Mahdi responded with an allusion to President al-Bashir, noting that: “Speaking the truth is the best form of jihad when the sultan is unfair” (Radio Dabanga, May 14). It is worth noting that when al-Mahdi was in his second term as prime minister (1986-1989), he relied heavily on Baqqara (cattle-raising) Arab militias known as murahalin who committed numerous atrocities against South Sudanese Dinka tribesmen during the second civil war.

Malik Agar, chairman of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF – an umbrella group of armed opposition movements), denounced attempts to “muzzle” al-Mahdi, claiming that the RSF had “expanded their activities to the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and even North Kordofan’s al-Ubayd and its surroundings. They burn hundreds of villages and kill and displace thousands of Sudanese citizens, rape and kidnap hundreds of women and loot civilians’ property, for their systematic impoverishment” (Radio Dabanga, May 16).

Backed by field commander Muhammad Hamdan Daglo, General Abd al-Aziz held an angry press conference to respond to al-Mahdi’s charges and earlier allegations from United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) chief Muhammad ibn Chambas:

We didn’t loot. We didn’t burn any villages. We didn’t rape… It’s the rebels who are destroying water resources, burning villages and committing race-based killings. Then they try to put the blame on us (AFP, May 14).

The NISS director of operations, Major General Ali al-Nasih, insists that the RSF is a highly disciplined force and part of the NISS command structure: “More than 6,000 security personnel are distributed at petroleum sites, co-deployed with the armed forces at borders and co-working with police to protect the national capital and other major towns” (Sudan Vision, May 25). The general also maintains that the paramilitary engages in such activities as public health, environmental protection and food distribution.

General Abd al-Aziz has admitted that the RSF has committed some human rights violations, but described these incidents as “limited and individual” (Radio Dabanga, May 16). Such dissimulation has not impressed SPLM-N secretary-general Yasir Arman, who urged all Sudanese to “campaign against the RSF war criminals” at home and abroad: “The RSF troops are mercenaries, who do anything for material gains. This [absorption of the Janjaweed into the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF)] may tear Sudan apart by destroying the social fabric” (Radio Dabanga, May 14).

On May 19-20, heavy fighting broke out between police in the North Darfur capital of al-Fashir and Haras al-Hudud  (Border Guard) units allegedly supported by allied RSF members (both units draw heavily on former Janjaweed members) (Independent, May 20).  The paramilitaries, who are accused by local residents of looting, armed robbery, rape and drug trafficking, had clashed earlier with police in January 2013, killing two policemen, and again last April when Border Guards attempted to break into the Agricultural Bank in al-Fashir (Radio Dabanga, January 31, 2013; March 18, 2014). The former Janjaweed, who were once richly rewarded for targeting civilian populations in Darfur, have fallen victim to budget cuts forced by the separation of oil-rich South Sudan in 2011 and are eager to make up the difference at the expense of the residents of Darfur and Kordofan.  Using government-supplied arms to extort cash is nothing new to RSF field commander Muhammad Hamdan Daglo, who led a 2007 rebellion by Mahariya Border Guard irregulars demanding payment of back-wages. [1]

In late 2013, thousands of RSF recruits (mostly from Darfur) were shipped to the battlefields of South Kordofan, where they suffered heavy losses in fighting against SPLM/A-NC rebels. Subsequently, they were stationed in the North Kordofan capital of al-Ubayd. After various rampages and assaults on the local population (generally viewed as pro-government) were followed by massive protests against their presence, the RSF was ordered back to Darfur in February, where they immediately began attacking local villages and displacing tens of thousands of people (Sudan Tribune [Khartoum], February 26).  Unable to control the militia, the Sudanese government was reported to have paid the RSF $3 million to evacuate its forces from al-Ubayd (al-Taghyeer [Khartoum], February 13). In west Kordofan, repeated incidents of looting, assaults and sexual attacks by RSF personnel in 2013 led local people to rise up against the paramilitary, eventually receiving armed support against the RSF from the local SAF garrison in Kharasan (Radio Dabanga, February 26).

Under these conditions, the RSF was naturally as unwanted in Darfur as it was in Kordofan; a statement by a coalition of 12 Darfur civil society organizations condemned the praise heaped on the paramilitary by its commanders and patrons:

The RSF militias, under the command of the National Intelligence and Security Services, seemingly have been commended for the burning of hundreds of villages in South and North Darfur since February this year; for killing, wounding, raping, and looting the property of innocent civilians, and causing the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Darfuri people (Radio Dabangs, April 24).

On May 21, a pro-opposition news website claimed that “an informed source” had described a major clandestine airlift of RSF fighters to Libya in post-midnight flights from Khartoum Airport. Accompanied by Qatari-bought Sudanese-manufactured weapons, these RSF units were being sent to support hard-pressed Islamist forces in Libya in return for emergency financial support and oil shipments from Qatar and Libya respectively (Hurriyat Sudan, May 21). If this unconfirmed report is true, such a deployment may be more an effort to remove this unruly paramilitary from Sudan than a sincere effort to support Libya’s Islamists.

Note

1. “Border Intelligence Brigade (al-Istikhbarat al-Hudud, a.k.a. Border Guards), Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment (HSBA), Small Arms Survey, Geneva, November 2010, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/facts-figures/sudan/darfur/armed-groups/saf-and-allied-forces/HSBA-Armed-Groups-Border-Guards.pdf

This article was published in the May 30, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Keeping it in the Family: A Profile of Jibril Ibrahim, Leader of Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement

Andrew McGregor

May 30, 2014

Recent reports of military operations carried out in South Sudan’s northern borderlands by Darfur’s Ḥarakat al-Adl wa’l-Musawah (Justice and Equality Movement – JEM) have reinforced the movement’s reputation for mobility and political skills. Despite the loss of movement founder Khalil Ibrahim to an air attack in December 2011 and the subsequent loss of many of the group’s fighters following the controversial appointment of Khalil’s brother, Jibril Ibrahim, JEM remains a potent threat to the Khartoum regime.