Understanding the massacre of demonstrators in Sudan
The world is complicated, and the mass media won’t help you if you’re trying to understand much of what’s happening in it. I knew civilian demonstrators had overthrown longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir in Sudan, and that they were battling with the military forces that took over the government after al-Bashir fled. The situation gained background and three-dimensionality for me only after I read “Sudan: Behind the Massacre in Khartoum,” an article published 6-14-19 on the Crimethinc website.
Here’s my edited version of it:
In December 2018, massive protests and unrest organized by labor organizations and neighborhood committees across Sudan toppled longtime dictator Omar Al-Bashir. Utilizing ancient Nubian imagery and mythology, as well as contemporary slogans and tactics, the revolutionaries expressed a diverse groundswell of rage in their efforts to escape the ethnic and religious conflicts of the past two decades. After Al-Bashir fled office, riots, blockades, and protests continued against the Transitional Military Council that seized control of the government, promising to coordinate elections in 2020. In early 2019, paramilitary groups associated with the Council began to carry out fierce attacks on student protests in Khartoum, culminating in a massacre on June 3rdwhen they brutally evicted an occupation from Al-Qyada Square. In response, a general strike gripped much of Sudan from June 9thto 11th. Some revolutionaries have pledged to continue their fight from in hiding despite the violence from these nomadic paramilitary groups.
All around the world today, we see the same three-way conflicts. In the United States and the European Union, this takes the form of a contest between centrists like Emmanuel Macron and Hilary Clinton, far-right demagogues like Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump, and social movements for liberation. In North Africa and the Middle East, this often manifests as a struggle between dictators like Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, militant Islamist groups, and social movements seeking democracy and egalitarianism. Since we see our own struggle in the social movements in Sudan; we should learn all we can about the adversaries they’re facing and the processes that produced them. Many believe that the governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates are implicated in encouraging the bloodbath with which the current rulers of Sudan sought to put an end to the social movement that toppled Al-Bashir and occupied Al-Qyada Square, emphasizing the global stakes of the conflict. If the Sudanese demonstrators are crushed, the blow will resound throughout the Mideast and the world; if they survive and persist, they’ll give hope to millions.
The following text, translated and adapted from the Sudanese-French project Sudfa, explores the origins of the janjawids, the paramilitary force behind the massacre of June 3rd. In the process, it offers a chilling glimpse of how the border regimes we experience in the United States and European Union function on the other side of the global apparatus of repression, in the zones designated for resource extraction and the containment of the so-called surplus population. It also affords some insight into the conditions that produce the sort of mercenaries that can slaughter social movements; if we fail to address the needs of the disaffected and desperate populations displaced by war and neoliberal development, nationalists and other authoritarians will take advantage of them to advance their own agendas.
For more information: check out “Call for Solidarity with the Rebellious People of Sudan” at https://blackautonomynetwork.noblogs.org/post/2019/06/07/call-for-solidarity-with-the-rebellious-people-of-sudan/. This blog post presents a persuasive argument for why we should concern ourselves with the movement in Sudan and offers an array of informative resources. See “New Histories for an Uncharted Future in Sudan,” a blog post at africaisacountry.com, for some background on the protest movement. https://africasacountry.com/2019/05/new-histories-for-an-uncharted-future-in-sudan
The Janjawids in Power(the Sudfa text)
The janjawids are literally “men on horses with guns.” This phrase appeared in the 1980s, when pan-Arab partisans, expelled from Chad by US- and France-backed forces, fled into western Sudan to rebuild their movement and pursue the development of a pan-Arab movement in the region. In 2003, at the beginning of the war in Darfur, when the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) advanced on several cities provoking a massive inter-ethnic insurgency against the security forces, Omar Al-Bashir’s government called on these Arab tribes to halt the progress of the rebels. To this end, he armed groups of men from these tribes to control the region and fight the rebel forces.
As noted in the Wikipedia article on Darfur, “a famine in the mid-1980s disrupted many societal structures and led to the first significant modern fighting among Darfuris. A low-level conflict continued for the next fifteen years, with the government co-opting and arming Arab Janjaweed militias against its enemies, most of whom identify as black. The fighting reached a peak in 2003 with the beginning of the Darfur conflict, in which the resistance coalesced into a roughly cohesive rebel movement. By March 2014, human-rights groups and the UN had come to regard the conflict as a horrific humanitarian disaster, with 480,000 dead and over 2.8 million, many of them children, displaced. Nearly two-thirds of the population continues to struggle to survive in remote villages. Virtually no foreigners visit the region because of the fear of kidnapping, and only some non-governmental organizations continue to provide assistance. Since 2015 the UN has been in discussion with the government of Sudan over the withdrawal of UNAMID, the largest peacekeeping force in the world.”
