Salafists, Mercenaries and Body Snatchers: The War for Libya’s South

Andrew McGregor

April 6, 2018

Renewed fighting in southern Libya around the Kufra and Sabha oases demonstrates the difficulty of reaching anything more substantial than temporary and fragile political agreements in the region. The parties to the seemingly intractable conflict in the south include a range of legitimate and semi-legitimate actors – forces allied to Libya’s rival governments, self-appointed police and border security services – and illegitimate actors, such as foreign mercenaries, bandits, jihadists and traffickers.

Tubu Tribesmen in Sabha, southern Libya (Libyan Express)

The fact that membership of these groups often overlaps leads to heated clashes over turf and privileges that endanger the civilian population while inhibiting sorely-needed development initiatives. On March 13, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) warned that the build-up of armed forces in the south “risks further escalation” of the ongoing violence. [1] Tensions are so high at present that even the body of the 19th century head of the Sanusi order has been pulled into the struggle for the resource-rich deserts of southern Libya.

The Madkhali Infiltration

The Saudi-backed Madkhalist religious sect is the most prominent player in the Kufra and Sabha violence. A basic tenet of Madkhalism is respect for legitimate authority, the wali-al-amr.  This Salafist movement was first introduced to Libya by Mu’ammar Qaddafi to counter Libya’s more revolutionary Salafist groups. Madkhalist militias in Libya typically seek to control local policing duties, providing them a degree of immunity while enforcing Salafist interpretations of Shari’a that have little in common with traditional Libyan Islamic practice.

Rabi bin Hadi al-Madkhali

Although Saudi sect leader Rabi bin Hadi al-Madkhali issued a surprising declaration of support in 2016 for General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) in its fight against “the Muslim Brotherhood” (ie the Tripoli-based government), Libya’s Madkhalis do not appear to have a preferred allegiance in the rivalry between Tripoli’s Presidency Council/Government of National Accord (PC/GNA) and Haftar’s military coalition (Arabi21.com, September 21, 2016). Indeed, they appear to be covering their bases by supporting both rivals without coming into direct conflict with either.

The Madkhalis in Tripoli are represented by the Rada Special Deterence Force, led by Abd al-Rauf al-Kara. Nominally loyal to the PC/GNA but operating largely independently of government control, they act as a self-appointed police force complete with private jails reputed to be dens of torture (Middleeasteye.net, January 15).

Meanwhile the growing Madkhali armed presence in Benghazi appears to be meeting resistance. The January 25 twin car-bombing that killed 41 people in Benghazi, including LNA commander Ahmad al-Fitouri, appears to have targeted the Baya’at al-Radwan mosque frequented by Madkhalist militia members (Libya Herald, January 23). The Madkhalists also dominate the 604th Infantry Battalion in Misrata (Libya Tribune, November 4, 2017).

Body-Snatching at Kufra Oasis

A combination of fresh water and nearly impassable desert depressions on three sides makes southeast Libya’s remote Kufra Oasis an inevitable stop for cross desert convoys or caravans. Some 1,500 km from the Libyan coast, Kufra is now a major stop for the flow of illegal migrants that Kufra mayor Muftah Khalil says is overwhelming local security services (Libya Observer, March 5). Since the 2011 Libyan Revolution, Kufra has several times erupted in tribal violence, usually pitting the Zuwaya Arabs against indigenous black semi-nomadic Tubu tribesmen, whose homeland stretches across southern Libya, northern Chad, northwestern Sudan and northeastern Niger. There is long-standing friction between the two communities – the Zuwaya were only able to take possession of Kufra in 1840 by driving out the Tubu.

Sayyid Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Sanusi

Things have been heating up in the Kufra region in recent months, as Sudanese mercenaries clash with LNA forces and Subul al-Salam, a local Madkahlist militia affiliated with the LNA.  In the last days of 2017, Subul al-Salam attacked al-Taj (“The Crown”), a height overlooking the Kufra Oasis, destroying the funerary shrine of Sayyid Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Sanusi, who built a proto-Islamic state in the Sahara and Sahel from 1859 until his death in 1902, and stealing his body.

The emptied tomb of Sayyid Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Sanusi (Libya Observer)

A former representative for Kufra, al-Tawati al-Ayda, insisted that the vehicles used in the attack bore the insignia of the LNA. He also suggested the attack was inspired by the arrival in Kufra of Tripoli Madkhalist preacher Majdi Hafala (Libya Observer, January 2).

The Sanusi are a conservative Sufi religious order that grew into a powerful political and military organization in the 19th and early 20th centuries, resisting invasion by the French and later the Italians. Founded in Mecca by Muhammad al-Mahdi’s Algerian father in 1837, the order’s rapid growth after moving to Libya in 1843 attracted the attention of the Ottoman rulers of Libya and the movement moved south, out of Ottoman control, to the oasis of Jaghbub in 1856.

The conservative asceticism at the core of the movement had wide appeal in the desert communities and tribes. This was especially true in the southern oasis of Kufra, to which al-Mahdi moved the Sanusi headquarters in 1895. Using the trade routes that ran through Kufra, al-Mahdi introduced the commerce-friendly Sanusi brand of Islam to the Saharan and sub-Saharan interior of Africa. The Zuwaya Arabs of Kufra became adherents to the Sanusi tariqa, or path, and defenders of the Sanusi family. Today, the Zuwaya form the core of the Subul al-Salam militia responsible for the assault on al-Taj.

