Hemedti’s shuttle diplomacy divides region on Sudan crisis

Monday January 08 2024

Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces commander, General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (Hemedti).


Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) Commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo “Hemedti” has been accused of war crimes by various rights groups, but in the Horn of Africa, he is arguably key player in the Sudan politics.

In addition, he has strong ties with most of the leaders in the region.

He has been exploring those ties to execute a shuttle diplomacy in the region and beyond to find leverage in the peace negotiations with his nemesis, ruling junta leader Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

Last week, General Hemedti touched down in Nairobi, and received a king’s treatment by his host — President William Ruto. At the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Kenyan authorities deployed Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki and spy chief Nurdin Haji to welcome him. And at State House, President Ruto hugged him and welcomed him to his “second home” in Kenya. Then they sat at a lobby recently renovated, complete with the flags of Sudan and Kenya beside them.

President Ruto expressed his “appreciation for the commitment” General Hemedti has shown to “ending the conflict” in Sudan. The Kenya’s president pointed to ceasefire talks, led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), which was to end the war raging since mid-April 2023.

“The ongoing talks (of Igad) are expected to lead to a political settlement that will result in lasting peace in the country. “We are looking for nothing but a peaceful solution and a stable neighbour,” the Kenyan leader said.


Read: Ruto holds talks with RSF leader Hemedti in Nairobi

But President Ruto has not always been welcome to mediate in the Sudan crisis. Al-Burhan, has previously accused the President of bias towards General Hemedti, with whom he has had business relations in the past. Those accusations appeared toned down when Burhan visited Nairobi late in November 2023, seeking to cement his legitimacy.

At that time, he and President Ruto issued a statement committing to dialogue via Igad and other regional efforts to end the war. But it wasn’t long before Al-Burhan accused Ruto, again, of taking sides.

The Nairobi visit angered Al-Burhan, and Sudan’s ambassador to Kenya immediately recalled.

Read: Sudan recalls Kenya envoy over Hemedti's visit

The RSF, meanwhile, have overrun Khartoum and nearby regions, including Gezira State, forcing Al-Burhan to relocate to Port Sudan.

Last week’s meeting in Nairobi between General Hemedti and President Ruto may confirm Al-Burhan’s fears. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that Kenya and General Hemedti have miscalculated. Hemedti’s Nairobi tour was preceded by others in the region. He was flying a private jet registered in the UAE, one of of his backers.

Last week, General Hemedti visited Uganda, Ethiopia and Djibouti. He also enjoys close ties with Chad while his rival Al-Burhan has warm ties with Eritrea and Egypt.

Read: Cautious optimism as Hemedti makes first foreign trips

On Thursday, he was in Pretoria, where he briefed South African President Cyril Ramaphosa “on the root causes of the war and the factors contributing to its persistence,” according to a post on his X handle. The diplomatic charm offensive comes as Djibouti, the Igad headquarters, redoubles efforts to get him and Al-Burhan to negotiate.

During his trips, General Hemedti has doubled down on signs of openness, saying that in Uganda he presented “his vision to start negotiations,” discussed in Ethiopia “the need to put an end quickly to this war” and in Djibouti assured the president of his desire to “end the war and reach a comprehensive solution”.

At the same time a delegation of the Co-ordination of Civil Democratic Forces in Sudan (Taqaddum), headed by former prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, arrived in Djibouti on Wednesday to meet with President Ismail Omar Guelleh, Igad chair.

A statement issued by Taqaddum, said the delegation “provided a full explanation of the vision of stopping the war and establishing sustainable peace in accordance with the roadmap put forward.” The delegation also briefed President Guelleh on the efforts made by the civilian groups under Hamdok, which earlier signed a “declaration” with General Hemedti, who pledged to protect civilians, open channels for delivering humanitarian aid and stopping the war. General Hemedti also pledged to free more than 450 prisoners of war.

After the meeting, President Guelleh said on X: “I received today at the Republic Palace, Brother Abdalla Hamdok, former Prime Minister of Sudan, and co-ordinator of civil democratic forces, to discuss the latest developments and ways to support a peaceful solution in brotherly Sudan. I am committed to continuing efforts with all parties to end the crisis and achieve peace and stability for the dear people of Sudan.”

In Sudan, vice-president of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council Malik Agar said in a statement to the Arab World News Agency that the signing that took place is an agreement between partners, as (Taqaddum) and the Rapid Support are partners, and they are one body in in two bodies, and there is nothing new about that.”