The Janjaweed use as a Tool of Ethnic Counterinsurgency

Date: May 27th 2013

Just as it would be wrong to suggest that all white Americans supported racial segregation, it’s also incorrect to argue that all Hutu were mobilized to kill Tutsi during Rwanda’s genocide. We instead understand that the roots of the problem are systemic—the political, economic and social institutions, and discourses, condoned such attitudes and behavior, enabling individuals to use their power and capacity against the powerless. Fortunately, after a very long struggle, with incredible sacrifices and a heavy price paid by many individuals, the system was changed. A similar argument can be made in the case of the Sudanese system; it divides people within the same families, clans and tribes by categorize some as good and others as bad. The result – the mass atrocities in south Sudan and a genocide in Darfur.
The idea of categorizing all Arabs in Darfur as “Janjaweed” is unfair and is not helping to bring the Darfur conflict to an end. The truth is more complex. In fact, some Arab groups joined the resistance movements from Day one; others willingly worked for the regime’s National Congress Party (NCP) committing horrible massacres, and indeed some stayed neutral. However, the majority of the Arab ethnic group is against the idea of Janjaweed-militia. The regime has maintained power by successfully pitting Arab elements and groups against non-Arab ethnic groups, and dividing everyone. In this article I am illustrating the fact about the Janjaweed in order to talk about the future and the potential conflict resolution.

Darfur has more than 85 different tribes, who speak over 14 different languages. They categorize themselves into two groups: the African indigenous group and those of Arab origin. Among these ethnic-groups, religious-beliefs and identities the Janjaweed or Murahaleen tribes do not exist. However, the (NCP) regime has created this identity, brainwashed them into thinking that they support the government agenda, and created categories in the society — “us and them” so as to make each group view the other as the enemy who has no right to live. To find out how this happened and what is their role I first studied the tribes in Darfur. I found that there are over 85 different “African” and “Arab” tribes who had been living together for many centuries, eating the same food, believing and practicing the same religion and intermarrying. They also (more or less) had the same skin color (black). They practiced three main economic activities (farming, herding and trading). Finally, they identified themselves as Darfurian as well as Sudanese.
I then studied The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, to help me understand counterinsurgency and how it works. Here I would like to compare and contrast the logic of this manual to the existing practice in Sudan. When a government is confronted with insurgency, then a legitimate government can train counterinsurgency from the population to achieve the primary objective to help and direct the military to defeat the insurgency by the balanced application of both military and non-military men. Sentence not clear According to David Petraeus(2007), the goal is to recruit individuals who know the local language, culture and the local terrains to provide military intelligence information and to fight along-side the government. The role of these individuals is to provide information for the battlefield and pre-deployment planning. Petraeus also highlighted that the presence of the rule of law is a major factor in assuring voluntary acceptance of a government’s authority and therefore its legitimacy.