While they enjoyed more influence in Cyrenaïca than Tripolitania, the Sanusis eventually formed Libya’s post-Second World War pro-Western monarchy between 1951 and 1969.  There is some support in Cyrenaïca for the restoration of the exiled royals as a means of bringing rival government factions together. The current heir to the Libyan throne is Muhammad al-Sanusi, who has not pursued a claim to a revived Sanusi constitutional monarchy, but equally has done nothing to discourage discussions about it within Libya.

After overthrowing the Sanusi monarchy in 1969, Qaddafi began a campaign to malign the Sanusis as the embodiment of the inequities of the old regime and a challenge to the peculiar blend of socialism and Islam he propagated in his Green Book. Attitudes shaped by Qaddafist propaganda against the Sanusis still color the way the order is regarded by many modern Libyans.

The desecration at al-Taj was quickly denounced by the Presidency Council in Tripoli. The Dar al-Ifta (Fatwa House) run by Grand Mufti Sadiq al-Ghariani blamed the imported Madkhalilst trend: “Madkhalists are being sent to Libya by Saudi Arabia in order to destabilize the country and abort the revolution. These are all loyalists of Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled army in eastern Libya” (Libyan Express, January 2). Dar al-Ifta also used the incident to launch a broader attack on Libya’s Madkhalists, which it accused of detaining, torturing and murdering Islamic scholars and clerics who failed to fall into line with the Salafists sect (Libya Observer, January 2). The Madkhalis in turn accuse al-Ghariani of association with the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, and hence a follower of the late revolutionary Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Sayyid Qutb (executed in Egypt in 1966), the Madkhalis’ ideological arch-enemy.

Surprisingly, this is not the first time al-Mahdi’s corpse has gone missing – it was disinterred by unknown individuals in 2012 and reburied in a nearby cemetery, before relatives recovered it and returned it to the shrine at al-Taj (Libya Observer, December 30, 2017).

Operation Desert Rage

Chadian and Sudanese rebels driven from their homelands have turned mercenary in Libya to secure funding and build their arsenals. [2] Grand Mufti al-Ghariani has accused Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) of funding the recruitment of African mercenaries to occupy southern Libya on behalf of Haftar’s LNA (Libya Observer, March 13). In practice, the rebels have found employment from both the LNA and the PC/GNA government in Tripoli.

Sudanese fighters of Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) killed six members of the LNA’s 106 and 501 Brigades engaged in border security near Jaghbub Oasis on January 15. A seventh LNA soldier was abducted. The area was the site of an earlier clash in October 2016 between JEM and Kufra’s Subul al-Salam militia in which 13 JEM fighters were killed (Libya Herald, October 20, 2016).

Sudanese Forces at Jabal ‘Uwaynat (Libya Observer)

The LNA responded to the death of the border guards with “Operation Desert Rage,” which opened with January 20 airstrikes against what the LNA alleged were Sudanese and Chadian rebels near Rabyana Oasis, 150 km west of Kufra. Possibly involving Egyptian aircraft, the strikes caused “heavy losses” to a 15-vehicle convoy of “terrorists” (TchadConvergence, January 22). The Sudanese and Chadians had been prospecting for gold in the newly discovered deposits near Jabal ‘Uwaynat, the remote meeting point of Egypt, Libya and Sudan (Egypt Today, January 23). The commander of the LNA’s Kufra military zone, al-Mabruk al-Ghazwi, said patrols had been sent in every direction to prevent JEM fighters from escaping (Libya Observer, January 20).

Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) spokesman Brigadier Ahmad al-Shami confirmed the presence of Darfuri rebels working as mercenaries in Libya last summer, noting their greatest concentrations were at the oases of Kufra and Rabyana as well as the city of Zintan in Libya’s northwest (Libya Observer, July 20, 2017).

The ‘Invasion’ of Sabha

The Tubu, Awlad Sulayman Arabs and African mercenaries are also engaged in a new round of post-revolutionary fighting in Sabha, capital of Libya’s southwestern Fezzan region.

Following the 2011 revolution, the Awlad Sulayman took advantage of shifts in the local tribal power structure to take over Sabha’s security services and regional trafficking activities. This brought the Arab group into conflict with the Tubu and Tuareg, who traditionally controlled the cross-border smuggling routes. The result was open warfare in Sabha in 2012 and 2014. One of the leading Awlad Sulayman commanders at the time was Ahmad al-Utaybi, now commander of the Awlad Sulayman-dominated 6th Infantry Brigade.

In mid-February, Haftar announced his decision to join the 6th Brigade with the LNA, but al-Utaybi quickly declared his Brigade’s loyalty was to the defense ministry of the GNA government in Tripoli. Following al-Utaybi’s refusal to commit his forces to the LNA, Haftar announced his replacement as commander of the 6th Infantry Brigade with Brigadier Khalifa Abdul Hafiz Khalifa on February 25, though Khalifa has been unable to assume command (Al-Sharq al-Aswat, February 27). At the same time, the 6th Brigade came under heavy attack from alleged Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries working for Haftar. According to al-Utaybi: “The militias who attacked our locations wanted to take control of it and then seize the entire southern region because the fall of the Brigade means the fall of the security of the south” (Libya Observer, February 24).

Al-Utaybi claims that the fighting is not tribal-based, but is rather a clash between the 6th Brigade and groups loyal to Haftar, consisting largely of Tubu mercenaries from Chad, Niger and Sudan (Libyan Express, March 1; Libya Observer, March 2). [3] There are also claims that the conflict has much to do with the collapse of the Italian agreement with the southern tribes providing them with funding and development in return for suppression of migrant flows through Libya to Europe (Eyesonlibya.com, February 27).