The janjawids come from Arab tribes; many are from outside Sudan, mostly originating from Chad, Niger, and Mali. A recent video shows one of the participants explaining that he originally came from Chad, went to fight the war in Yemen, and is now at Khartoum to “liberate” the capital. Various testimonies from survivors of the massacre confirm this. The Sudanese people continue to call them “janjawids,” though this name is not recognized by the government. Their official name is “Rapid Support Forces” (RSF, or Rapid Aid Forces). Ordinary people have noted that the Janjaweed speak French, indicating that they are foreigners from West Africa (the Sudanese don’t speak French).
The government refuses to acknowledge that it was involved in the origin of the Rapid Support Forces. However, after 2008, it acknowledged the use of Rapid Support Forces in the “pacification” of the Darfur region, in order to “stop the chaos, protect the people, and protect the institutions.” In 2014, in a government effort to standardize these forces, they were attached to the powerful NISS (National Intelligence and Security Service). Thus, they’re officially a mobile paramilitary militia, associated with the national Security Service. This militia, predominantly coming from rural areas in the west of Sudan, has strong ties with Chad and the Sudanese government. For example, the Chadian president, Idriss Déby, married the daughter of Musa Hilal, the chief of the Janjawids at the time of the Darfur genocide in the 2000s.
Musa Hilal directed the special janjawid Border Intelligence Brigade in the north of Darfur, and in 2008, he was also the minister of Sudanese Federal Affairs. He’s the symbol of the atrocities committed in Darfur and is sought for his crimes by the International Criminal Court. These forces were known to be “ready, rapid, and brutal.”
The janjawids are from the Arab tribes of the region; for example, Musa Hilal comes from the Baggara tribe (an Arab tribe that raises cows, hence their name); Hemedti, a member of the Transitional Military Council tasked with overseeing new elections, comes from the Al-Abala, another Arab tribe that raises camels. Originally, the janjawid forces were created at Al-Misteriha, a city situated in the north of Darfur. These pastoral peoples have been in conflict with non-Arab farmers over land and other resources.
The janjawids have used rape as a weapon of war, systematically assaulting women during their attacks on villages. They burn houses and farms, and kill the men and children. They arrive on horses or in cars and raze a village in a few hours, with military planes and helicopters overseeing the operation. During these attacks, some survivors are able to flee, for example by following the wadis(streams) and hiding in nearby camps. They are often recaptured by groups waiting outside the villages. The displaced people end up in camps throughout the whole country, and in huge shantytowns surrounding the cities, where the Security Services and the janjawids continue to torment them.
The principal victims of the janjawids are the Fur population, as well as the Massalit, Zaghawa, and other darker-skinned tribes termed “African” or “non-Arab,” whose populations have been decimated and displaced. The Janjawids have been accused of genocide against these populations.
The janjawids are financed by the Sudanese government. They also control gold mines in the Darfur region, and during the Darfur war they stole money and goods as well as the livestock and harvests of the wealthier inhabitants. They attacked places for economic aims as well as to carry out ethnic cleansing: certain Fur populations with land and livestock were easy and profitable targets. The janjawids laid claim to land and houses, settling and occupying the zones they emptied. Disguised under the name RSF and acknowledged as a paramilitary force, the janjawids have also profited from the war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia pressured the Sudanese government to send troops to Yemen to participate in the war there. Janjawid troops were consequently deployed in Yemen and received money and arms from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Thanks to their military involvement in the conflict since 2016, their influence and power in Sudan have greatly increased. They’ve become better organized and many young people have joined them, in particular young people from Arab tribes.
The militia is able to recruit thanks to several factors, but chiefly because their salaries are relatively high and can offer a much-needed income stream for impoverished families. They recruit a large number of child soldiers by convincing families of this.
The demonstrators see those who lead and finance the Janjawids as wrongdoers who must be brought down like Al-Bashir. The government has thus launched an effort to change the image of the RSF in the media. They named a spokesperson and have attempted to present these forces as a regular national armed force. To this end, the janjawids were established in barracks and military camps in the big cities with the soldiers of the army. Upon returning from Yemen, members of the RSF said that children made up around 40% of the Sudanese troops. They often go on six-month missions, after which the men return to Sudan and participate in government missions. The children receive almost no training (about one and a half months of basic physical and arms training) before they are sent to the front line in Yemen to serve as human shields. The Rapid Support Forces have been responsible for the massacres of the Houthi population in Yemen, including arbitrary murders of civilians and children.
Russian and Belgian arms distributed to the government are reallocated to the militias. Several dozen Chinese-made tanks and bombers have been brought into Sudan since 2004. China has built arms factories for the Sudanese government around the capital Khartoum. This factory produced the majority of the bullets and munitions used in the Darfur war and the repression of the demonstrators today. China is now the principal seller of arms to Sudan, providing the majority of tanks, planes, and trucks.
