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Darfur and the fading of a political transition

The state of West Darfur is the scene of the bloodiest episodes in the aftermath of the 25 October coup d'état
Sudanese protesters gather in eastern Khartoum on November 25, 2021. - Thousands of Sudanese protesters rallied today against the military takeover last month, rejecting an agreement reached between the top general that saw the prime minister reinstated, witnesses said

PHOTO/AFP  -   Sudanese protesters gather in eastern Khartoum on November 25, 2021. - Thousands of Sudanese protesters rallied today against the military takeover last month, rejecting an agreement reached between the top general that saw the prime minister reinstated, witnesses said

The escalation of violence in Sudan continues to leave dozens dead and thousands displaced. 

25 October 2021. Barely a month and a half has passed since a date that the Sudanese will take a long time to forget, if ever. On that day, Khartoum saw a coup d'état put an end to two years of democratic efforts that began in August 2019 with the formation of an interim government. Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok was kidnapped, despite announcing a few days ago a new pact with the military responsible for the coup to ensure "the welfare of the Sudanese". However, more than two weeks after Hamdok's appearance, tension throughout the country continues to rise. 

Sudan's top general Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, center left, and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok hold documents during a ceremony to reinstate Hamdok, who was deposed in a coup last month, in Khartoum, Sudan, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021
AP/MARWAN ALI - Sudan's top general Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, center left, and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok hold documents during a ceremony to reinstate Hamdok, who was deposed in a coup last month, in Khartoum, Sudan, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021

Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is the name of the lieutenant-general who was at the forefront of the uprising that has met with the fiercest opposition on the streets of Sudan. The Sudanese firmly believe in the democratic process that began after the ouster of dictator Omar al-Bashir and have demonstrated this with numerous demonstrations against the military coup. It is a minority that called for an all-military government, which had already tried to overthrow the executive at the end of September without success. 

"The civilian members of the Sovereign Transitional Council and several ministers of the transitional government have been arrested by joint military forces". This sentence published by the Ministry of Information on its Facebook account was confirmation that the coup had indeed brought two years of pro-democracy work to an end. This time the government had fallen, and with it, the hopes of elections that Sudan had dreamed of for more than 30 years. Hamdok and his government could not hold out and, as is often the case in such situations, violence broke out across the country. 

Sudan's senior general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan salutes soldiers as he attends the conclusion of a military exercise in the Maaqil area, northern Nile River State, Dec. 8, 2021
AFP/EBRAHIM HAMID - Sudan's senior general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan salutes soldiers as he attends the conclusion of a military exercise in the Maaqil area, northern Nile River State, Dec. 8, 2021
Darfur, the thread on the verge of unravelling 

The Western State of Darfur is going through its darkest days. Violence has become a constant for the region bordering Chad, which has been hit by continuous attacks and clashes between tribes. Around 68,000 people live in this state, which in mid-November saw 50 of them killed in clashes between the Misseriya Jebel tribe and Arab nomads in Jebel Moon. Jebel Moon, along with Kerenik, are among the 15 villages that have been "burnt to the ground", according to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). 

Mohammed Issa Alieu, acting governor of Darfur, reported on Monday that 48 more people were killed in the attack by the Janjaweed militia, supported by the military wing. The NRC itself has expressed "deep concern" about these incidents, which it says are "the highest number of civilians fleeing violence since the height of the Darfur conflict ten years ago". The numbers are terrifying. Nearly half a million people have been forced to flee their homes for fear of the violence in what is now Sudan's most dangerous region. 

Sudanese refugee children at the Treguine camp in Hadjer Hadid, in the Ouaddaa region of eastern Chad
AFP/AMAURY HAUCHARD - Sudanese refugee children at the Treguine camp in Hadjer Hadid, in the Ouaddaa region of eastern Chad

10,000 people have headed for Chad in recent days to flee the powder keg that has become Darfur. Toby Harward, special coordinator of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), says that developments are seriously threatening the safety of those trying to leave the country - mostly women and children - and also for its Chadian neighbour, which is already home to 520,000 refugees, 70 per cent of whom are of Sudanese origin. The situation is not very different within Sudan itself, where the number of internally displaced people exceeds three million, 80% of whom are from Darfur. 

The Western State of Darfur has been divided into five states since Omar al-Bashir's decision 10 years ago. North, South and West Darfur were joined by Central and East Darfur, with the aim of having a regional government closer to the people, according to Rabie Abdelati, a member of the dictator's party. These five zones have recorded more than 200 violent incidents this year alone. The latest movements show that "tensions remain high," said Harward, adding that "alarming reports are coming in from other parts of Darfur of village destruction, sexual violence and cattle rustling. 