Damage to Sabha Castle from shelling (Libya Observer)

The 6th Brigade was forced to withdraw into Sabha’s Italian colonial-era fortress. The historic building has been heavily damaged in this round of fighting, with the Libyan Antiquities Authority protesting that: “Those who do not wish us well are seeking to obliterate Libyan history and civilization” (Libya Observer, March 5). The fighting consists largely of artillery attacks on the fortress and ethnic neighborhoods, as well as sniping, assassinations and drive-by killings.

Sabha’s mayor, Hamid al-Khayali, insists that well-armed Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries flying the flags of “African countries” were taking advantage of the region’s insecurity: “This is an occupation of Libyan land. This is on the shoulders of all Libyans. The south is half-occupied and some Sabha areas are occupied by foreign forces from Sudan, Chad and other countries; why is the Libyan army silent about this?” (Libya Observer, February 25; Libyan Express, February 27).

The long-standing Arab suspicion of the Tubu was reflected in a Presidency Council statement in late February praising the 6th Brigade’s defense of Sabha against “mercenaries” intent on changing the south’s demographic structure from Arab-dominant to Tubu-dominant (Libya Observer, February 27).

Roadblock to Political Resolution

The abduction of Muhammad al-Mahdi’s body was, like earlier Salafist demolitions of Sufi shrines in coastal Libya, both a demonstration of Madkhali determination to reform Libya’s religious landscape and a provocation designed to reveal what real resistance, if any, exists to prevent further Madkhalist encroachments on Libyan society.

For now the Madkhalists are in ascendance and have made important, even unique, inroads in assuming control of various security services across the country, regardless of which political factions are locally dominant. Reliable salaries, superior weapons and a degree of legal immunity ensure a steady supply of recruits to the Madkhali militias.

However, the Madkhali rejection of democracy, and their indulgence in extra-judicial law enforcement and theological disputes with nearly every other form of Islamic observance, ensures their growing strength will inhibit any attempt to arrive at a democracy-based political solution in Libya.

Notes

[1] “UNSMIL statement on the ongoing violence in Sabha,” March 13, 2018, https://unsmil.unmissions.org/unsmil-statement-ongoing-violence-sabha

[2] The Chadian groups include the Front pour l’alternance et la concorde au Tchad (FACT), the Conseil du commandement militaire pour le salut de la République (CCMSR) and the Rassemblement des forces pour le changement (RFC). The Sudanese groups are all from Darfur, and include the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the Sudan Liberation Movement – Unity (SLM-Unity) and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army – Minni Minnawi (SLM/A-MM). The latter two attempted to return to Darfur in 2017 but were badly defeated by units of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

[3] Libyan Arabs commonly describe the Libyan Tubu as “foreigners” and “illegal immigrants” despite their historic presence in the region.

This article first appeared in the April 6, 2018 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

 

Musa Hilal: Darfur’s Most Wanted Man Loses Game of Dare with Khartoum… For Now

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report, December 12, 2017

Khartoum is using an Arab paramilitary under the direct command of President Omar al-Bashir to clean up resistance to its rule amongst Darfur’s northern Rizayqat Arabs, once the core of the notorious Janajaweed militias that wreaked havoc on the region’s non-Arab population in the 2000s.

Shaykh Musa Hilal (Sudan Tribune)

The campaign has included the violent arrest of Shaykh Musa Hilal Abdalla, a member of the Um Jalul clan of the Mahamid Arabs. 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). Once the leader of the Janjaweed, Hilal was arrested on November 26, 2017 by the government’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF – al-Quwat al-Da’m al-Sari) after spending the last few years building a fiefdom in northern Darfur funded by illegal gold mining. Hilal remains subject to travel and financial sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council in 2006 in connection to his leadership of the Janjaweed.

Also arrested in the RSF raid were Hilal’s sons Habib, Fathi and Abd al-Basit, three brothers and a number of aides. At the time of the RSF’s arrival in his hometown of Mistiriyha, Hilal was still receiving condolences from visitors after the death of his mother (Radio Dabanga, November 27, 2017).

RSF Commander Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti” (Anadolu Agency)

Commanding the RSF forces was Hilal’s cousin, Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti,” a member of the Mahariya branch of the northern Rizayqat and Hilal’s former Janjaweed deputy. Daglo is leading the government’s six-month disarmament campaign in Darfur, intended to confiscate weapons held by civilians, rebel groups and government-controlled militias such as the Popular Defense Forces (PDF) and the Central Reserve Police (CRP).

The clashes began when a RSF disarmament unit was ambushed near Mistiriyha, killing nine. Hilal’s men then attacked and killed RSF Brigadier Abd al-Rahim Gumma when he arrived to investigate the ambush (Sudan Tribune, November 27, 2017). The RSF has deployed 10,000 men and an armored regiment in North Darfur to deal with the threat posed by Hilal and his followers (Sudan Tribune, November 5, 2017).

Terrible conditions were described in Mistiriyha after the raid, with mass arrests of male residents, the flight of women and children to barren hills nearby without water or food and bodies left to decompose in the streets (Sudan Tribune, November 29, 2017). Government sources admitted the loss of between nine-to thirteen men with 35 others wounded (Sudan Tribune, November 29). Reports of heavy civilian losses were denied by General ‘Ali Muhammad Salim, who claimed only a single child was hit by a stray bullet (Sudan News Agency, November 29, 2017).

