In Sudan, the shadow of the all-powerful General Hemetti

They are recognizable by their sand-colored uniform and their Toyota or Land Cruiser pickups with red and green plates, topped with heavy machine guns and framed by RPG grenade launchers. They are well equipped, trained and known for their brutality. They inspire terror especially in Darfur, where they are accused of war crimes, but also in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, where they participated, on June 3, 2019, in the massacre of peaceful demonstrators. Since October 25, the date of the coup led by General Abdel Fattah Al-Bourhane, militiamen from the Rapid Support Forces (FSR) have been deployed across the country to quell protests.

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However, if these soldiers obey only one man, it is not the head of the army but General Mohammed Hamdan Daglo, better known as Hemetti. Under the reign of Omar Al-Bashir, the deposed president, this commander experienced a meteoric rise, until he became unavoidable, omnipresent. In fatigues or in costume, it is according to, General Daglo is both the leader of the most powerful paramilitary militia in the country, the vice-president of the sovereignty council since the fall of Al-Bashir, in April 2019 , and one of the richest men in Sudan.

Nothing predestined him to reach the top of the state. Coming from the Awlad Mansour, an Arab Rizeigat tribe who migrated from Chad to settle in western Sudan, he quickly left school to devote himself, like members of his family, to the camel trade. . It was there, in Darfur, that he cut his teeth. The region, historically marginalized by the central power, is the theater, from 2003, of an armed rebellion.

Praetorian Guard

Hemetti takes command of one of the Arab militias which support the regular army in its operation of repression and ethnic cleansing. Nicknamed janjaweed by the locals, these “horse demons” kill, rape, plunder and set fire to entire villages. This conflict, which left more than 300,000 dead and nearly 3 million displaced, resulted in Omar Al-Bachir being prosecuted for genocide by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2009.

In 2013, the Sudanese president found himself under pressure. Dissensions arise within the general staff and a wave of discontent agitates the population in the wake of the Arab revolutions. The executioners of Darfur come to put down the dispute in the streets of the capital. Hemetti – whose nickname is sometimes linked to the Arabic term “Hemayti”, which means “my protection” – is dubbed by Omar Al-Bachir, who makes his militia the praetorian guard of the regime. The janjaweed thus serve as a recruiting ground for the FSR, official, disciplined units under the leadership of the NISS, the intelligence services of the Islamist power.

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When, in April 2019, after five months of popular protest against the regime, tens of thousands of demonstrators began a sit-in in front of the army headquarters, Hemetti felt the tide. His men are involved in the arrest of Omar Al-Bashir, who is taken to Kober prison, in northern Khartoum, where he used to lock up his opponents. A transitional military council then takes the reins of the country, at the head of which already sit side by side Abdel Fattah Al-Bourhane and General Daglo.

On June 3, 2019, at dawn, armed soldiers, including the FSR, disperse in blood the peaceful rally which continued to express its rejection of the military in power. The repression turns into a massacre: 130 dead, hundreds injured and missing, dozens of people raped. But the mobilization in the streets of the country did not weaken, forcing the generals to sign a power-sharing agreement with a coalition of civilian parties in August and to set up the sovereignty council.

On October 25, 2021, the military dissolved this transitional body. General Daglo discreetly supports the coup. He asserts that it was necessary to “Correct the course of the revolution”, hijacked according to him by politicians, while hammering his “Attachment” to democratic transition. Some attribute presidential ambitions to him. Others believe he already holds the reins of the country.

Gold and alliances

Since the fall of Al-Bashir, the vice-president of the sovereignty council regularly swaps his military fatigues for the suit and tie, weaving, according to his visits to neighboring countries, a network of regional alliances. In Chad in particular, where his cousin Bichara Issa Djadallah was the private chief of staff of President Idriss Déby Itno. But especially in the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia. Seen from the Gulf, Hemetti is the providential man who can counter the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Khartoum. It has proven its usefulness by sending more than 10,000 mercenaries to fight the Houthi rebels in Yemen, alongside the Riyadh-led coalition.

