One of the country’s most controversial military figures, Dagalo is now the interim vice president and holds real power in a country mired in chaos since the ousting of his mentor and Sudan’s long-standing ruler, Omar al Bashir, in April.
As Sudan’s political crisis has become more and more entangled after the toppling of its longest-serving ruler Omar al Bashir on April 11, one of his proteges, General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, is now calling the shots.
Sudan’s Transitional Military Council (TMC) is officially run by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan. However, as far as power is concerned, many say that Dagalo, also known as Hemeti, is the top authority.
Bashir, the seventh president of Sudan, who had come to power via a coup in 1989, was deposed with a coup amidst mass protests. Ever since Bashir’s departure, the country has been run by the TMC, which is holding intense negotiations with the Freedom and Change Forces (FCF), an umbrella organisation of protesters.
The TMC and civilian leaders have been trying to come to terms over how to rule the country, but the talks have so far failed. At least 118 civilians were killed during the quashing of the protests. Pro-democracy activists have remained on the streets, demanding that the military relinquish control and ensure that a genuine civilian government is formed.
While there are images of Hemeti dancing with supporters in Khartoum, making him look like a fun and easygoing person, the truth is more sinister.
Hemeti’s Darfur sins
Hemeti has been linked to mass rapes and killings in Darfur in the war that started in 2003, joining the Janjaweed militia, described as “an irregular pro-government force accused of committing genocide against the region’s non-Arab population,” according to the Telegraph.
According to a UN-appointed investigative body, Sudan’s government and the Hemeti-led Janjaweed militia has not committed genocide, but they have certainly been guilty of mass murders, torture, rape and other crimes in the Darfur region, creating the necessary conditions for a trial at the International Criminal Court for Hemeti and his top offcials
Earlier this month, on June 3, scores, maybe hundreds of people were shot, beaten and robbed by security forces called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which are tightly connected with Hemeti, in Khartoum. Residents have reportedly begun referring to them as the Janjaweed, evoking the terror of the 2000s.
Hemeti does not appreciate the label. “Janjaweed means a bandit who robs you on the road,” Hemeti is reported as telling the New York Times. “It’s just propaganda from the opposition.”
The New York Times puts the number of RSF at some 50,000, an impressive number of militants that Bashir had nurtured as a protective force. However, with Bashir now out of the picture, the RSF has grown to be a force to be reckoned with.
Hemeti also has close ties with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, the two Gulf states which fund and support autocratic regimes across the Middle East.
When Sudanese troops were fighting for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, Hemeti’s RSF and Burhan’s ground forces fought together and the two men bonded, according to a Foreign Policy report.
The two men also reportedly “had meetings with Emirati and Saudi officials” introducing themselves as the ideal Arab military leaders “who were not Islamists friendly with Qatar, Iran or the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.”
Foreign Policy also reported that the RSF “reportedly received Saudi and Emirati support, including money and weapons”.
Sudanese protesters are deeply suspicious of Saudi and Emirate offers of help, angrily rejecting a $3bn aid pledge. Many have even demanded that TMC sever ties with both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The two states back Sudan’s new rulers and have been more influential in Sudanese politics since the latest coup in April.