The list of weapons seized from Hilal’s forces included 25 “technicals” (Land Cruisers mounted with heavy machine guns), a SAM-9 anti-aircraft system and a variety of “Dushkas” (the Russian-made DShK 108mm machine gun) and other automatic weapons commonly found in the region (Sudan Tribune, December 5, 2017).

Daglo insisted the arrest of an Algerian with “sophisticated communications equipment” and several other foreign nationals at Mistiriyha confirmed “the participation of foreign parties in destabilizing the security [of] Darfur” (Radio Dabanga, November 27, 2017; November 30, 2017; AFP, November 27, 2017).

Hilal was the official commander of the government’s Border Guard Force (BGF), once a small camel-mounted unit that was greatly expanded as a means of absorbing former Janjaweed into more tightly controlled government structures. Hilal spent several years in Khartoum as a senior government advisor before a dispute with the regime led to his return to Darfur in 2014. To further his own personal and tribal agenda, Hilal began to transform the BGF into the Sudanese Revolutionary Awakening (Sahwa) Council (SRAC). Composed largely of members of Hilal’s Mahamid clan, SRAC began to drive over-stretched government forces from northwest Darfur and established administrations in the region’s major centers and at the artisanal gold fields of Jabal Amer.

RSF Officers after a Raid on the Gold Mines at Jabal Amer (Radio Dabanga)

The Defense Ministry announced its intention to integrate the BGF into the RSF under Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) command in July 2017. The decision was immediately opposed by Hilal, who had no intention of serving under his former Janjaweed lieutenant and tribal inferior, General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti.” [1]

A major quarrel broke out between Hilal and what he described as “these Nile Valley Arabs,” the Ja’ailin, Danagla and Sha’iqiya tribes that have controlled Sudan since independence. Hilal announced his refusal to cooperate with the government’s disarmament campaign and accused Daglo and his patron, Vice-President Hasabo Abd al-Rahman, of siphoning off millions of dollars intended for the Sudanese treasury in return for the deployment of RSF fighters in Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen (al-Jazeera, September 10, 2017). [2]

As commander of the Border Guards (part of the SAF), Musa Hilal was flown to Khartoum for questioning by military intelligence, to be followed by a military trial for turning Mistiriyha “into a hideout for fugitives and outlaws,” according to Minister of State for Defense General ‘Ali Muhammad Salim (AFP, November 29, 2017). Fifty Border Guards were taken prisoner, with 30 sent immediately to Khartoum and the remainder to follow (Sudan Tribune, November 30, 2017).

The Northern Rizayqat – Defections and More Arrests

Hilal’s detention followed the arrest earlier in November of former Border Guards Lieutenant Colonel ‘Ali Abdullah Rizqallah “Savanna.” Rizqallah (Mahamid clan of the Rizayqat) split from the Border Guards in August to form his own Sudan Army Movement – Revolutionary Forces (SAM-RF) after Khartoum declared its intention to merge the Border Guards into the RSF. The commander was arrested after two days of clashes with the RSF around Korma (12 km west of al-Fashir) and in the area south of Kutum (Radio Dabanga, November 10, 2017). Rizqallah was removed to Khartoum for questioning and may face charges carrying the death penalty (Anadolu Agency, November 12, 2017).

Lieutenant Colonel ‘Ali Abdullah Rizqallah “Savana” after his capture (Radio Dabanga)

The RSF claimed a week earlier that it had absorbed some 300 SAM-RF fighters after they defected from Rizqallah’s movement with their weapons and vehicles (Sudan Tribune, November 4, 2017; November 12, 2017; Radio Dabanga, November 5, 2017). Rizqallah is reported to have feuded with General Daglo’s Mahariya clan, responding to a 2016 ambush by Mahariya gunmen with an attack on the home of a Mahariya National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS) colonel and governor of East Darfur that killed two NISS agents. [3] More recently, the RSF claimed to have repelled a SAM-RF attack on the North Darfur city of Kutum (Sudan Tribune, November 4, 2017).

Three days after the RSF assault on Mistiriyha, Adam Khatir Yusuf, leader of the Awlad Eid clan of the Rizayqat, died in a medical facility belonging to Sudan’s security services. The tribal leader was wounded while in Mistiriyha to offer condolences to Musa Hilal and was seen in a poor and bloodied condition being taken off a plane in Khartoum. His family claimed that Adam Khatir died while undergoing torture by military intelligence (Radio Dabanga, November 29, 2017). RSF commander Daglo claimed Adam Khatir had deceived them regarding the possibility of acting as a mediator between the RSF and Hilal: “We thought he [could] serve as a good-faith mediator, but unfortunately we were surprised to see him carrying a gun and fighting with Musa Hilal” (Sudan Tribune, November 29, 2017).

On November 26, the RSF announced the capture of SRAC spokesman Harun Mahmud Madikheir south of Mistiriyha where he was reported to be on his way to Chad with his bodyguards (Radio Dabanga, November 27, 2017).

Government security forces have also raided camps for internally-displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur as part of the disarmament campaign. President al-Bashir (a Ja’alin Arab) has declared his intent to empty the camps over the objections of the UN and the African Union and Darfuri rebel groups claim the disarmament efforts are just a pretext to clear them of IDPs (AFP, November 21, 2017; Sudan Tribune, September 24, 2017).

