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PROFILE - Hemedti: A camel trader with aims to rule Sudan

April 17, 2023 at 4:06 pm

Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces commander, General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (Hemedti) in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. [ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP via Getty Images]

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

Dagalo, better known by his nickname, Hemedti, 48, rose from a simple camel trader to become Commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) aspiring to overthrow Sudan’s Army chief, Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.

Hemedti is famous for shifting loyalties as he took part alongside Al-Burhan in ending the rule of long time President Bashir (1989-2019).

Previously following the orders of Bashir, he arrested militia leader, Musa Hilal, who was a government pawn in fighting the rebels in the Darfur region.

Hemedti, who changed sides according to his own interests, made alliances with several countries and warlords. His commanded forces were reportedly involved in Yemen and Libya.

Russian President, Vladimir Putin, received Hemedti in Moscow, on the same day he launched his military operation in Ukraine, on 24 February, 2022.

READ: African Union calls for cessation of hostilities in Sudan

He was also received by several Arab leaders, including Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Man of wealth

Hemedti accumulated wealth and power by taking control of many sites in the gold-rich mining areas in Darfur.

His family runs the Al Junaid Gold Mining Company, after it was seized in 2017 from Musa Hilal, a former Janjaweed militia leader.

In a country where gold exports account for about 44 per cent of total exports, Hemedti and his RSF achieved financial independence from the country’s Army.

This financial autonomy strengthened Hemedti’s position and allowed him to recruit tens of thousands of fighters.

The RSF, a paramilitary force that has been accused of a myriad of human rights abuses in the western province of Darfur and elsewhere, became an army that only lacks in heavy weaponry and aviation.

Hemedti rose from a camel trader to the deputy head of the Transitional Sovereign Council led by Al-Burhan.

Most importantly, he achieved the RSF’s independence from the Army, after it was under the direct authority of Bashir.

This situation led Sudan to be trapped in between two armies: The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) led by Al-Burhan, and the RSF led by Hemedti.

Al-Burhan’s forces are heavily armed, especially with tanks and warplanes, and have large numbers of soldiers. The RSF, on the other hand, is equipped with light weapons and armoured vehicles, and is known for its combat experience in desert wars, speed of movement and manoeuvre.

The SAF did not accept the existence of a parallel force, especially since the differences between Al-Burhan and Hemedti were no longer hidden.

A military security reform, envisaging “the full participation of the RSF in the Army”, was put forward as part of a 2-year transition period deal.

An infographic titled "RSF commander Dagalo: From camel herder to Sudan’s de facto leader" created in Ankara, Turkiye on April 18, 2023 [Omar Zaghloul - Anadolu Agency]

An infographic titled “RSF commander Dagalo: From camel herder to Sudan’s de facto leader” created in Ankara, Turkiye on April 18, 2023 [Omar Zaghloul – Anadolu Agency]

READ: Arab League set to hold emergency meeting on Sudan violence

However, Hemedti refused to integrate his forces into the Army until after 10 years, a move that is seen as an attempt to amplify the RSF and make it stronger than the Army.

The failure of the two parties to reach a compromise prompted Hemedti to move his forces to the north toward Merowe city, which contains the Merowe Dam, the largest dam in the country, a civilian airport, the second largest after Khartoum Airport, in addition to a military base where about five Egyptian military aircraft of the type MiG-29 were kept.

It was unanticipated that the RSF moved toward a military base about 350 km away from Khartoum, instead of going directly to the capital. However, it seems that Hemedti aimed at neutralising any role of warplanes against his forces first.

Hemedti did not stop at that. Despite the Army’s warnings, its forces took control of vital sites inside Khartoum, tried to arrest the Army Commander in his home, attacked the presidential palace and took control over Khartoum Airport, which was considered a coup attempt.

READ: Ex-Qatar PM: External interferences caused Sudan war

However, the RSF’s inability to arrest Al-Burhan and quickly control the institutions of government made its camps vulnerable to air strikes.

Hemedti’s ambitions would push him either to power or to prison.

Nevertheless, if no party was able to quickly overtake the other, the country would enter a long civil war that would not only bring down the regime, but also the country.