Note: This is not the official flag of the Janjaweed, but rather a reproduction based on the badges they wear (which contains Sudan's flag)
The Janjaweed is a Sudanese Arab militia group which operates in Sudan and eastern Chad with a particular concentration around Darfur. Although it has been linked to recruiting fighters from other tribes, its main source of recruits is from one main tribe; the Abbala (camel herders) people and more specifically the northern Rizeigat people (McGregor 2017). The origin of the word Janjaweed is unclear. although it has been translated into English as “devils on horseback”.
They have been in constant conflict with the black Sudanese population within Sudan and this has led to conflicts and raiding being carried out on farms and villages. Despite the origins of the group being traced back to the 1980s, they became largely active in 2003 when the War in Darfur began. This conflict was started by the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) who accused the government in Darfur (which was dominated by Sudanese Arabs) of favouring the Sudanese Arab population over the non-Arab black population (BBC News 2010).
Originally used to suppress an uprising in 1986, they were then subsequently outfitted with military equipment and became a paramilitary organisation which was at the centre of the Darfuri government's counter-insurgency strategy (Human Rights Watch 2004). Sudanese Arabs make up 70% of the population of Sudan. However, prior to the independence of South Sudan in 2011, Sudanese Arabs made up only 40% of the population (CIA 2022). Sudanese Arabs are among the 600 ethnic groups who live there, and there are discriminatory elements within Arab-Sudanese society that pejoratively portray black people. Sudan is dominated by a light-skinned, Arabic-speaking elite, while black Africans often face oppression and marginalisation.
History & Foundations
Created in 1988, the Janjaweed supported Libyan armed forces in combat in eastern Chad. When the Libyan army under Ghaddafi was defeated, they retreated to Darfur and were hosted by Sheikh Musa Hilal (Polgreen 2022) who is currently believed to be the coordinator of the group and the leader accountable for the crimes committed by them (Reeves 2008). Throughout the 1990s, the Janjaweed were armed partisans who were tolerated by the central Sudanese government. When the War in Darfur began in 2003, the Sudanese military and government responded by utilising the Janjaweed in their aforementioned anti-insurgency role. With equipment given to them by the central government, the Janjaweed turned the tide in the battle for Darfur and routed the opposing forces of the SLM and the JEM. This then led to what has been commonly labelled as ethnic cleansing of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa people (Ray 2019). In October of 2007, the United States government labelled the killings in Darfur (which had been perpetrated by the Janjaweed) to be genocide, since an estimated 200,000 – 400,000 civilians had died (Kessler and Lynch 2004). The Janjaweed militias, however, were disbanded in 2013 and folded under the command of the Sudanese government and subsequently rebranded as the Rapid Support Forces (Loeb 2015).
Objectives and Ideology
The group subscribes to a nominally pan-Arabist vision which it has adhered to since its foundation. This has led to allegations of ethnic cleansing and Arab supremacist elements within the group’s ideology. These Arab supremacist notions stem from the domination of the forces and central Sudanese government by Arabs from various tribes in the north of the country. When two non-Arab groups (SLM and JEM) began an uprising against the central government in 2003, the government utilised the Janjaweed group against them, which only cemented the group's notorious reputation as a terror organisation (Tarumbwa 2019).
Military & Political Abilities
The military abilities of this group are extensive and are closely linked to the military of the Sudanese government, notably as both are commonly seen working alongside one another. This includes the National Armed Forces of Sudan providing air and ground support in advance of RSF/Janjaweed attacks (Etefa 2019). Their military equipment is also extensive and includes numerous small arms as well as RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). Images of the group also frequently display large amounts of heavy weaponry, such as heavy machine guns (HMGs) and also anti-aircraft weaponry. Due to the ingrained nature of the RSF leadership within the wider Sudanese government, this has led to their political capabilities becoming extensive. The leader of the RSF Lt-Gen Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagolo is Sudan’s vice president and therefore wields significant influence in the nation. He has been accused by observers of using the RSF to inflame tensions and commit violent acts in the nation to further his political ambitions (Hashim 2022).
Approach to Resistance
The Janjaweed militias are/were extremely violent and have been accused of committing crimes against humanity. Many of its top leaders have been accused of committing genocidal acts and the ICC have charged several of the group's leaders. One of these is the suspected former leader of the Janjaweed militia who has been charged with over 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity (BBC News 2022). The group has also been accused of committing rapes and murders, as well as ethnic cleansing campaigns across the Darfur area and Sudan as a whole (The New Arab 2015).