Conclusion

Khartoum must still deal carefully with Hilal; there are many members of his Mahamid clan in the RSF who could turn against the government and he can describe the exact type and level of involvement of many leading Sudanese politicians and officials in the ethnic cleansing of Darfur. Al-Bashir himself is subject to International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants issued for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Hilal has been in contact with rebel movements looking to integrate Arab groups into the ongoing rebellion. The former Janjaweed leader may also be able to call on powerful friends beyond Darfur’s borders – Khartoum believes he has been in contact with the commander of Libya’s “Libyan National Army (LNA),” Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Hilal is as well the father-in-law of Chad’s Zaghawa president Idriss Déby Itno, a former foe of al-Bashir.

SLM/A-MM Rebel Commander Minni Minawi (Radio Dabanga)

Hilal’s arrest has also met with internal opposition. Old enemy Minni Minawi, leader of a largely Zaghawa rebel movement and current chairman of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebel coalition, denounced the government’s disarmament campaign for inciting a new round of violence in Darfur and called for the immediate release of Hilal and his sons.  He further described the alleged RSF killings of women and children in Mistiriyha as “a crime against humanity” (Sudan Tribune, November 29, 2017). The disarmament campaign has also been condemned as nothing but a new war in the name of disarmament by the Islamist opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP) and the still-influential Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) (Radio Dabanga, November 29, 2017).

In Sudan, prosecutions and detentions depend a great deal upon the importance of the individual to the regime’s tribal relations, his own connections to leading members of the regime, or his future value to the regime. Hilal was previously imprisoned in 2002 on charges of inciting ethnic violence, but was released the nest year when the regime needed a leader for  an Arab supremacist militia that would punish Darfur’s non-Arabs for their resistance to the government – the Janjaweed. With few political cards to play in Darfur and influence with the region’s Arab tribes in a state of decline, Khartoum is likely to hang on to Hilal as a potential future asset, however uncomfortable his stay may be made in the meantime.

NOTES

  1. For a detailed account of Musa Hilal’s resistance to the disarmament campaign and conflict with the RSF, see: Andrew McGregor, “Why the Janjaweed Legacy Prevents Khartoum from Disarming Darfur,” AIS Special Report, October 15, 2017, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4027
  2. For the RSF’s campaign in Yemen, see: Nicholas A. Heras, “Sudan’s Controversial Rapid Support Forces Bolster Saudi Efforts in Yemen,” Terrorism Monitor, October 27, 2017, https://jamestown.org/program/sudans-controversial-rapid-support-forces-bolsters-saudi-efforts-yemen/
  3. Jérôme Tubiana, “Remote-Control Breakdown: Sudanese Paramilitary Forces and Pro-Government Militias,” Small Arms Survey, May 4, 2017, http://www.css.ethz.ch/en/services/digital-library/articles/article.html/571cdc5a-4b5b-417e-bd22-edb0e3050428

The Unlikely Rebel: A Profile of Darfur’s Zaghawa Rebel Leader Minni Minawi

Andrew McGregor

December 8, 2017

The career of Sulayman Arcua Minawi (better known as “Minni Minawi”) is the story of how a primary school teacher in a remote corner of northern Africa parlayed an ability to read and write and a previously hidden penchant for ruthlessness into his appointment in October 2017 as chairman of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (RSF), a coalition of Sudan’s armed opposition movements. Though widely disliked and lacking any semblance of the charisma usually found in revolutionary leaders, Minawi has nonetheless survived nearly two decades as a rebel leader in the brutal and unforgiving conflict being played out in Darfur.

SLM/A-MM Leader Minni Minawi (Middle East Observer)

Early Career

Born in or near the North Darfur town of Kutum on December 12, 1968, Minawi is a member of the Ila Digen clan of the Wogi sub-group of the Zaghawa, a desert-dwelling ethnic group speaking a Nilo-Saharan language but with broad knowledge of Arabic and French.

Prior to the opening of the Darfur rebellion, Minawi was a primary school teacher with a secondary school education but no political or military experience. [1] He spent much of the 1990s away from Darfur working as a trader in neighboring countries and learned English in Nigeria before returning home in 2001. After joining a Zaghawa self-defense militia, Minawi’s literacy helped a rapid ascent to important administrative positions, though a strong dislike for intellectuals and resentment of more experienced individuals has characterized much of his career. [2]

The Zaghawa

The Zaghawa, who call themselves “Beri,” are found in some of the most inhospitable regions of northern Sudan, northern Chad and southern Libya. Estimates of their total numbers range from 225,000 to 450,000, making them a small minority in each region.

The traditionally nomadic Zaghawa, divided by colonial borders imposed in the early 20th century, belong to one of three sub-groups; the Zaghawa Kobé, mostly in northern Chad with smaller numbers in northern Darfur; the Bideyat (close to the Tubu ethnic group) who are also found on both sides of the border, and the Zaghawa Wogi, most of whom live in northern Darfur. Each of these sub-groups is in turn divided in to a number of clans with little political cohesion. The broad range of northern territory inhabited by the Zaghawa is known as “Dar Zaghawa,” the Zaghawa homeland.