Another of their income sources is racketeering and extortion, including the taxes they demand on vehicles and convoys of displaced people on the route between Al-Fashir and Khartoum. If the vehicles or convoys refuse to pay, groups step in to attack them and steal the products and shipments on the trucks. Since this is the only route that connects the West to the capital, drivers have no choice but to comply.
The European Union and its member states have made many partnership agreements with Sudan, notably the agreement called the “Khartoum process” in 2014, reinforced by a new 2015 agreement. In the context of Sudan’s economic crisis following the separation of South Sudan and the loss of essential oil revenues, European agencies help to regulate the border, a great boon to the regime in Khartoum. Equipment and revenue seized at the border is earmarked for the police and picked up by the janjawids, who control the Libyan border as well.
Even if the EU denies direct supporting the militias, several reports, such as Suliman Baldo’s English-language report, “Border Control from Hell,” shows that the computer hardware, vehicles, and other equipment provided by the EU are obtained by the RSF via their collaboration with the police and the Security Services. The EU relies on Sudanese police to reinforce the eastern and northern borders and to regulate the passage of Sudanese, Eritrean, Ethiopian, and other migrants. The RSF is the principal forced mobilized at the borders, which the government uses to implement the political objectives of the EU, carrying out its acts of terror and chaos against the population and migrants. The janjawids thus find themselves with a special budget, which strengthens their power.
The janjawids have been sent throughout the country as a mobile force, notably in the regions of the Blue Nile, Jebel Al-Nuba, and Kordofan, where they have terrorized civilians and carried out looting, rape, massacres, and persecution. In Damazin in 2013 and in Kassala in 2018, all these regions’ civilians were accused due to their ethnic origin of supporting or participating in rebel forces like SLA (Sudan Liberation Army), SPLM (Sudan Popular Liberation Movement), or JEM (Justice and Equality Movement).
In May 2019, isolated groups of the RSF attempted to evict the demonstrators in the Plaza. On May 13th, they killed four demonstrators and wounded thirty more with bullets. The demonstrators clearly identified the assailants as janjawids. After these events, Burhan, the president of the Military Council, promised to “open an investigation” of the members of the RSF responsible for the murders. But the Security Forces then arbitrarily arrested six Darfurian soldiers, demanding they confess on national television and imprisoning them, even though some of them weren’t in the neighborhood of the attack when it happened. People denounced this deception on social media networks.
Several other attacks were led by RSF members around the entry points of the Plaza, especially around May 25th; they killed many people and wounded and arrested others. The government officially acknowledged these attacks and justified them, saying that the location was occupied by prostitutes and drug dealers.
On June 3rd, the 29thday of Ramadan, columns of RSF vehicles entered the capital with Security Service cars and removed the regular police and military. They represented a convoy of more than 10,000 members sent to the capital from all the regions of Sudan. They began to shoot bullets into the crowd around 6 AM, burning the tents in the Plaza and arresting demonstrators and throwing them into pickup trucks. They used the Khartoum University and mosque buildings to hold people for three days, beating and torturing them. Some died due to the horrible conditions of this detention. Survivors have offered chilling testimony about the treatment they suffered. Many other people were killed or wounded by bullets; the health ministry has admitted to 61 deaths on June 3rd, while credible sources report over 100 fatalities, including 19 children. The janjawids also raped dozens of women, attempted to rape dozens more, and posted triumphant videos on social media networks. Altogether, more than 500 people were wounded among the inhabitants of Omdurman and Khartoum, including many beaten, struck down, and left for dead in the middle of the street. Those who tried to assist them were also struck down.
The RSF also entered other neighborhoods in Khartoum and Omdurman, attacking civilians at random. They destroyed stores, pharmacies, and cars. Stray bullets killed some people in their houses. They entered hospitals, beating doctors and threatening them with death if they treated demonstrators, raping women and striking the wounded. They arrested the opposition, including Yasser Saïd Arman, leader of a branch of the SPLM. The members of the office of the Sudanese Professional Association have been in hiding since then.
The day after the massacre, the Military Council announced the nullification of all the agreements and gains from the negotiations up to that point with the Sudanese Professional Association and suspended all further negotiations. They announced that there will be elections in 2020, and we already know what the results will be if they’re controlled by Burhan and Hemedti.
The Sudanese continue to demonstrate, closing routes and roads, erecting barricades and burning tires; the capital is the scene of a civil war.
After 20 years, the janjawids are accustomed to using brutal force to massacre large numbers of people. This militia is financed by the Gulf countries and the European Union and poses the threat of imminent civil war in Sudan.