Sudan’s Votes and Violence: The High Road to Somalia

Janjaweed and their story bring to mind the picture of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

sudanese-janjaweedOn January 21, 1991, the state collapsed in the republic of Somalia, leaving the country in a state of brutal chaos that did not reach an end until today. This collapse was an inevitable result of the policies of General Mohamed Siad Barre’s military regime who violently took the power seat in 1969 coup, nine years after the independence of Somalia.

Barre’s political scheme was based on centralization of powers using military forces and para-formal militias in different ways until this over centralization swallowed the state itself.

Many similarities are found between the Somalian fate and the current situation in Sudan;

  • The harassment, detention, and torture of political opponents.
  • The over expenditure on military forces (reaching up to 80 percent of state expenditure in both cases) at the expense of other public services.
  • The involvement on international and regional conflicts that is bigger than the capacity of the state (the cold war in the case of Somalia and the Persian Gulf – Iranian conflict in the case of Sudan).
  • The economic collapse because of corruption and political favoritism.
  • The formal espouse of social discriminating, chauvinistic and hegemonic discourse to camouflage grass root flaming social and political issues.

There is an endless list of similarities with the most perilous one being the heavy reliance of the two regimes on tribal and para-formal militias protecting their power seat by proxy.

In the 1970s, Siad Barre created his red berets troop whose members were recruited from particular Somalian clans (majority the Mareehan, Barre’s clan) and another paramilitary force named “Victory Pioneers” as protectors of his authority and used them as main tools of oppression against political opponents descended from other clans especially northern ones.

Barre’s justification for this was an allegation of a failed assassination attempt against him. Those forces had full legal impunity and answered only to President Barre. Observers reported various crimes against civilians and nomads committed by the “Red Berets” especially in Northern Somalia during Somalian civil war. The victory pioneer had similar accusations by crimes of torture, random killing and rape. By 1989 torture and murder became the norm of the day in Mogadishu and other Somalian cities.

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History repeated itself in Sudan

The story reiterated with similar attributes in the formation of Janjaweed militia in Darfur in the beginning of the crisis in 2003. The Sudanese regime used ethnic and tribal factors to recruit fighters from Darfurian-Arabic tribes creating the Janjaweed militia as main counter-insurgency force fighting the rebels and resistance groups. Janjaweed were not the first time Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s regime created and used paramilitary militias.

In early 90s the Sudanese government formed the Popular Defense Forces which was composed of members and supporters of the National Islamic Front who planned for and executed the coup brought al-Bashir to power in 1989. At least then, the regime tried to set a law to control this militia within a legal framework. This was not the case for Janjaweed, whom government denied any formal link to them as its first line of defense when their crimes came public.

Janjaweed and their story bring to mind the picture of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation in the Bible. Especially the pale horseman of death who was “given the authority to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.” This horseman accurately symbolizes Janjaweed whom their name in Arabic stands for; the demon man on horse with a gun.

The modern Janjaweed landing started in 2003. Musa Hilal, a tribal leader from an Arab clan (Al Mahamid) in Darfur played the central role. Hilal, who was imprisoned for criminal offenses with some of them of racial nature at that time, was secured a release and judicial pardon by Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha.

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Amgad Fareid El Tayeb is spokesperson of SudanChangeNow. Born in Khartoum, Sudan, Amgad is a medical doctor and currently a PhD researcher in Life Science at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He is involved in politics and has called for democratic change in Sudan since secondary school as a member of the Democratic Front for Sudanese Students and after graduation member of the Democratic league of Doctors.