An early recognition of the value of education and success in commerce at home and in Libya and the Gulf region have given the Darfur Zaghawa an influence disproportionate to their numbers in Sudan, a development that has led some Arabs and other non-Zaghawa groups to fear the Zaghawa seek to create a “Greater Dar Zaghawa” (Dar Zaghawa al-kubra) at their expense. The recent geographical dispersal of the group and the establishment of powerful Zaghawa-led armed groups have only fueled these suspicions. [3]

Chad’s president since 1990, Idriss Déby Itno, is a Zaghawa of the Bilia clan of the Bideyat group and has played an influential role in the Zaghawa rebellion in Darfur. Many of Déby’s inner circle, as well as the leaders of the armed opposition, are Bideyat. In December 2010, Déby dismissed his half-brother Timan as sultan of the Bilia and assumed the post himself (Jeune Afrique, December 27, 2010).

The Darfur Zaghawa became increasingly militarized by their participation in Chad’s civil conflict in the 1980s and by their creation of self-defense militias during clashes with government supported Arab groups in northern Darfur in the 1990s and early 2000s. Weapons were frequently made available by their kinsmen in the Chadian and Libyan militaries.

The Sudan Liberation Front

In June 2002, Minawi became a founding member of the short-lived Darfur Revolutionary Front (DLF) led by Abd al-Wahid al-Nur, a Fur lawyer and former member of both the Communist Party of Sudan and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), a largely but not exclusively southern-based revolutionary movement determined to break the hold of Sudan’s Arab riverine tribes (the Sha’iqiya, the Danagla and the Ja’aliyin) over Sudan’s central government. The group’s first military action occurred in February 2003 when it temporarily seized the town of Gulu in the mountainous Jabal Marra region, homeland of the Fur.

Shortly afterward, al-Nur changed the name of the DLF to the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), adopting the dual political-military structure of the SPLM/A. The movement was composed mainly by the non-Arab Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit groups.

The SLM/A transformed a minor rebellion in an obscure region to front-page news with a spectacularly effective April 25, 2003 assault on the military airport at al-Fashir, the Darfur capital. The operation was carried out jointly with the Zaghawa-led Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a group with Islamist sympathies and a national focus.

On the same day as the airport attack, the SLM/A engaged Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) troops in Minawi’s hometown of Kutum, where they seized four tanks. Further engagements in Zaghawa territory followed, with the late May destruction of an SAF battalion at Kutum, a mid-July attack on Tine in Dar Zaghawa that killed 250 troops, and the capture of Kutum on August 1, 2003. [4] The Zaghawa initially benefited from their familiarity with the highly mobile tactics employed in Chad but a strong government counter-offensive sent Minawi fleeing for safety in Libya. His attempts to control the rebellion from abroad led to dissent within his own movement. [5]

As secretary-general of the SLM/A, Minawi released the group’s manifesto on March 14, 2003. The “Political Declaration” of the SLM/A called for a secular and “united democratic Sudan” with “full acknowledgement of Sudan’s ethnic, cultural, social and political diversity. [6] The similarity of the declaration to the principles of John Garang’s SPLM/A was no coincidence, as the document was largely written by SPLM advisors. [7]

Minawi and the Formation of the SLM/A-MM

Minawi attempted to seize control of the SLM/A at the rebels’ October 2005 Haskanita Conference. Methods that included having opponents beaten led to a split in the movement, with Minawi leading what came to be known as the SLM/A-Minni Minawi (SLM/A-MM).

Fighters of the SLM/A-MM (AFP)

Minawi also began to clash with JEM, which accused him of partnering with Khartoum and Idriss Déby’s Zaghawa-dominated government in Chad to eliminate JEM in return for cash, a leadership role in Darfur and a sultanate for his Ila Digen sub-clan. [8] The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) was largely Zaghawa Kobé while Minawi’s SLM/A-MM was largely Zaghawa Wogi. By this time the conflict in Darfur was becoming intertwined with the struggle for power between various Zaghawa clans in Chad.

Abuja Agreement and Government Member

The turning point in Minawi’s career was his decision to become the lone rebel commander to sign the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA, also known as the “Abuja Agreement”) with the Khartoum government. When he signed the pact on May 5, 2006, he alienated not only other rebel commanders who refused to sign, but also many in his own movement.

Minawi, according to the agreement, was made special assistant to President Omar al-Bashir and chairperson of the Transitional Darfur Regional Authority on August 5, 2006. Many members of the SLM/A-MM began to abandon the movement for other rebel groups, reducing the movement mostly to members of Minawai’s Ila Digen clan. [9]

A month after signing the deal, Minawi returned to Darfur and began launching attacks on his former allies in the SLM/A-AW. Fifteen men of the latter group were kidnapped northwest of al-Fashir and were tortured by Minawi’s men for refusing to sign the peace agreement. Eleven were released and their signs of torture documented by AU peacekeepers. Among those held was the elderly Zaghawa humanitarian coordinator Sulayman Adam Jamous (Independent, June 7, 2006). As Minawi’s men began to gain a reputation for such excesses they became known to some Darfuris as “Janjaweed Two” (IRIN, August 4, 2006). The result was another wave of defections from Minawi’s movement, even including members of his Ila Digen clan. [10] Battlefield defeats followed, with the loss of many of the weapons supplied to Minawi’s fighters by the SAF.

In early July 2006, Minawi’s men were accused of mass murder and rape in the area around the town of Korma, with the attackers telling their victims they were being punished for opposing the DPA. The SLM/A-MM gunmen were allegedly supported by units of Janjaweed and the SAF. [11] Nonetheless, Minawi travelled to Washington for a meeting with President George W. Bush later that month (npr.org, July 28, 2006).

