Darfur refugees dream of return
When Ahmed Yusuf Ahmed heard that Omar al-Bashir had been overthrown he was initially exultant. "I thought it was the best news I had heard in my life," says Ahmed, who fled his native Darfur in 2003.
Sudan has been in a state of political unrest since protests triggered by an economic crisis started in December last year and spread across the country demanding an end to Bashir’s three decades of authoritarian rule. On 11 April, the military ousted al-Bashir and established a Transitional Military Council (TMC).
Ahmed was 16 years old when Janjaweed paramilitary forces hired by Bashir’s government to crush a local insurgency burned his village in the Karnoi area, killed his father and stole his family’s cattle. He lived in a refugee camp in Chad for 10 years, and then applied for asylum in Jordan, where – like most refugees who are not allowed to work – he struggles to make ends meet.
According to UN estimates, Bashir’s counter-insurgency campaign in Darfur has killed at least 300 000 people and displaced over 2.7 million since 2003. For their alleged role in the atrocities, al-Bashir and other top officials have been indicted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court between 2009 and 2010.
Muted reaction to Bashirʹs overthrow
Although Bashir’s fall was received with exhilaration, Ahmed was cautious. He knew the generals who removed him were closely associated with the old regime. The military council that took over was headed by lieutenant general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who was the military intelligence officer coordinating military actions in Darfur between 2003 and 2005. The council’s most prominent member was General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as Hemeti, the leader of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
Hemeti’s forces were formally established by Bashir’s government in 2013, but grew out of the dreaded Janjaweed militias mobilised to fight against insurgencies in Darfur and other marginalised areas throughout Sudan in the early 2000s. RSF mercenaries have received support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to fight in Yemen as part of the Saudi-led coalition, and have been deployed to repress demonstrations throughout Sudan to protect Bashir’s government.
After the establishment of the TMC, mass protests continued to demand a transition to civilian rule, forcing the military to enter negotiations with the main pro-democracy coalition. Talks were suspended several times and strained by a violent crackdown on 3 June which, according to the opposition-linked Doctors’ Central Committee, left 128 people dead. But on 17 July, the military council and pro-democracy leaders announced they had reached a power-sharing deal amid growing pressure from the United States, the African Union and Arab allies.