Sudan Crisis

Last week, I traced the history of the current conflict in Sudan to the Janjaweed genocide in Darfur between 2003 and 2005 and the coup-proofing measure of the now-ousted leader, Omar al-Bashir, who formalised the militia, christening it the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and setting it up as a counterweight to the Sudanese military. Hemedti, on his part, was smart enough to know when al-Bashir’s game was up and quickly collaborated with the army to remove him from power at the height of the protests in 2019.

Surprisingly however, while Omar al-Bashir has since been indicted by the International Criminals Court on “five counts of crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape; two counts of war crimes: intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population…and pillaging; three counts of genocide,” and the Sudanese government, in 2021, struck a deal with the international community to hand him over to the ICC in return for the country being removed from the United States list of “state sponsors of terrorism” and for financial relief from the World Bank, the militia that was used in the attacks and its leadership have been spared and are now part of the governance structure in Sudan.

That is not all of al-Bashir’s troubles though. He has more to contend with at home than at the Hague. He has since been convicted, in December 2019, for gross corruption, and has been on trial since 2020 for the 1989 coup that brought him to power. Conviction in that trial will fetch him the death penalty.

However, his former crime comrades, the RSF, have only gotten wealthier and more powerful. Hemedti was not only made the deputy president with vast executive powers that include foreign policy and international relations, the RSF has been in the business of supplying troops to fight for Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Yemen and Libya in exchange for huge cash and weapons. What is more, Hemedti and the RSF control several gold mines in the Dafur region of the country, where the Russian Wagner group is also operating.

The European Union has also found Hemedti quite useful. Haven securitised immigration some years prior, the EU was in the business of paying various actors in North Africa – warlords, Islamic militants, whosoever that is will – to prevent the flow of migrants from Africa to Europe. It has since entered into a partnership with the RSF, where it pays it to stem the flow of migrants from Africa to Europe.

Awash with cash, sophisticated weaponry, and international clout, therefore, it would be fool-hardy to think General Mohamed Dagalo (aka Hemedti) would merge his RSF forces with the Sudanese military – the proximate cause that led to the breakdown of talks and the start of hostilities.

My contention – meant for the Nigerian reader really – is that genocides and war crimes do go around. As riverine Arabs and the elite in Khartoum in the early 2000s showed indifference or even support for the genocidal campaign waged against the unfortunate African tribes of Darfur by the Janjaweed militia, they never imagined the ragtag militia will pose a threat to their survival in the future. And just like the Burmese who cheered on their army as it decimated the Rohingya Muslim minority only for the army to turn their guns on the Buddhist majority shortly after, the RSF has brought Darfur right to their doorsteps in Khartoum.

What they never knew was that a genocidal army or militia will kill anyone standing in its way. This holds an important lesson for Nigerians who have the habit of supporting genocides or mass killings by the military just because those being killed are of a different religious inclination or ethnic group. In 1999, Victor Malu was Nigeria’s army chief and oversaw the killings and destruction of Odi in Bayelsa state. Shortly after retiring in 2001, it was the turn of his village to be subjected to the brutal genocidal guns of the army. He never recovered till he died. Massacres, killings, and genocides eventually go around.

But beyond the lessons and the calamitous evacuation of Nigerian students and residents in Sudan – a mere logistical operation that always exposes the incompetence and diplomatic lightweightedness of the Nigerian government – what I missed last week was the massive number of Sudanese with Nigerian roots, who may ultimately decide to return to Nigeria if Sudan did descend into a fratricidal war. As an article by SBM Intelligence shows, although Nigeria and Sudan are separated by the Sahara desert and by the vast Chadian territory, a significant number of the descendants of Muhammadu Attahiru I, the last independent Sultan of Sokoto, including his son Muhammad Bello bin Attahiru and his followers who survived the war with British forces under Frederick Lugard in 1903, “migrated east and made their home in Sudan, where many of their descendants reside today.” Some have put the number of Sudanese with Nigerian ancestry to about five million. We must begin to contemplate or even plan for a scenario of many of them returning.

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