By September, there were reports of Zaghawa herdsmen attacking Fur villages supported by Minawi’s fighters. The attacks caused flight into IDP camps around AU bases where armed SLM/A-MM fighters extorted money and carried out kidnappings for ransom (IRIN, September 5, 2006). Representatives of the movement blamed UN reports of rape and executions on biased UN observers. [12]

While in Cairo in February 2009 for talks with President Mubarak and top Arab League officials, Minawi acknowledged the Abuja agreement had failed due to its failure to include all the rebel factions. Minawi also claimed to have asked for Egypt’s assistance as a mediator due to its knowledge of the Darfur situation, but his approach did not bear fruit (al-Ahram Weekly, February 19-25, 2009).

General Ismat Abd al-Rahman Zine al-Abdin

The tensions between Minawi’s men and government security forces led by General Ismat Abd al-Rahman Zine al-Abdin exploded on March 28, 2007, when clashes broke out between the Darfuris and security forces surrounding the SLMA/A-MM office in Omdurman, leaving at least eight of Minawi’s men and two policemen dead. Over 90 of Minawi’s followers were arrested in the incident, during which the movement claimed government forces tore down the SLM/A-MM flag and confiscated computers and documents (Sudan Tribune, March 25, 2007).

Despite friction with the Khartoum government, Minawi was still regarded abroad as sufficiently influential to be invited to Cairo by the Arab League in February 2009, where he participated in talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, intelligence chief Major General Umar Sulayman, Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi and Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit. During his visit, Minawi met with U.S. diplomatic officials. The U.S. officials were unimpressed with Minawi, concluding that he “did not appear to have a vision for the future of Darfur, and was vague about the future of peace talks, his role in Sudan, the future of the GOS, and even the opening of a SLA office in Cairo.” [13]

In January 2009, Minawi’s forces were driven out of the South Darfur town of Muhajariya by their JEM rivals. Minawi had taken the town (largely Birgid) from JEM in 2005, when it became the largest settlement under Minawi’s control. The SLM/A-MM had held the town through repeated attacks by Birgid, Tunjur and Janjaweed fighters. [14] JEM’s re-conquest was short-lived, as Birgid and SAF forces arrived to expel the town’s transplanted Zaghawa population (IRIN, January 28, 2009; al-Jazeera, January 24, 2009; BBC, February 5, 2009; Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2009).

Leaving the Government of Sudan

In an interview at his Khartoum residence with American law professor Rebecca Hamilton three years after signing the DPA, Minawi confided, “I can see the president any time I want. But he doesn’t trust me – and after three years here, I don’t trust him.” [15]

Despite the election of several SLM-MM members in the April 2010 general elections, Minawi was dropped from his position as fourth vice-president. [16] Minawi resigned from the government, moved to Juba (capital of South Sudan) and returned to the armed opposition. The GoS declared that Minawi was now “an enemy” of the Sudanese state and launched a new campaign against Zaghawa fighters and civilians in which Birgid and Tunjur militias were recruited and armed by the state. The campaign soon degenerated into a brutal tribal conflict with little political direction (al-Jazeera, December 13, 2010). [17]

The SLM/A-MM was not a signatory to the Qatar-sponsored Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), signed July 14, 2011 by the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM), a coalition of ten Darfur rebel movements. The agreement thus replicated the weakness of the earlier Abuja Agreement in not including all major rebel groups. Some Zaghawa Wogi abandoned the LJM to join Minawi’s movement or strike out on their own. [18]

By September 11, 2011, the SLM/A-MM was functioning as four separate units; one on the Sudan-Libya border, one in eastern Jabal Marra; one in northern Bahr al-Ghazal (South Sudan); and another in North Darfur. [19]

After his collaboration with the Khartoum government, Minawi had little credibility left in Darfur.  In the first months of 2014, a much-weakened SLM/A-MM came under heavy attacks from the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a restructuring of the notorious Janjaweed intended to bring the Arab militias under the control of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service. [20]

The SLM/A-MM Goes Mercenary

Under relentless pressure from the RSF and SAF, Minawi’s movement split, with one group heading south to take refuge in South Sudan while the greater part (like JEM) headed north to Libya’s southern Fezzan region. Arriving in March 2015, they began to operate as mercenaries, working for Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) or rival Islamist militias based in Misrata according to who offered more cash or arms. On this basis Minawi’s fighters took part in the LNA campaign to take control of the Sidra and Ras Lanuf oil terminals on Libya’s Mediterranean coast.

In a March 2016 interview, Minawi claimed Islamic State forces were hosted by the Khartoum government in Kutum and South Darfur, where extremists had allegedly gathered from Mali, Chad, Libya, Egypt and the Central African Republic (CAR). He went on to claim, without evidence, that the Sudanese government was responsible for terrorism in Libya and had a hand in the creation of the Islamic State, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda and the Islamic Séléka movement in the CAR. [21]

Return to Darfur

By early 2017, many of Minawi’s commanders and fighters were drifting back to Darfur, complaining that the movement’s leadership was withholding payments. The rest of the movement followed in May, intending to link up with the allied SLM/A-Transitional Council (SLM/A-TC, led by Nimr Abd al-Rahman) and SLM/A-MM fighters returning to Darfur from South Sudan. The rendezvous was intercepted by RSF and SAF forces in the Kutum region and a fierce four-day battle followed in which the rebels were defeated. Nimr Abd al-Rahman, SLM/A-MM chief-of-staff Major General Juma Mundi Issa and Minawi’s military spokesman, Ahmad Hussein Mustafa, were captured. Other prisoners were reported to have been immediately executed by the NISS but this was denied by the RSF (Radio Dabanga, May 23; Sudan Tribune, May 23; Sudan Tribune, May 24;  Anadolu Agency, May 23). The RSF claimed to have pursued the rebels along the upper Wadi Howar into Chad while others were reported to have fled towards Libya (Sudan Tribune, May 29; Radio Dabanga, May 21).

