Hemedti’s African tour BLAZES support for the RSF leader

  • RSF leader Hemedti has transformed his warlord image into a legitimate diplomatic figure.
  • Al – Burhan has been inactive and rather isolated diplomatically, facilitating the RSF leader’s ambitions.
  • The conflict between the RSF and the SAF has the potential to exacerbate the European refugee crisis if a cease fire is not achieved.
Russian Government / CC BY 4.0

Why is Hemedti’s heat level BLAZING?

Answer: Hemedti has turned his warlord image into a legitimised diplomatic figure.

Sudan is flooded with uncertainty as tensions rise between Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo since the end of the civilian government. The two are the Head of Government and leader of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), and Vice President and head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) respectively. 

Following the coup d’etat against Omar al-Bashir in 2019, supported by a once-loyal Hemedti as well as Al-Burhan, a Transitional Sovereignty Council was formed with the objective of establishing a civil democratic government. Al-Burhan and Hemedti became Chairman and Deputy Chairman, but in 2021, Hemedti dissolved the transitional council through a coup and reinstated it as a military junta. 

December 2022 marked the beginning of the demilitarisation of the government with the signing of a framework agreement. Said agreement stipulated that a civilian head of state would also be chief of the SAF and the RSF, which meant Hemedti would have to relinquish his power over the RSF. In April 2023, the failure to reach an understanding on the merger of the armed forces escalated into the deployment of the RSF in Sudanese cities starting in Khartoum, controlling a wide part of the West of the country, and subsequently causing armed clashes.

Since the escalation of the conflict, Hemedti had gone under the radar until late December, when he embarked on his African tour. Starting in Uganda, he visited the heads of government of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, South Africa and Rwanda over the last week of 2023 and the first of 2024, and was welcomed with complicity. 

According to Hemedti, his agenda was aimed at the restoration of peace and democracy in Sudan, however, his strengthened public image and diplomatic ties suggest he was rather interested in positioning himself as the upcoming leader of the country.  

The RSF leader’s bolstered regional legitimacy and diplomatic ties have also been underpinned by his meeting with UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres. This meeting, put forward by Hemedti, was also aimed at the development of an action plan towards a cease fire and the consecution of peace. Notwithstanding the publicly reported intentions of the communication, Al-Burhan’s government reproached it and considered it a way to legitimise him and facilitate his endeavours.  

Even though initially his reputation as a warlord was against him, Hemedti has shifted his image and gained legitimacy, posing himself as an advocate for peace and Sudan’s future leader. 

Who is changing Hemedti’s heat level?

Answer: Despite Al-Burhan’s opposition, regional and domestic actors as IGAD, Taqaddum, and the UAE are allowing Hemedti to maintain the upper hand in the conflict.

Hemedti’s direct opposition is Al-Burhan, former ally and current counterpart in the conflict. The de facto leader is strongly critical of the war lord’s tour, as well as those of the leaders who welcomed him. The President’s disapproval led to the suspension of Sudan’s membership in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which came after the organisation invited Hemedti to a meeting. Al-Burhan perceived this as a violation of Sudanese sovereignty and a step in favour of his opponent. The same reproach was made to the UN envoy in Sudan after Al-Burhan’s rival met with Antonio Guterres. 

The IGAD had been the mediation block in the Sudanese conflict. They held an emergency meeting in early December to establish a date for face-to-face negotiation between Al-Burhan and Hemedti.  Set to take place in January, Al-Burhan refused to attend due to his adversary’s refusal to withdraw the RSF from Khartoum and other occupied cities.  He additionally cited Hemedti’s alleged war crimes to not negotiate. 

Another political group in Sudan led by former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok met with Hemedti to attempt to end the war.  Al-Burhan dismissed the coalition’s invitation according to Taqaddum, saying the meeting was a blow to Sudan’s sovereignty and an amplifier for Hemedti’s ambitions. 

Besides his diplomatic relations with neighbouring leaders and regional entities, Hemedti finds support in the UAE. The Gulf country supports the RSF financially, politically and militarily, putting a thorn in the SAF’s side. Moreover, the UAE is upholding and helping normalise Hemedti as a Sudanese statesman.

Hemedti is blazing not only due to his widespread recognition and support, but from the inaction of his opponent. Al-Burhan appears to have isolated himself diplomatically from both regional and domestic entities vying for peace in Sudan. Hemedti is stepping into that diplomatic void and gaining dominance. 

What is driving Hemedti?

Answer: Hemedti’s wants to establish the RSF as independent and non-transferrable so as to safeguard his warlordship and wealth.                                                                                                           

From his origins as a camel trader to his current warlordship and wealth, Hemedti has successfully climbed the power ladder through the development and later corrosion of political ties.

After joining the Janjaweed – considered the predecessor of the RSF – he was made leader of the Border Guards during the Darfur War by the then President Omar al Bashir. As the President’s right hand, he was put in command of the RSF when it was created in 2013 and carried out the repression of rebel groups in the Darfur region. 

Hemedti made a great fortune as head of the paramilitary by controlling numerous gold mines, the primary economic resource in Sudan. He eventually became the richest man in the country. This military and economic power enabled him to overthrow several of Sudan’s leaders in 2019, 2021 and in 2023, demonstrating his disloyalty and ambition.  

For this reason, the merger of Sudanese armed forces and democratic transition threatened Hemedti’s power. These processes were likely to diminish his unilateral independence and his control over gold resources. His efforts to legitimise himself as Sudan’s leader, therefore, stem from the desire to have uncorseted decision-making powers in the RSF. This power is only possible if Hemedti becomes sole head of state.

Moreover, being the legitimate head of state allows him to avoid charges for war crimes and the crimes against humanity that he is accused of. Former president Bashir was charged by the International Criminal Court for crimes committed by the paramilitaries during and after the Darfur War, during which Hemedti commanded said paramilitaries. Losing power to Al-Burhan would put him in the spotlight of international tribunals, which Al-Burhan has gained significant reason to refer him to, damaging Hemedti’s image, authority and economic power. 

What does this mean for you?

Answer: Thousands dead, millions displaced, and a possibly worsened European refugee crisis. 

The Sudanese confrontations expansion and continuity have had extensive implications regarding security within the country’s borders and the worsening of forced displacements. Since clashes intensified in April 2023, at least 12,000 people have been killed. Both belligerent groups, the SAF and the RSF, have been accused by the Human Rights Watch of causing high numbers of fatalities, perpetrating indiscriminate bombings, targeting activists, denying access and looting humanitarian supplies, and committing a wide range of abuses

Scarcity and malnutrition have also been a worrisome consequence of the war, and so is displacement. 10.7 million people have been forced to flee their homes, 9 million of them are internally displaced. Two thirds of said displacements have been encompassed in the months since the war broke out in April. Forced migration is also threatening to affect Mediterranean states. If a cease-fire is not achieved, a migratory wave is expected to cross towards Europe, amounting to the persistent refugee crisis in the continent

Cova Moreno

Writer & Editor