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Hemedti: From Camel herder to Sudan's de facto ruler

Hemedti commands RSF which has been accused of human rights abuses in Darfur and elsewhere

Mohammed Amin   | 29.07.2019
Hemedti: From Camel herder to Sudan's de facto ruler


Days after the ouster of long-serving President Omar al-Bashir, Lieutenant-General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo has emerged as the most powerful man in Sudan. 

Dagalo, better known by his nickname "Hemedti", is the vice-president of the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC), which took over from al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for three decades.

He also commands the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary force that has been accused of a myriad of human rights abuses in the western province of Darfur and elsewhere.

Born in Darfur in 1975, Hemedti hails from the Rizigat Arab tribe in the western province.

At the age of 15, he dropped out of school and worked as a camel herder between Sudan, Chad, Niger and Libya.

According to family sources, Hemedti formed an armed militia to protect his trade when violence broke out in Darfur in the 1990s.

He later joined the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), a militia that comprises allies of al-Bashir in his war against John Garang, the former leader of South Sudan's rebel movement SPLM.

Hemedti later joined the Janjaweed, a notorious militia accused of committing atrocities against civilians in Darfur.

In 2013, Hemedti was asked by al-Bashir to form the RSF, according to statements made by the former president in an earlier speech.

Polishing image

After al-Bashir's ouster, Hemedti initially refused to join the TMC, saying his forces "would continue to work to maintain Sudan's unity under the umbrella of the armed forces".

He, however, changed mind and joined the TMC as a deputy of the military council's head, army general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

Ever since, he became the public face of the ruling council, promoting himself as a strong leader, who can attract more regional and international support.

Although he repeatedly denied plans to run for presidency after the end of Sudan's 3-year transitional period, many believe that Hemedti is preparing himself to become the country's next president.

According to media reports, Hemedti has hired Canadian lobby group Dickens & Madson in a $6-million contract for polishing the image of his RSF.

Hemedti has also reportedly asked the EU to recognize the efforts of his forces in combating illegal migration to Europe through conflict-ridden Libya.

Since 2015, thousands of RSF fighters have been deployed in the desert along the Sudanese-Libyan borders as part of the “Khartoum process” designed by the EU to stop the flow of refugees to Europe.

"Hemedti is exerting huge efforts and money to polish his image and enhance the legitimacy of his forces and clear himself of accusations of committing crimes," Salah Aldoma, a Sudanese political analyst, told Anadolu Agency.

Opponents also accuse Hemedti of accumulating wealth and power by placing his hands on many sites in the gold-rich mining areas in Darfur.

Devil or savior

Protesters accuse Hemedti of ordering the dispersal of a major sit-in near the army headquarters in Khartoum, in which dozens of people were killed.

On Saturday, an investigation committee appointed by Sudan's prosecutor-general acquitted the TMC of ordering the sit-in dispersal.

It, however, said that eight rouge RSF officers have defied the orders and used teargas and live ammunition, causing the death and injury of protesters.

"I can't say who is the devil or the savior in Sudan because we are in the middle of a legal process, not speculations," Ismail Altaj, spokesman for the opposition Sudanese Professional Association, told Anadolu Agency.

"We demanded the formation of an independent committee to investigate these incidents, so we don’t recognize the results of this investigation committee," he said.

Power struggle

In recent weeks, the TMC arrested dozens of Islamists and members of the former ruling National Congress Party (NCP) for allegedly plotting a coup, including former First Vice-President Bakri Hassan Salih and Secretary-General of the Sudanese Islamic Movement Al-Zubair Mohamed Alhassan.

Sudanese researcher Mohamed Badawi believes that the RSF commander and Islamists are now in a "power struggle".

"Despite his former loyalty to al-Bashir, Hemedti has played a major role in his removal," Badawi, the director of Monitoring, Documentation and Researches Program in the African Center for Justice and Peace (ACJP), told Anadolu Agency.

"Now, his RSF is the only organized force that can confront the Islamists in Sudan," he said.

Badawi, however, said that "we shouldn’t forget that Hemedti is still an obstacle in front of the democratic transformation in the country".

Tariq Osman, a Sudanese political analyst, opines that the participation of Sudanese forces in the Saudi-led military campaign against Yemen's rebel Houthi group reflects badly on political stability in Sudan, particularly after al-Bashir's overthrow.

"RSF is exerting a lot of efforts in order to reposition itself regionally and internationally by strengthening its alliance with the Saudi-led coalition," he said.

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