Kutum, Darfur

After the confrontation, Minawi declared: “The brutal regime of the National Congress (Party), as usual, mobilized the Rapid Support Forces militias in a desperate attempt to hit the SLM in its strongholds and impose peace through the barrel of the gun.” He added that a “cessation of hostilities” was required to contain the humanitarian disaster caused by the regime’s aggression on unarmed civilians” (Middle East Observer, May 28, 2017).

Undeterred, Minawi’s unlikely progress through rebel ranks continued with his surprising election as chairman of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF- Al-Jabhat al-Thawriyat al-Sudan) on October 13, 2017. The SRF was formed in November 2011 as a coalition of Sudanese rebel movements. It was essentially a response to the July 2011 independence of South Sudan, which compelled a realignment of the remaining Sudanese opposition groups, including two divisions of the SPLA that continued to operate in (north) Sudan.

Conclusion

The battlefield defeat in May constituted a major setback for Minawi’s efforts to re-establish himself as a force in Darfur. Minawi’s movement continues to have little appeal beyond his Zaghawa Wogi base and his past behavior works against building a multi-tribal movement or effective leadership of the SRF. In fact, the record of assassinations, looting, theft of livestock and rape associated with the SLM/A-MM has succeeded in alienating Darfur’s Zaghawa population from their neighbors, who now regard Zaghawa migration from the deteriorating environmental conditions of their northern homeland with suspicion and resentment.

Notes

  1. “Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minawi (SLA-MM),” Small Arms Survey, September 6, 2011, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/facts-figures/sudan/darfur/armed-groups/opposition/HSBA-Armed-Groups-SLA-MM.pdf
  2. Julie Flint, “Darfur’s Armed Movements,” in: Alex de Waal (ed.), War in Darfur and the Search for Peace, Harvard, 2007, p.110.
  3. Jerome Tubiana, “Land and Power: the Case of the Zaghawa,” African Arguments, May 28, 2008, http://africanarguments.org/2008/05/28/land-and-power-the-case-of-the-zaghawa/
  4. Robert O. Collins, “Disaster in Darfur,” in: Samuel Totten and Eric Markusen (eds), Genocide in Darfur: Investigating the Atrocities in the Sudan, Routledge, 2006, pp. 9-10.
  5. Julie Flint, op cit, pp.154-155.
  6. Salah M. Hassan and Carina E. Ray (eds), Darfur and the Crisis of Governance in Sudan: A Critical Reader, Cornell University Press, 2009, Appendix B.
  7. Julie Flint and Alex de Waal: Darfur: A New History of a Long War, London, 2008, p.91.
  8. Roland Marchal, “The Unseen Regional Implications of the Crisis in Darfur,” in: Alex de Waal (ed.), War in Darfur and the Search for Peace, Harvard, 2007, p.193.
  9. Abdul-Jabbar Fadul and Victor Tanner: “Darfur after Abuja: A View from the Ground,” in: Alex de Waal (ed.), War in Darfur and the Search for Peace, Harvard, 2007, p.289; Jerome Tubiana, “Land and Power: the Case of the Zaghawa,” African Arguments, May 28, 2008, http://africanarguments.org/2008/05/28/land-and-power-the-case-of-the-zaghawa/
  10. Julie Flint, op cit, p.160.
  11. “Korma: Yet more attacks on civilians,” Amnesty International, July 30, 2006, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr54/026/2006/en/
  12. Wikileaks: “Darfur: Update on Korma Attacks and Rape Allegations,” U.S. State Department Cable 06KHARTOUM, July 11, 2006, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06KHARTOUM1637_a.html
  13. Wikileaks: “Darfur Leader Minni Minawi’s Visit to Cairo,” U.S. State Department Cable 09CAIRO339, February 24, 2009, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/wikileaks-files/egypt-wikileaks-cables/8327046/DARFUR-LEADER-MINNI-MINAWIS-VISIT-TO-CAIRO.html
  14. Mutasim Bashir Ali Hadi, “Power-sharing in Southeast Darfur: Local Translations of an International Model,” in Travelling Models in African Conflict Management: Translating Technologies of Social Ordering, Brill, 2014, pp.131-33.
  15. Rebecca Hamilton: Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide, St. Martin’s Press, Feb 1, 2011, p.95.
  16. Small Arms Survey, op cit, September 6, 2011.
  17. A description of the conflict can be found in: Claudio Gramizzi and Jérôme Tubiana, “Forgotten Darfur: New Tactics and Old Players,” Small Arms Survey, 2012, p.15, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/working-papers/HSBA-WP-28-Forgotten-Darfur.pdf
  18. Ibid, p.15.
  19. Small Arms Survey, op cit, September 6, 2011.
  20. For the RSF, see: Andrew McGregor, “Khartoum Struggles to Control its Controversial “Rapid Support Forces,” Terrorism Monitor, May 30, 2014, https://jamestown.org/brief/briefs-43/
  21. Anadolu Agency Video, March 22, 2016, https://www.facebook.com/14310874716/videos/10154053104449717/

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/Army – Transitional Council (SLM/A-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) until June 2014 and then a commander in the SLM/A-TC, 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/A-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, https://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, https://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, https://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), https://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, https://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).