International Relations & Potential Alliances
Due to the nature of the organisation as being a local militia group present only in the Sudan region, the Janjaweed have little to no international alliances or relations with other groups. Due to the restructuring of the organisation in August of 2013, the group became known as the Rapid Support Forces and this, alongside their new government support, has enabled them to operate outside of the country. RSF forces have been fighting in several war zones in Africa and the Middle East such as in the Libyan civil war and the Yemeni civil war.
During its participation in the Libyan civil war, the RSF has reportedly sent around 1000 to 4000 militiamen who are to protect Libyan oil institutions under the control of General Khalifa Haftar for him to concentrate on attacking Tripoli (Dabanga 2019). Additionally, RSF/Janjaweed participation in the Yemeni civil war is extensive as they support pro-Hadi forces. The numbers of militiamen are suspected to number around 40,000. Sudanese forces in Yemen have been accused of committing war crimes and human rights violations as they have been similarly accused of in Sudan (Heras 2017). However, the number of Sudanese pro-Hadi RSF militiamen has been reduced by 10,000, who have subsequently returned to Sudan (SudanTribune 2011).
Works Cited (MLA-style)
BBC News. 2010. “Q&A: Sudan’s Darfur Conflict.” News.bbc.co.uk, February 23, 2010. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/3496731.stm.
———. 2022. “Sudan Darfur Crisis: ICC to Try War Crimes Suspect.” BBC News, April 5, 2022, sec. Africa. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-60976556.
CIA. 2022. “Sudan - the World Factbook.” Www.cia.gov. November 14, 2022. https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/sudan/#people-and-society.
Dabanga. 2019. “1,000 Sudanese Militiamen Arrive in Libya.” Radio Dabanga. July 25, 2019. https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/1-000-sudanese-militiamen-arrive-in-libya.
Etefa, Tsega. 2019. “Explainer: Tracing the History of Sudan’s Janjaweed Militia.” The Conversation. June 18, 2019. https://theconversation.com/explainer-tracing-the-history-of-sudans-janjaweed-militia-118926.
Hashim, Mohanad. 2022. “Darfur: Why Are Sudan’s Janjaweed on the Attack Again?” BBC News, April 26, 2022, sec. Africa. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-61217999.
Heras, Nicholas A. 2017. “Sudan’s Controversial Rapid Support Forces Bolster Saudi Efforts in Yemen.” Jamestown. October 27, 2017. https://jamestown.org/program/sudans-controversial-rapid-support-forces-bolsters-saudi-efforts-yemen/.
Human Rights Watch. 2004. “Darfur Destroyed: Ethnic Cleansing by Government and Militia Forces in Western Sudan.” Refworld. Human Rights Watch. https://www.refworld.org/docid/412ef69d4.html.
Kessler, Glenn, and Colum Lynch. 2004. “U.S. Calls Killings in Sudan Genocide.” Washington Post, September 10, 2004. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A8364-2004Sep9.html.
Loeb, Jonathan. 2015. “‘Men with No Mercy’ Rapid Support Forces Attacks against Civilians in Darfur, Sudan.” Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/09/09/men-no-mercy/rapid-support-forces-attacks-against-civilians-darfur-sudan.
McGregor, Andrew. 2017. “Why the Janjaweed Legacy Prevents Khartoum from Disarming Darfur | Aberfoyle International Security.” Aberfoyle International Security. October 15, 2017. https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4027.
Polgreen, Lydia. 2022. “Over Tea, Sheik Denies Stirring Darfur’s Torment (Published 2006).” The New York Times, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/12/world/africa/12darfur.html.
Ray, Michael. 2019. “Janjaweed | Sudanese Militia | Britannica.” In Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Janjaweed.
Reeves, Eric. 2008. “Musa Hilal: ‘Minister of Offense.’” The New Republic, February 1, 2008. https://web.archive.org/web/20090304065513/http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article202.html.
SudanTribune. 2011. “جهاز الامن السودانى يفرج عن 6 معتقلين.” سودان تريبيون. February 15, 2011. https://sudantribune.net/article68404/.
Tarumbwa, Lionel. 2019. “Who Are the Janjaweed, the Militia behind Sudan’s Army Crackdown? | the African Exponent.” The African Exponent. June 19, 2019. https://www.africanexponent.com/post/10385-the-rapid-response-force-has-been-described-as-men-with-no-mercy.
The New Arab. 2015. “The Janjaweed, Sudan’s Ticking Time Bomb.” Https://Www.newarab.com/. May 25, 2015. https://www.newarab.com/analysis/janjaweed-sudans-ticking-time-bomb.