The Rapid Support Force (RSF) have grown infamy among locals and the international community in recent weeks. The group commonly comprised of former Janjaweed members has been commissioned by the Sudanese military government to address the protests in Khartoum and the surrounding areas. The recent rise in protests directed by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) has led to deep concern by the government of Sudan, forcing them to collaborate with the RSF. Recent events and reports from the civilians of Sudan tell of horrific events occurring within the capital, Khartoum. These atrocities have been attributed to the RSF. Individuals whom have studied Sudan before will recognise the RSF and their resemblance to the Janjaweed. So, who are they and why are they infamous? What does this mean for the civilians and the government of Sudan?
The Janjaweed became infamous in February 2003 when the Sudanese national government utilised the local Arab tribes to combat the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The group are traditional camel and cattle herders, with the name “Janjaweed” translated to: Mounted gunmen. They became famous for their brutal attack methods on the rebellious fighters in Darfur, concluding in what many international organisations attribute to human rights violations and some to stipulate genocidal events (though this has been disputed). The group is over twenty-thousand strong, armed and trained by the government of Sudan. Key individuals in the Janjaweed are former criminals that were released on the pretence that they assist the government in repressing the rebellious groups in Darfur. Many of these individuals have been drafted into the Janjaweed positioned in Khartoum. The notorious history of employing criminals and trained fighters has generated fear amongst any protesting population. From 2003 they assisted the government’s forced displacement policy in which over three and a half million Sudanese civilians have been displaced or had their land/ crops destroyed by the Janjaweed. Michael Mann has documented the events unfolding within the Darfur region. He states in his studies that: “State-led attacks on food, livestock and water supplies, indicating the intent of the Government of Sudan to eliminate the collective livelihoods of Black African groups in Darfur”. The Janjaweed have therefore become infamous nationally and internationally amongst academics. Their brutal methods of attacks and military strategy leaves many Sudanese fearing their presence in Khartoum.
The RSF have been labelled the “Janjaweed two”, owing to their similar attack methods and infamous brutality towards those opposing the government of Sudan.
Recently, the RSF have hosted a press conference attempting to demonstrate the devastation inflicted on the civilian population by the SPA. The foreign press were sent to a medical facility that had been attacked by the group. However, it became clear that the local population feared the RSF and the lack of camera access and high tensions amongst the troops suggest that the RSF have not been met with praise locally.
Recently, the SPA had been protesting the Omar al-Bashir government of Sudan. In April the government announced the austerity measures including the raising of oil and bread prices in Sudan. On the sixth April a gathering of protestors formed in the square facing the military headquarters demanding the removal of Bashir. The group gained support rapidly both locally and internationally. Soon businesses were closed and roads were blocked, demonstrating the demand for change to the twenty-year rule of Bashir. On the eleventh of April the Council of Generals took power after Bashir stood down. This was met with initial delight, allowing the growth of democracy. However, this joy was short-lived when the military rulers declared that no elections will be implemented until April 2020. The Transitional Military Council (TMC) has gained power and continues to enjoy influence through the RSF.
Mohamed Hamadan Dagalo became the commander of the RSF and continues to lead the party. The group has gained support from Saudi Arabia (for their support for the Saudis in the Yemen conflict), Egypt and the UAE. On the third of June the military attacked the protestors on the square. Statistics are unclear but approximately one-hundred civilians have been killed and hospitals operating within the area have reported the rapes of over seventy people. These statistics suggest that the RSF are following a similar tactic to the Janjaweed, to impose a climate of fear and oppression on the population of Khartoum. Their methods of attack hope to prevent further rebellion over fears of the devastating repercussion on the local community.
International actors have reacted to the crisis, with the United Nations withdrawing all non-critical personnel from the country and many Western countries have condemned the lack of democracy and brutal acts committed within Sudan over recent months. The African Union has also withheld the membership of Sudan until it holds elections. Hopefully, this will result in political developments within Sudan over the coming weeks.
The RSF’s supposed brutal actions within Khartoum have made them infamous internationally and nationally. Their association with the Janjaweed carries huge connotations which has assisted in the generation of a climate of protest and fear within Sudan. The government’s attempt to control the Khartoum population has therefore attracted negative attention from the international community. Whilst statistics and data from sources within the country remain unclear and marred, the overwhelming theme of a potential humanitarian crisis unfolding attracts international interest and concern.