All these factors are pushing Darfur into a situation that is becoming more complex with each passing day. The agreement reached between Hamdok and the military wing sought, according to the prime minister himself, "a coordination of these in all matters, so that each one can carry out its tasks" as he considers that "there must be broad reconciliations between all components of Sudanese society", justifying his agreement with those led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. However, weeks later, nothing has changed as far as the increase in violence is concerned and this new pact, to the disgrace of the Darfurian population, seems to have fallen on deaf ears.  

Location map of West Darfur
AFP/AFP- Location map of West Darfur
The Janjaweed militia and military support 

When talking about contexts such as the one Sudanese society is currently experiencing, there is never a single responsible party. While it is true that it was the military wing that destroyed years of democratic construction, they did not act alone, nor is the violence the sole responsibility of Al-Burhan. Inter-tribal clashes are one of the most troubling problems in the Darfur region, but if there is one actor to blame for much of the region's suffering, it is the Janjaweed militia, supported, unsurprisingly, by the military.  

To understand the links between the Janjaweed and the military wing, we have to go back to 2003. The ethnic Arab militia has been at odds with the African tribes since the fighting began in Darfur almost 20 years ago. According to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), this region witnessed war crimes and crimes against humanity between 2003 and 2004: "The Janjaweed militia used rape as a weapon to terrorise and humiliate women and girls," said Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the ICC in what was the first time that an international court gave a voice to the victims of a region that two decades later is once again suffering the blows of instability. 

Trouble between this militia and tribal groups is one of the biggest threats to Darfur. The Janjaweed attack on Sunday 5 December may have been motivated by a clash the previous day in Murnei between the Rizeigat and Masalit tribes. Special Coordinator Toby Harward pointed to this as a possible incentive for the militia offensive because, he says, the attack came "after the killings and revenge attacks in Murnei". Thus, the threat as far as the Janjaweed is concerned is twofold, having the backing of the military wing on the one hand, and the tribal conflict on the other. 

Members of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary forces
AFP/YASUYOSHI CHIBA - Members of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary forces
The legacy of Omar al-Bashir 

As mentioned above, the presence of the Janjaweed in Darfur is not a new development, but rather the umpteenth chapter in the militia's history of terror in western Sudan. Dictator Omar al-Bashir is largely to blame. During his 30 years of authoritarian rule, the Janjaweed had in al-Bashir one of their greatest supporters. The dictator turned to them when situations arose that, by the nature of his rule, he had to curb by civil or military means, one of them being the Darfur uprising. 

Al-Bashir's discriminatory treatment of the Western state of Darfur reached its climax in February 2003 when the Darfur conflict began with the uprising of ethnic African minorities against the dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir. The response, as might be expected from the authoritarian government, was harsh. The dictator sent in the Janjaweed militia who committed countless crimes and human rights abuses that resulted in charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Looting, rape and murder were among the atrocities that sent the international community into an uproar. 

Despite this, its actions in Darfur prompted it to join the Rapid Reaction Force (RSF) led by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo. From that moment on, the subcontracting of militias by Al-Bashir was one of his obsessions, with the aim of preventing an insurrection, precisely like the one that ended up ousting him from power in 2019. It was Hemedti himself - Mohamed Hamdan Daglo's nickname - who benefited from the dictator's overthrow by gaining prominence within the RSF and propelling him to the second echelon of the Sovereign Transitional Council led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. 

In this file photo taken on March 8, 2009, Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir (C-Car) greets supporters during his visit to El-Fasher, capital of North Darfur state.
AFP/KHALED DESOUKI - In this file photo taken on March 8, 2009, Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir (C-Car) greets supporters during his visit to El-Fasher, capital of North Darfur state
The failure of democratic efforts 

The coup d'état against Sudan's interim government was the beginning of the end of Sudanese democracy, if it can be considered to exist at all, which, judging by developments over the past two years, is hard to see. The reality was very different from the desire that led to the overthrow of dictator Omar al-Bashir. Two years is a lot longer than what has been done since 11 April 2019, when the dictator was ousted from government. Elections originally scheduled for 2023 are an impossibility and US sanctions - withdrawn after the coup against al-Bashir - are ever closer to returning. 

Under no circumstances could it be justified to scupper the efforts of the interim government. Little or much, the joint work of politicians and the military constituted the only democratic alternative for a society once again plunged into chaos. The lack of control, uncertainty and violence are no longer nightmares of the past but have once again become a real threat that threatens Sudanese stability, which has never been so close to its goal as with the overthrown Executive on 25 October. The escalation of tension and the continuous attacks by the armed forces, tribes and militias are destroying everything that has been built and, worse still, returning fear to Sudanese society. 

Former site of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), vandalized and destroyed during the past withdrawal from Sudan's Darfur region, underscoring the fragile security situation in a region of frequent inter-tribal clashes, June 22, 2021
AFP/ABDELMOMIM MADIBU - Former site of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), vandalized and destroyed during the past withdrawal from Sudan's Darfur region, underscoring the fragile security situation in a region of frequent inter-tribal clashes, June 22, 2021