In Sudan, a coup general confronts a warlord supported by Russian mercenaries

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, left, clashes with the head of the army, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, leader of the military junta and de facto ruler of the country (right). (Reuters)

4,000 years ago, between the first and sixth cataracts of the Nile, the the kingdom of kush. His evolution was intimately connected to his brothers to the north, the Egyptians. And like them, they were submitted to the conquest and received the contribution of Greek, Roman, Christian, Muslim, and British armies and administrators. until it came up Sudan with an Arab-Muslim population in the north and another animist-Christian-black in the south. It became independent in 1956 and since then has lived most of its history at war. At this moment, two armed factions are fighting for the government of Khartoum, that of the regular army and that of a powerful militia supported by the mercenaries of the wagner group Russian, starting from the weekend the last of an almost endless series of armed conflicts that threatens to destabilize a vast region of North Africa, from the Sahel to the Red Sea.

The Sudanese armed forces are broadly loyal to the General Abdel Fattah al-Burhanleader of the military junta and de facto ruler of the country, while the paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF)a group of militias, follow the warlord, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti. Both have disputed power since they overthrew the 30-year dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir. The military had promised a democratic solution until two years later when they organized a self-coup and definitively seized the government.

The RSF was founded by Bashir to crush the rebellion in Darfur, in the west of the country, which began more than 20 years ago due to the political and economic marginalization of the local population by the Sudanese central government. The RSF are known by the local population by the name of janjaweed, famous for the atrocities they committed. In 2013, Bashir transformed the Janjaweed into a semi-organized paramilitary force and gave its leaders military ranks before deploying them to crush another rebellion, this time in southern Darfur, and subsequently sending many of them to fight in the war of Yemen and, later, of Libya.

Smoke rises from the runway at Khartoum International Airport in this screenshot obtained from a social media video.  (Abdullah Abdel Moneim/REUTERS)
Smoke rises from the runway at Khartoum International Airport in this screenshot obtained from a social media video. (Abdullah Abdel Moneim/REUTERS) (ABDULLAH ABDEL MONEIM/)

The RSF’s jajaweed, led by Hemedti, and regular military forces under Burhan’s command joined forces to overthrow Bashir in 2019. The RSF’s first act was to massacre a group of peacefully protesting civilians against the coup. . But in 2021, surprisingly, the RSF sided with the groups that supported a political solution to the military and this publicly confronted Burhan and Hemedti. The tension between the two had been resolved until last week with some skirmishes and the distribution of profits in businesses, but something broke the fragile truce on Saturday morning, when fighting began between the forces of both sides around the airport. Khartoum International.

In the middle of all this appears the infamous Wagner group of Russian mercenaries led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an associate of Vladimir Putin. Former dictator Al Bashir had hired them in 2017 to provide security for gold mines in the country, some of which are in the hands of Russian businessmen close to the Kremlin. He got it after visiting Moscow in 2017 and telling Putin that “Sudan is Russia’s gateway to Africa”. Hemedti reinforced that relationship when she traveled to Moscow in February 2022, just a few hours after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to give his full support to Putin’s military adventure.

The Wagners, who were already operating in Libyaand maintain a presence in mali and the Central African Republicthey arrived first to occupy the territories around the mines of the company Meroe Goldcontrolled by the conglomerate M Invest based in Moscow. “Soon they went on to take care of other matters Khartoum government ‘running errands’. They became involved in all the local conflicts in the mining areas and they caused heinous massacres”, he explained to Al Jazeera, samuel ramadiauthor of a prestigious book on Russian expansion on the African continent.

Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group acting in the Libyan civil war. These same forces are the ones that went to Sudan, first to protect the gold mines and then to participate in the civil war. (AP/Ricard Garcia Vilanova)

Among the tasks of the Russian mercenaries is to ensure the exit of Sudanese gold to latakiathe port that Russia controls on the Mediterranean coast of Syria. An investigation of the CNN demonstrated the output of at least 16 planes full of gold from the Sudanese capital to the military airport of Latakia. It is also believed that a portion of that gold ends up funding both the Wagners’ activities in Ukraine and Hemedti’s militias. “I don’t think there is a green light from Putin for Russian forces to play an active role in this current military confrontation, but the Wagners do because there are huge interests and resources at stake. if they don’t support Hemedti or if they don’t end up negotiating with Burhan”, explained the writer Ramadi. Although there is something at stake that is highly appreciated by Moscow, which is the possibility of Russia having a base on the Sudanese coast on the Red Sea and this has Putin’s full attention.

Sudan is in a highly volatile region with boundaries at the Red Sea, the Sahel region (south of the Sahara) and the Horn of Africa. Branches of Islamist terrorist networks operate there, from Al Qaeda until isis. This strategic situation and the agricultural wealth that it has made its territory the center of regional power games. The military, wanting to retain power and avoiding a democratic transition, did the rest. The internal tension even moved in recent months to its neighbors and began to affect Ethiopiaover a dispute over farmland along the border, Chad and South Sudanwhich continues to depend heavily on its brothers to the north.

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), is received in the village of Aprag, 60 kilometers from Khartoum.  (REUTERS/Umit Bektas)
General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), is received in the village of Aprag, 60 kilometers from Khartoum. (REUTERS/Umit Bektas) (UMIT BEKTAS/)

And there is no shortage of global and regional powers. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates they want to influence Sudan to remain a Sunni Arab nation where Islamic extremists or Shiites from Iran will not penetrate. These countries together USA and Britain they formed a group “quadrilateral” that sponsored in these years the mediation in conflicts.

Meanwhile, the clashes spread to almost all major cities in the country and there are already more than 200 dead and 2,000 injured. And one of the most concerned in these hours is General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the President of Egyptwho understands that the Sudanese civil war may soon set the south of his country on fire.

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