This is the case in Darfur where the NCP is recruiting tribes to fight against other tribes.  It is fair to call them an “ethnic counterinsurgency” because it is not individuals that are recruited, but tribes and elements of ethnic groups. The NCP used this method for over two decades during the civil war in South Sudan, mobilizing tribes to attack other tribes. The government formed militias, known locally as Murahaleen, from Arab ethnic groups to fight against the southern tribes. The message they gave was to kill all the infidels in South Sudan. The NCP uses Political Islam as a means to exploit religion in politics purposely to achieve political control. The phenomenon of political Islam-in other words the exploitation of religion in politics to serve the interests of the class dictatorship of opportunism – emerged through the Ikhwan Al-Muslimeen Muslim Brotherhood. It is one of the strongest tools used by the NCP regime. Such a strategy is characterized as a religious war – a Fatwa of Jihad – which was declared in April 27th 1993. They promoted the killing of infidels or other resistance to the NCP. Then the Murahaleen perfectly implemented the government’s plans by killing people with no mercy; as a duty, they also got involved in slavery, abductions and so on. An eye witnessed told me:
“The government-allied militias have also conducted raids against villages in the south preventing villagers from planting, destroying crops in the fields, setting food granaries on fire to destroy what they could not loot or contaminating the food to render it unfit for consumption”.
The NCP have promoted the Murahaleen who are incorporated into the Popular Defence Forces (PDF) and legalized their operations to avoid international criticism on Murahaleen activities especially on slavery Simon Deng former slave (2008). This is the same militia that exists in Darfur, but with a different name. In Darfur, they are known as Janjaweed, which means “a man with a gun on a horse”.  Once again the NCP has formed a militia from some elements of the Arab groups to fight by their side. The orders are to kill every “civilian, rebel, insurgent, or other armed group, or ethnic group” and evacuate the land. In his visit to El-Fasher, North Darfur, President Omer Bashir addressed the government allies by saying “ I do not want to see either war prisoners nor wounded persons. Kill them all.” They committed the most terrible crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. This is similar to what happened in Rwanda, when the Hutu tribe of former president Juvénal Habyarimana, was used as counterinsurgency against the Tutsis, who were the tribe of the insurgency. The result was that at least 1,000,000 women, men, and children were murdered over a 90-day period Melvern (2004).

In Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Petraeus, the U.S. utilized their land combat forces, supported by air and maritime forces, to conduct full spectrum operations to disrupt or destroy insurgent military capabilities. This is not what is happening in Darfur. I have witnessed the Janjaweed militias; supported by air forces they have killed civilians, burnt 2800 villages, displace 2.5 million persons, and destroyed their properties, and raped women, all in the name of God. The US special envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios (2012) mentioned that there were about 300,000 confirmed dead in the three Darfur states. The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Sudan Mukesh Kapila, has called the situation “the largest humanitarian disaster in the world”. It is elements from Arab groups supported by the Islamic government that are killing people from “non-Arab groups” based on their ethnic identity. Colin Powell of the US government has called what is happening in Darfur genocide, Scott Straus (2004). In the BBC “Panorama” program the former-foreign minister Mustafa Osman Ismail was asked to answer why his government had attacked civilians? He said:
“Our position is clear, that what has been going on is not a genocide, this is an American attempt to use a humanitarian situation for a political agenda. The rebels using civilians as shelter to attach the government and the government has no option” —BBC NEWS | Programmes | Panorama | Darfur in quotes 2004
In a video interview with top Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal confirmed to Human Right Watch that all Janjaweed militia were led by top army commanders and were getting their orders from Khartoum. He also emphasized that personally played a role as a facilitator and his duty was to obey the government and to mobilize people to join the PDF, so as to defend the country; the most important goal is to fight for their survival and the county’s stability.
Both Janjaweed and Murahaleen militia were and are today being used by the government of Sudan as a tool of ethnic counterinsurgency to help the Islamic government maintain power. They are not representing their entire tribes as they only individuals of those tribes they belong to. They are also helping to destroy the social fabric as well as the historical relationship. Moreover there is a real possibility of entering into inter-tribal Arab fighting if there is any change in Sudanese politics. Furthermore the reality on the ground is proving that there is a huge level of mistrust and enmity between factions of Janjaweed militia and the Islamic government due to current economic changes in Sudan. In a phone interview, a Janjaweed leader told me:
“We have been used and abused by the NCP regime, the rebels we fought against them now they solved their differences with the government and becoming ministers and government officials and we still at the same point of 2004 with neither official job nor education or future”                                 —Mohammed Musa March 2013
Unless and until this system is changed and replaced by a system that values human life and accept ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity, it is hard to imagine that the conflict in Darfur and across Sudan will come to an end. This diversity that exhibit in how people show their happiness, sadness, politics, settle their disputes and above all how the people want to live with each another. Learning from the experience of others such as those in Rwanda today experiencing a different image where social justice put in place and replace all previous causational of those conflicts.


Adeeb Yousif is PhD. Student in the program of the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR) at George Mason University he can be reached at +256718462005

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