May 24 2019
Protesters stood behind a brick barricade in downtown Khartoum last week and did what they've done for almost two months: demand an end to Sudan's military rule. But the soldiers on the other side had a different response. First, they raised their weapons skyward and fired into the air.
"Then they started aiming," said Muzdihir Abdulmunim, a 31-year-old father of two, speaking from a hospital bed after the attack. "And that's when I was shot."
Abdulmunim was one of dozens of protesters shot last week in Khartoum, allegedly by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a notorious militia led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo.
Dagolo, better known as "Hemeti," carries a long record of alleged atrocities in Darfur, and he’s brought his reputation for violence to Khartoum. Both protest leaders and the U.S. envoy blamed the RSF for the outbreak in violence last week, which took place just as military and civilian negotiators were on the cusp of a deal to form a new government. Now, those talks have collapsed.
In Sudan's chaos, Hemeti is working to solidify his dominance. In mid-April, he seized on the mass protests, playing a crucial role in ousting long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir. Now, as deputy of the ruling military junta overseeing the transition, and leader of the country's largest militia, he may just be the most powerful man in Khartoum. He may also be to be the main obstacle to achieving lasting peace in Sudan.
If Hemeti “doesn't get what he wants, for him and others around him, he can use violence in both Khartoum and Darfur,” said Jerome Tubiana, a researcher who has studied conflicts in Chad and Sudan for over 20 years. "If he gets what he wants, he will likely try to increase his power further.”