No one ever expected the tragic and humiliating downfall of the once famous and powerful leader of the Janjaweed in Darfur, Musa Hilal, as he was shown shackled and bare-headed without his iconic turban after he was apprehended in his stronghold in Mistareha, North Darfur by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The RSF is the former paramilitary group, now a regular faction of the Army, that was recruited and armed in the same way as the former Janjaweed forces led by Hilal.
Hilal, a controversial figure at the start of the crisis in Darfur, was known for his power and might when the President Omer Al-Bashir sought his aid to quell the insurgency in Darfur. Hilal assembled the Janjaweed militias, and unleashed a campaign that terrorized innocent civilians. His troops were implicated in a number of the most heinous acts, including murder, rape and burning entire villages to the ground throughout the region, prompting an international call from human rights organizations for him to be included in a list of those wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide charges, a list that also included President Omer Al-Bashir and other prominent officials.
And as time went by, Hilal gained more authority and jurisdiction, becoming a minister and a member of the parliament. With unrelenting political and economic aspirations, he went rogue against the Khartoum Government. This was exacerbated after taking control of Jebel Amer, an area known to be rich with gold, after his forces massacred thousands of civilians. At that point and according to a report published by the United Nations, his personal fortune was estimated to be more than 54 million US dollars.
Ultimately, Hilal, and despite his might, was taken into captivity by the forces of Mohamed Hamdan Hemedti, who is related to him- both are descendants from the same ethnic group that is currently considered the most powerful in the region- without resistance and in the presence of thousands of his supporters.
Commenting anonymously on this incident, a person close to Hilal said that he was captured as a result of a conspiracy set up by some of his affiliates adding “Chief Hilal won’t surrender easily, especially to Himeti because of the intense rivalry between them. There was a truce and Hilal trusted it, but he was betrayed inside his territory, and he was arrested after Hemedti’s troops killed many of his people.”
It appears that Hilal’s time is over after he was imprisoned in a cell at one of the army’s facilities in Khartoum. On the other hand , the time of Hemedti has just began and the people of Darfur will live on the cusp of an era that has its own myth, the leader of the RSF.
Hemedti started his new chapter by launching an overwhelming onslaught over Hilal in a televised interview one day after his capture, calling him a “cursed devil”. And in that live interview, he expressed their intent to continue the campaign of disarmament and “impose the respect for the government” without hesitation, sending messages to other security and military units in Darfur, including the Sudanese army and intelligence, that “those who were opposed to the campaign will share the same fate of Hilal”.
Hemedti currently has the upper hand in Darfur with the deployment of his well-trained troops in most of the region, and during President Al-Bashir’s visit to the region last September , he was given an even wider mandate after Al-Bashir called him “my strategic stockpile”.
This current situation harkens the events of 2004 when Al-Bashir pardoned Hilal, bringing him out of a jail in Port Sudan and giving him full authority to do whatever it took to quell the rebellion in Darfur.
In an interview with Altaghyeer, Idrees Al-dooma, an expert in affairs related to Darfur, said that “after 15 years, it seems that history is repeating itself in an ugly way; back then, people suffered from atrocities committed by Musa Hilal, and now they are going through that again on the hands of Hemedti’s troops. Unfortunately, I have to say, this time it will be even worse, because these violations are perpetrated according to the law and with the full support of Albashir.”
The RSF have been accused by the UN, human rights organizations, activists and opposition parties of a wide range of violations in war zones such as unjustified killings, rape, looting and burning of villages besides other violations.
These forces are made up of more than 60,000 fighters, most of them descending from specific ethnic groups in Darfur. They are armed with light and heavy weapons such as rifles and small cannons and they use 4 wheel-drive vehicles for transport. Hemedti’s position has been systematized, as he was given the rank of a major general within the national security and intelligence apparatus after his troops became part of the security units through an amendment of the constitution. Al-Bashir was forced to seek the assistance of these tribal militias after the army- which was overlooked and neglected- experienced a series of losses to the rebel movements in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. And after strolling to victory after victory in Darfur, a region in which they had sound knowledge of its nature and topography, Al-Bashir expanded their mandate and they were granted more funds and military hardware.
Additionally, a number of new managerial and logistical offices for these forces were set up in Khartoum and other strategic spots after they were strictly confined to Darfur. Authorities also made efforts to replace the violent murderer image of Hemedti through a public relations campaign and framed him as a philanthropist who made donations to and supervised the opening of new mosques in Khartoum and elsewhere. He was also pictured as a mediator between warring tribes in Darfur who would compensate their human and material losses.
According to Al-dooma, Hemedti will tighten his control over Darfur despite the veiled objections from the army and the security apparatus. He added that these objections “are without meaning because Albashir controls everything and he chose Hemedti, funded him and made him what he is now. Even during military operation, the orders would come directly from Al-Bashir to Hemedti with no-one in the middle”.
Al-Bashir will rely on Hemedti’s troops to shield and protect him in the case of a coup or a popular uprising, an account held by many observers.