UAE Role in Sudan’s Civil War Draws Criticism
The United Arab Emirates’ support for the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Sudan’s civil war is drawing criticism from observers who say it is fanning the flames of violence.
The UAE’s support for RSF leader Gen. Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo has played a key role in his battlefield successes, according to Giorgio Cafiero, CEO of Gulf State Analytics risk consultancy.
In mid-December 2023, RSF fighters took over Wad Madani, the capital of Gezira State in Sudan’s agricultural heartland, with little resistance from the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). The city southeast of Khartoum had been a refuge for people and businesses, such as the banking sector, fleeing the violence in the capital region.
SAF commander Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has taken a hard line against the UAE, expelling 15 UAE diplomats in December because of the country’s continued support for the RSF.
“Until recently, the al-Burhan camp exercised caution and diplomacy, avoiding direct verbal confrontations against key players such as Libya’s [Field Marshal. Khalifa] Haftar, Russia and Abu Dhabi,” Jalel Harchaoui, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told Agence France-Presse.
Haftar, Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries, and the UAE all have ties to the RSF and to Hemedti personally. Haftar and Wagner supplied weapons to the RSF early in the conflict using Wagner aircraft based in southern Libya. Wagner, which has recently been renamed Africa Corps, and the UAE also have a long relationship with Hemedti through the mining and smuggling of gold from Darfur’s Jebel Amer mines, which Hemedti controls. Most of that gold ends up in the UAE, where it enters the international market.
Hemedti maintains his own and the RSF’s finances in the UAE, which also is the home of the RSF’s social media propaganda network. In 2019, four years before the conflict with the SAF began, Hemedti bought 1,000 vehicles from the UAE that could be turned into machine gun-carrying “technicals.” The Dagalo family company that bought those vehicles, Tradive General Trading, also is based in the UAE.
Now, Sudan’s leaders say, the UAE is sending the RSF more than just ground transportation.
“We have information from intelligence, military intelligence, and the diplomatic circuit that the UAE sends planes to support the Janjaweed [RSF],” al-Atta said in a speech to members of the General Intelligence Service in Omdurman in November 2023.
According to researcher Mohamed Suliman, Sudan’s recent accusations are in line with the UAE’s ties to the RSF.
“The UAE’s support for the [RSF] militia comes in various forms, from direct funding to logistics and military equipment,” Suliman, who studies the RSF’s tactics, wrote recently for the website Politics Today. “This military support provided the militias with the necessary tools to commit countless crimes.”
Writing for the Middle East Monitor, analyst Nasim Ahmed said the UAE’s actions help to advance its own interests in Sudan by securing access to gold and other natural resources there. Backing the RSF also gives the UAE leverage to counter countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both of which back the SAF, Ahmed added.
“Rather than promoting stability and security, the UAE’s actions are contributing to the breakdown of institutions and the rise of violent non-state actors,” Ahmed wrote.
As the conflict between the SAF and RSF grinds on, the backing by outsiders — particularly the UAE — has become extremely important as the international community pushes for a cease-fire, according to Alex de Waal, director of the World Peace Foundation.
“What the peace efforts thus far have failed to do is to bring those external power backers, especially the UAE, to the table in some way,” de Waal told Al-Jazeera. “Until that happens, the war is very unlikely to be resolved.”