Home Page Election 2019 News Opinion Foreign Policy Politics Policy Legislation Lobbying Hill Life & People Hill Climbers Heard On The Hill Calendar Archives Classifieds
Hill Times Events Inside Ottawa Directory Hill Times Store Hill Times Careers The Wire Report The Lobby Monitor Parliament Now
Subscribe Free Trial Reuse & Permissions Advertising
Log In
Opinion

Sudan: no surprise

By Gwynne Dyer       

They may be special forces troops and secret police, left over from the old dictatorship and long rewarded for abusing and murdering the old regime’s enemies, who will gladly serve a new dictatorship.

Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, the former president of Sudan, who was ousted in April, in a coup, originally created Janjaweed, a paramilitary group, to carry out a genocide in the separatist western province of Darfur. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Share a story
The story link will be added automatically.

It’s like Tiananmen Square in miniature, and maybe not all that miniature. The death toll in Khartoum after last week’s massacre stands at 118, but the whole city is still locked down, with columns of Rapid Support Forces (RSF)vehicles driving through the streets firing at practically anything that moves. There may be a lot more dead.

The Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, used to be known as the Janjaweed, and they are not soldiers; they are professional killers. They are the local solution to the problem any dictatorship faces when it decides to end a non-violent protest by murdering the protesters. By that time, your soldiers will usually have been on the streets for a while, and will have had personal contact with the people you want to kill.

The ordinary soldiers come from exactly the same society as the protesters and, knowing who these people really are, will by now be quite reluctant to kill them. Dictators know that you must never give your soldiers an order you know they will disobey, because that creates a dilemma for them that they can only resolve by killing you. So you must find some other group to do the massacre.

They may just be soldiers you bring in from out of town, who have had no previous human contact with the protesters before the order to kill is given. That’s what the Chinese regime did before the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

They may be special forces troops and secret police, left over from the old dictatorship and long rewarded for abusing and murdering the old regime’s enemies, who will gladly serve a new dictatorship. That’s who General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi used to kill at least a thousand non-violent protesters on Rabaa Square in Cairo after his military coup overthrew Egypt’s elected government in 2013.

In Sudan, that group began as a bunch of camel-herding tribesmen, already at war with the local farmers, who were then recruited by the old regime to torch villages and slaughter their inhabitants in western Sudan. They acquired a taste for rape, pillage, and murder and became known as the Janjaweed. They are now called the RSF.

Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s dictator since 1989, originally created them to carry out a genocide in the separatist western province of Darfur, a crime for which he has been indicted by the International Criminal Court. They were never seen in the capital in those days, but now they have uniforms of a sort and they are all over Khartoum.

They are doing the job that the soldiers of the regular army might have balked at: killing enough citizens, more or less at random, to frighten the rest back into submission. The ordinary soldiers’ reluctance was often on display in the early days of the Sudanese revolution, when they sometimes intervened to protect the protesters from the RSF.

The generals who have now unleashed the RSF never felt that reluctance themselves. Unlike the private soldiers, they have profited greatly under Bashir’s rule and have no intention of giving up their own privileges and power. They were happy enough to sacrifice Bashir to the protesters (he’s now under arrest and awaiting trial), but they don’t do self-sacrifice.

So they played for time, negotiating a “democratic transition” with the protest leaders while waiting for the support to flow in from other Arab tyrannies. It duly arrived: an immediate gift of $3-billion from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt to help Bashir’s military heirs buy back support, and the promise of political support for any killing that they saw as a necessary part of the process.

The military junta, calling itself the “Transitional Military Council,” or TMC, kept up the facade of power-sharing with the opposition Alliance for Freedom and Change right down to last weekend. Last weekend, the TMC spokesman said that a deal was almost done: there would be an election in two years, and civilians would have a majority of the seats on the interim council.

