Hemedti: The feared military leader looking most likely to seize power in Sudan

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With Omar al-Bashir ousted as Sudan’s long-serving president in April, the great question hanging over the country’s political landscape is who will be in charge of taking the country forward.

The protest groups that demanded regime change for so many months and instigated the possibility of regime change are demanding a civilian government is implemented to guide the country into democracy and hold those accused of human rights violations under Bashir’s regime.

However, the ruling military council that ousted the former president is increasingly distancing itself from facilitating such a move, despite early promises of handing power over to civilian rule and keen eyes among the international community monitoring events in Sudan.

In the 30-plus days since Bashir was ousted, Sudan’s military council has mostly allowed opposition protesters to continue their activities without security forces stepping in. Although the rhetoric has gradually intensified with warnings from the army that threats to national security won’t be tolerated.

During this time, the leader of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council (TMC), Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has remained a relatively quiet figure. Instead, it’s deputy chairman, Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who has grabbed the limelight to become the military’s most prominent figure in an increasingly tense situation.

Dagalo is more commonly known as Hemedti and also happens to be the leader of the Rapid Security Forces (RSF) and remains one of the most feared military officials in the country. Under his leadership, the RSF has been accused of grave human rights violations – most notably during the atrocities carried out in Darfur in 2003 and 2004.

More recently, his forces have been responsible for multiple attacks against Sudanese protesters in the capital, firing live ammunition against unarmed demonstrators.

Now, Hemedti is the second-most powerful man in Sudan in the post-Bashir era and he looks like the likeliest candidate to seize power for himself.

Bashir’s right-hand man moves closer to power grab

When Omar al-Bashir was ousted from power on April 11, Sudan’s protest groups made it clear they would not stop demonstrations until a civilian government was implemented. Simply forcing Bashir out of his premier position was never going to be enough for the demands of Sudan’s leading opposition groups and their key ambition is to install a democratic government and hold those guilty of human rights violations and war crimes under the previous regime accountable.

Protest leaders have made it clear they won’t tolerate key figures from Bashir’s regime holding onto power or those guilty of atrocities escaping punishment.

Understandably, opposition groups suspect the military council is going to do precisely that and its insistence on establishing a government primarily consisting of military leaders rationalises those suspicions.

Unfortunately, the man who looks most likely to stage a power grab embodies everything protest leaders don’t want to see.

Hemedti was Bashir’s right-hand man and his RSF forces were guilty of carrying out many of the operations that resulted in accusations of human rights violations and war crimes, prompting two arrest warrants for al-Bashir from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Surely, Hemedti would be the first person on the list of guilty parties protest leaders want to see held accountable – after Bashir himself, perhaps.

To make matters worse, the RSF forces have killed dozens of protesters since Bashir was ousted in numerous attacks, despite promises of dialogue and compromise in negotiating the country’s next steps.

On Monday, another 13 people were reported to have been killed when RSF forces opened fire on unarmed protesters staging a sit-in demonstration outside of the military headquarters in Khartoum. Last week, RSF soldiers allegedly exchanged fire with national soldiers after an argument broke out. A pregnant woman was killed by stray bullets fired in the clash.

Earlier this month, six demonstrators were killed and dozens more injured in an attack blamed on RSF forces by witnesses.

Hemedti moves into the spotlight

With talks between protest groups and the military at a deadlock, Hemedti has been using his time wisely. He’s spent the last month meeting with international diplomats, making national televised speeches and grabbing as much screen time as he possibly can.

He’s established himself as the voice warning protest leaders against any more “chaos” while insisting threats to national security won’t be tolerated.

His messages aren’t only reaching protest leaders; they’re gradually building him up as the only alternative to civilian rule that opposition groups are striving for. Neither Hemedti nor the military itself were going to get away with seizing permanent power from the moment they ousted Bashir from his presidency.

Instead, Hemedti is keeping himself at the forefront of developments in Sudan, showing the qualities of a strong leader without making any blatant attempts at grabbing power. He’s crafted himself the position of the alternative – the only alternative to civilian rule in Sudan – and the longer this current impasse continues, the more likely his chance to seize power will come.

Featured image: By M.Saleh – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77879589

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.