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Sudan: Hemeti emerges from the shadows to support Burhan's coup

While they may not get along with each other personally, Hemeti and Burhan are - for now - locked in a marriage of convenience
General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemeti, during a speech posted to his social media pages (Screenshot/Facebook)

The commander of Sudan's Rapid Support Forces (RSF), General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, has stepped out of the shadows to deliver a speech affirming his support for the military coup led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

Burhan's deputy on the now-dissolved Sovereign Council, Dagalo, known as Hemeti, had not spoken publicly about the coup until Sunday night. In the speech, posted to his Facebook page, he said that Burhan had come "to correct the course of the people's revolution, and preserve the security and stability of the country". 

"We guarantee to everyone our commitment to the democratic transition through to the holding of post-transition elections at the allocated time, in 2023," Hemeti, dressed in military uniform, said, as icons for his Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter channels flashed in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. 

One Khartoum-based analyst, who preferred to remain anonymous for security reasons, told Middle East Eye that Hemeti's "communications have been good for a while, but it's clear they have been kicked up a notch". 

The analyst also said that Hemeti looked like he was relaying a script against his will, and that they didn't think he had intended to come out so publicly. "It seems as though, because of the precarity of the coup, he was forced - possibly by Burhan - to speak out," the analyst said. 

"He isn't against the coup but he's against the timing of his support being made public. He's very careful about his public image, but it seems that Burhan pressured him into making this video," the analyst told MEE. 

In his speech, the militia leader blamed the "failures" of Sudan's civilian-led government on "the dominance of a few parties in government and their focus on power at the expense of the wants of the people".

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The aim now, Hemeti said, was to "form a technocratic government without the mediation of anyone".

Burhan has also said he wants to bring in technocrats, but has arrested a number of qualified cabinet minister and their advisers and replaced them with a selection of Islamist politicians from the supposedly defunct National Congress Party (NCP) of former president, Omar al-Bashir. 

Officially the second-most powerful man in the Sudanese military, Hemeti and his brothers hold their own significant sources of power and wealth away from Burhan, controlling gold mines in Darfur and enjoying the patronage of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Hemeti was once the head of the notorious Janjaweed militias, the "devils on horseback" accused - along with the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) - of genocide and widespread atrocities in Darfur.

An uneducated former warlord from a Chadian Arab clan, Hemeti is now one of the most powerful and feared men in Sudan. His forces have been out on the streets of Khartoum and other major cities since the coup was instigated on 25 October. 

But despite taking meetings with international envoys and other interested parties, Hemeti himself has been quiet. Analysts told Middle East Eye that he was playing a waiting game, just as he did during the 2019 uprising that led to the ousting of Bashir.

Hemeti and his RSF acted as de facto bodyguards to Bashir and leading figures in his NCP until it became clear that there was no other option but to remove the man who ruled Sudan for three decades. 

Once a warlord, now a verified social media user

The militia leader's office has also been in recent contact with the former Israeli intelligence officer turned Canadian lobbyist Ari Ben-Menashe, with whom he signed a $6m contract in 2019. Ben-Menasche told the Africa Report that while that contract had expired, Hemeti was now interested in signing a new deal. 

The video of the speech broadcast last night was noticeable for the attention brought on the screen to Hemeti's social media channels. The military leader has had a Facebook page since April 2020, but he now has a verified Instagram account, as well as a Twitter page and a YouTube channel.

Middle East Eye has asked Facebook to confirm when Hemeti's Instagram account was verified.

Ever since the coup began, rumours have circulated about the relationship between Burhan and Hemeti. The "dynamic is weird. They are mutually treacherous," Patrick Smith, editor of Africa Confidential, told MEE. 

"The Egyptians favour Burhan due to his training in Cairo. The rich, ruthless desert warrior Hemeti is more to Saudi and Emirati tastes. He delivered the mercenaries for the war in Yemen, and made more money out of it." 

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While they may not get along with each other personally, Hemeti and Burhan are - for now - locked in a marriage of convenience.

Both military men, both formerly long-serving lieutenants of Bashir, and both the beneficiaries of vast assets that might otherwise belong to the Sudanese people, they have much to lose from a properly carried out transition to a civilian government. 

Sudan's government had been committed to sending Bashir to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and to seeing some measure of justice delivered for past atrocities in Darfur, as well as for the 3 June 2019 massacre in Khartoum, in which Hemeti's RSF was the primary culprit.

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These commitments would naturally have placed military leaders under a lot of pressure, and there was the danger that Bashir would name names from a dock in The Hague. 

Also at stake is the control of Sudan's wealth. As reported by Africa Confidential, the transitional government's 18-member Committee to Dismantle the 30 June 1989 Regime and Retrieve Public Funds had managed to claw back more than $1bn in assets for the finance ministry. 

It is clear the military does not want that kind of thing to continue. Abdul Basit Hamza, a businessman who managed some of the NCP's largest companies, has been released from prison, and it is thought that the coup leaders want to keep it that way. 

Hamza was the first of Bashir's men to be imprisoned by a Sudanese court, sentenced in April on charges of money laundering, terrorist financing, trading in foreign currency and unlawful and suspicious enrichment. 

At the same time, the deputy director of Sudan's central bank, Farouk Kambrisi, has been arrested, allegedly for refusing to sign a transfer of funds to a company owned by the military. 

Both developments suggest the military is reasserting its authority after the coup faltered in the wake of nationwide protests. But while Hemeti has come out of the shadows, his loyalty to Burhan and the current form the coup is taking would appear to be wafer-thin.