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Hemedti Makes Diplomatic Tour of East Africa While RSF Fighters Gain Ground


Days after the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) took control of Sudan’s second-largest city, the militia’s leader launched a diplomatic tour of East African countries in an attempt, observers say, to portray himself as a viable leader.

Gen. Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo visited Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda on a tour that echoed a similar trip his rival, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, had made a few weeks before as both men tried to rally regional players to their side of the conflict. Hemedti also visited Ghana and South Africa.

“Hemedti desperately needs people to feel that the RSF is a governing force. I think this is why Hemedti went to meet heads of state,” Kholood Khair, a Sudan expert and founding director of the think tank Confluence Advisory, told Al-Jazeera. “Hemedti will try as much as possible to fashion himself into this idea of being a leader.”

Hemedti made several stops on his tour aboard a plane operated by the United Arab Emirates — a fact that observers said was in keeping with the UAE’s ongoing support for the RSF in the form of banking, social media hosting and weapons.

Political analyst Mohamed El Asbat told Sudan’s Radio Dabanga that Hemedti’s tour, during which he sometimes wore civilian dress and cast insults at al-Burhan, was designed to present himself as a political leader rather than a military one.

“I think this is a very elaborate PR campaign to bestow some political legitimacy on the leader of the Rapid Support Forces,” analyst Suliman Baldo told the BBC’s “Africa Daily.”

Andreas Krieg, CEO of MENA analytica, a London-based risk consultant, took a stronger tone. He described Hemedti’s tour on X, formerly known as Twitter, as a UAE-directed campaign to “whitewash his image to appear more statesman-like.”

The tour came after a series of RSF victories that saw the paramilitary group take control of most of Darfur, large portions of the capital region and, most recently, the city of Wad Madani and Gezira state, which is Sudan’s agricultural hub. In Wad Madani, as in Darfur, the RSF encountered little resistance from the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF).

Al-Burhan has protested the reception Hemedti has received in other countries, saying the high-level meetings legitimize Hemedti and the RSF, which al-Burhan has labeled a rebel group.

While Hemedti shakes hands with African leaders, his RSF fighters continue to assault civilians, loot buildings and pillage homes in areas they control. More than 7 million Sudanese people have fled their homes to escape the hostilities and bloodshed.

The RSF is winning on the battlefield, but losing politically as its fighters plunder communities, Baldo said.

“The whole world witnessed these rebel forces committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in West Darfur and the rest of Sudan,” al-Burhan said during a recent speech to troops in Port Sudan. “He is humiliating the Sudanese people, he is killing them, insulting them, and some people are clapping for him and laughing with him.”

Al-Burhan has refused to join a cease-fire Hemedti signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during his visit at the end of December 2023. He also has declined an invitation to meet with Hemedti in Djibouti under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. Sudan has since announced it will leave the regional bloc.

“We have no reconciliation with them,” al-Burhan, said during his Port Sudan speech. “We have no agreement with them.”

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