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Hemetti relies on his family to extend his power. A week before the October 25 coup, one of his brothers, Abdul Rahim Daglo, traveled to Israel, to Tel Aviv, accompanied by the director of national defense industries. Since October 2020, Sudan has embarked on a timid process of normalizing its relations with the Jewish state, largely benefiting the generals, who seek to develop technological and security cooperation with Israel. Another of Hemetti’s brothers, Al-Goney Daglo, visited Russia. Moscow, which half-heartedly supports the military coup, acknowledged the presence of Russian private companies, affiliated with the Wagner militia, on Sudanese territory, participating in particular in securing mining facilities.

Hemetti built his empire on one mineral: gold. The FSR took control of many deposits across the country, notably those of Jebel Amir, in Darfur, becoming one of the main exporters of the precious metal, much of which is smuggled. Through the Al-Gunade company, run by Abdul Rahim Daglo, the family makes considerable profits. The youngest, Al-Goney Daglo, owns a technology and security company, GSK, as well as other Abu Dhabi-based firms. The financing of the militia is therefore totally beyond the control of the army or the government through a network of front companies, according to the NGO Global Witness.

The Daglo clan also takes care of its image. The FSRs have set up a specialized hospital and awareness and vaccination campaigns against Covid-19. The militia plants trees, distributes food, carries out campaigns to eradicate mosquitoes and sponsors schools and hospitals, especially in Darfur.

Thanks to their control of several banks across the country, FSRs allow many low-income households to access borrowing. “Hemetti manages to give himself the image of the one who helps the poor and the marginalized, in particular with small rural entrepreneurs”, explains Kholood Khair, analyst in Khartoum. To restore his image, Hemetti even offered the services of Ari Ben-Menashe, a former Israeli intelligence officer converted into lobbying.

Marriage of convenience

The communication operation also takes place online. Since 2019, dozens of Facebook or Twitter accounts linked to FSRs, often hosted in Saudi Arabia or the Emirates, have emerged, according to the American research laboratory Digital Forensic Research Lab. These pages contain the press releases of the FSR in copy and paste and praise its leader. More than 600 of them, accused of spreading “fake news”, were suspended by Facebook in September.

While the country has been ruled since its independence in 1956 by politicians and dictators from the Nile Valley, the influential Darfouri is a defender of marginalized regions. Hemetti was in the process of negotiating the Juba peace accords, in October 2020, with various rebel movements in Darfur in particular. This agreement confirmed the arrival in Khartoum of several rebel leaders, most of whom supported the October 25 putsch, believing that the transitional civilian government did not represent the diversity of the country.

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Today, General Daglo appears shoulder to shoulder with Abdel Fattah Al-Bourhane, “In the same trench”, in the words of the latter. However, this marriage of convenience could well be shattered in the longer term. Hemetti categorically refuses to integrate his troops into the regular army, which takes a dim view of the rise of this man, aged only 46, often mocked for his accent and his poor command of literary Arabic , who did not have any formal military training.

Their front alliance is motivated by a shared fear – of being blamed for their involvement in the massacre of June 3, 2019 and the crimes committed in Darfur – and of common interests – their preponderance in broad sectors of the economy. Two subjects on which the civilian representatives of the transitional authorities were becoming threatening: by promising to deliver Omar Al-Bachir to the ICC and to shed light on the atrocities of the massacre of June 3, 2019, or by trying to regain control of the companies close to the army, they have become enemies of the two leaders.

Today, Hemetti like Bourhane promise elections “Free” for July 2023. Is the first preparing for these deadlines? In any case, he tries to make people forget his bloodthirsty past and present himself as a respectable statesman. He denies any responsibility for the fate of more than 45 demonstrators killed since October 25. As investigations by human rights organizations overwhelming the militia leader multiply, he says he is the target of a “Demonization campaign”. In the processions that parade regularly in the streets of the country to denounce the stranglehold of the military, the population does not seem fooled. On the signs held up by the demonstrators, Hemetti is described as “The general of the blood”.

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In Sudan, the shadow of the all-powerful General Hemetti