Then on Monday morning, the Rapid Support Forces/Janjaweed went in shooting and cleared the square in front of army headquarters that had been occupied by pro-democracy forces for the past two months. The TMC’s head, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, declared on state television that the military had decided to “stop negotiating with the Alliance for Freedom and Change and cancel what had been agreed on.”

What had changed? Nothing. The military were never negotiating in good faith; they were just buying time. The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which spearheaded the nationwide protests, is calling for a campaign of “sweeping civil disobedience to topple the treacherous and killer military council,” but unless it can take back control of the streets, it’s all over.

Can it do that? Probably not. The Janjaweed don’t care how many people they kill, and none of the most powerful governments in the Arab world do either.

Gwynne Dyer’s latest books is Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work).

The Hill Times

Explore, analyze, understand
Democracy, Terrorism and Killer Robots: Embassy News covers the 2015 Halifax International Security Forum
The Halifax International Security Forum is one of the world’s biggest gatherings of defence and security leaders.

Get the book
Inside Ottawa Directory – 2019 Edition
The handy reference guide includes: riding profiles, MPs by province, MP contact details, both Hill and constituency and more.

Get the book
Spinning History: A Witness to Harper’s Canada and 21st Century choices
An unvarnished look at the Harper years and what lies ahead for Canadians

Get the book
Related Policy Briefings
Defence Policy Briefing
Short and informative analyses on policy challenges that bring background and recommendations to policymakers, journalists and the general public.

Read policy briefing
Military Procurement Policy Briefing
Short and informative analyses on policy challenges that bring background and recommendations to policymakers, journalists and the general public.

Read policy briefing

Politics This Morning

Get the latest news from The Hill Times

Politics This Morning


Your email has been added. An email has been sent to your address, please click the link inside of it to confirm your subscription.

Nearly 100 new MPs offer new face of Parliament, including 60 in flipped seats

In many ways the incoming Parliament looks quite similar to its predecessor, with 240 returning MPs, the same number of MPs who are Indigenous or a visible minority, and 10 more women.

Rise of advance voting raising questions about impact on, and of, campaigns: experts

Almost 4.8-million Canadians voted at advance polls this year, according to Elections Canada estimates, a roughly 30.6 per cent increase over 2015, accounting for roughly one-quarter of all ballots cast this election.

Watchdog’s proposed minority Parliament rules ‘appalling,’ says legal expert

News|By Mike Lapointe
Democracy Watch says Governor General should speak with all party leaders before deciding who can try forming government, but Emmett Macfarlane says the confidence convention is the linchpin of the parliamentary system.

McKenna may be moved to new cabinet role after four years implementing Grits’ climate policies, say politicos

News|By Neil Moss
Catherine McKenna's 'tenure in environment would have prepared her well for any other kind of responsibility the prime minister may assign,' says former environment minister Jean Charest.

‘They went with what they knew’: Politicos react to Election 43

'If anybody should've won a majority, it should've been Trudeau. He didn't, and it's his to wear,' says CBC columnist Neil Macdonald of the Oct. 21 election results.

‘A clear mandate’: Trudeau wins second term, with voters handing Liberals a minority

News|By Beatrice Paez
Though not improbable, his victory was not inevitable. It brings an end to a nail-biting, gruelling 40-day slog that has exposed deepening rifts across the country.

McKenna wins re-election in Ottawa Centre, trumpets voters’ support for climate fight

News|By Neil Moss
'I’m so relieved,' Catherine McKenna said, about continuing with the Liberal climate change plan.

Election 2019 was a ‘campaign of fear,’ say pollsters

'There may well be a message to this to the main parties, that slagging each other will only take you so far,' says Greg Lyle.

Election 2019 campaign one of the most ‘uninspiring, disheartening, and dirtiest’ in 40 years, says Savoie

News|By Abbas Rana
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says she has never seen an election where mudslinging overwhelmingly dominated the campaign, leaving little or no time for policy discussion.
Your group subscription includes premium access to Politics This Morning briefing.