Sudan Protests: who is Hemeti?

Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary force, violently cracks down on protesters despite its initial support for protests against Omar al-Bashir. Their commander, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemeti, has long history of violence which started in Darfur with the beginning of the conflict there in 2003.

I am posting here a memo I wrote in 2007 while in Darfur giving some background on Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, where he is coming from and what he was up to at that time in the southern province of Darfur.

2007 : The appearance of a new Arab rebel movement in South Darfur State has dominated the security situation around Nyala Town during November and the first weeks of December. The group is led by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, a 32-year old native Darfurian from the Rezeigat, Maharya sub tribe, born in Kutum in North Darfur. Hamdan, the former commander of the Border Intelligence Forces (BIF) of South Darfur State, splintered from GoS after receiving a huge amount of supplies from the Government in the beginning of September 2007.

In an earlier stage, Hamdan would have allegedly offered the Government to rejoin but his alleged demands were unacceptable:

  • Mohammed Hamdan to be promoted Lieutenant General in the armed forces,
  • Appointing Umda Juma Dagalo – his uncle – Nazir of Rezeigat,
  • Appointing Abdulrahim Hamdan Dagalo – his brother – a commissioner,
  • Development of Um Al Garo area,
  • A billion pounds to be put in Mohammed Hamdan’s bank account and 500 million pounds to be delivered in cash to Abdulrahim Hamdan for the sake of the mobilized fighters.

Personal Profile

Before the conflict, Hamdan was working in business mainly in the trading of livestock to Libya, Chad, Egypt, and other neighbouring countries.

He stated that at the start of the conflict in Darfur in 2003, more than 3,000 heads of camels were looted on their way to Libya and more than 80 of his relatives abducted by the new rebel movement of the SLA, Minni group. He further elaborated on what he called “the mistakes of the rebels” in not only incorporating Arab tribes into the rebellion but targeting them on the basis of ethnicity even though they were not in power and had no relations with the government. Immediately after the above incident, he was approached and persuaded to join the Border Intelligence forces that were being organized to participate in the fight against the rebel movements.

The Sudan Revolutionary Front

Based in Kidneer (128 km northwest of Nyala), Hamdan claims to command a military strength of 7,000 rebels in South Darfur out of the group’s total of 20,000 rebels across the three States of Darfur. He further asserts that since the group splintered from the government, they have received over 5,000 new registrants/recruits. As witnessed by recent observers, the group is heavily equipped with logistical and communications equipment, and vehicles. The weaponry at the groups’ disposal during included Kalashnikovs, sniper rifles, RPGs, and at least 12 Toyota Land cruisers mounted with MGs, anti-tank guns, multiple rocket launchers, anti-aircraft rockets, utility trucks, and an assortment of heavy and medium weapons. It was also observed that the group has a good stock of communication equipment including Thurayas and handheld radios not seen before with other rebel groups operating in Darfur.

The SRF militia appears to be well disciplined, well organized, and fully equipped.

It is still unclear at the time if the group is part of the Sudan Revolutionary Front, created at the end of 2006 by Anwar Ahmed Khatir and Babikir Abakar Hamadi who are both from a sub tribe of Jellul, or if the group has just taken over this name.

Split of the SRF from the Government

The group had been planning to sever relations with the government for sometime and was waiting for an opportune moment to make the move. The reasons for their actions include: the failure of the government to honour earlier commitments to pay compensation for their fallen members; non payment of their salaries for several months; unfulfilled promises to undertake social and infrastructural development in nomadic areas such as the provision of health services, schools, water, veterinary services, the sharing of wealth and power, and other support to settle some of the nomadic communities. Furthermore, the group became suspicious of the government’s intentions in accepting the Hybrid Operation after it previously and categorically rejected any international involvement in the Darfur crisis. They felt the Hybrid may target them and they may become the scapegoats of the government.

According to different sources, the final end to the group’s relations with the government came during the government’s planned offensive in Haskanita in August 2007. The group placed conditions for their participation in the Haskanita offensive requesting additional logistics such as vehicles, weapons, communications equipment, money, spare parts, fuel, uniforms, winter clothing, etc. Moreover, they requested the government to honour its commitment to the group in terms of the above mentioned demands. The government provided all of these resources and immediately after acquiring them, ended relations with the government. Hamdan stated that since severing relations with the government, there has been heightened tension, fear, and anxiety amongst the civilian population and the security services over rumours of attacks.

Objectives of the New Movement and Future Plans

According to Hamdan, earlier unconfirmed reports of the group’s plan to attack Nyala were false as the group aims instead to focus its rebellion in areas such as Ed Daein, or the new locality of Bahr Al-Arab in the coming weeks. Their main objective is to unite all Arabs rebel movements in Darfur and force the government to let Darfurians decide their future. Furthermore, it seems that the new movement will organize a major conference to bring together all their supporters and other rebel factions to chart out their political agenda and manifesto. His future plans include gaining the support of other smaller Arab rebel groups led by Yassin Yusuf, Yusuf Ahmed, Musa Jadeyn, and Ibrahim Musa Sharif. Hamdan stated that he no longer wanted to target any more rebel groups and that all rebel groups and movements, as Darfurians, should work together to end the meddling of “the sons of the North.”

Memorandum of Understanding between the SRF and SLA/AW

The SRF is still in the preparatory stages for a large-scale political and military rebellion against the government.  On the political front, Hamdan showed a copy to different observers of a Memorandum of Understanding that his movement signed with Abdul Wahid’s political officers, Abdu Harran and Salah Hadeen. The MoU states that the two groups will cooperate to enhance the security in the areas under their control, provide unhindered access to civilian and humanitarian goods and services, and will work out the modalities for political and military unification. The group is already crossing each others’ locations and using each others’ facilities.

As confirmed by SLA/AW’s political officers, the MoU also assures the free movement of the two rebel groups in each others’ areas of control, the sharing of services, and a joint agreement to prevent attacks on civilians and the International Community in their areas of control. Despite the MoU, the new rebel movement remains a separate group but shares the SLA/AW’s objectives of fighting against the government and the marginalization of Darfurians.

The group also started contacts with JEM and is planning to close ranks with the SLA/Unity

Unconfirmed report would suggest a possible existence of cooperation between Hamdan and the United Revolutionary Forces Front (URFF) led by Alhadi Agabeldour and initially formed in 2005.

Implications of the New Movement on the Rezeigat

In the past, the government attempted to weaken the influence of the Nazir of the Rezeigat based in Ed Daein by establishing Bahr Al-Arab locality. The establishment of the new locality also aimed to appease other groups of the Rezeigat who contested the undisputed power and influence of the Nazir. The establishment of the SRF has forced the government to change its strategy and seek to rekindle and strengthen its relations with the Nazir to counter critical challenges posed by Hamdan in his threats of a rebellion against the government in Ed Daein and Bahr Al-Arab in the next 1-2 months.

With the majority of Aballa Rezeigat turning against the government inside and outside of the Rezeigat homeland and the threat by the SRF to steer rebellion, it is most likely that there could be confrontation between the Bagarra and Aballa of the Rezeigat. However, the leader of the SRF clearly stated that the Nazir and the leadership of the Rezeigat share their concerns and will not participate in an attack against his movement.

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