Darfur Identity Crisis: Islam, Tribalism, Ethnology, Politics And The Ongoing Process Of Genocide – Analysis


By Ambassador (ret.) Dr. Haim Koren

In April 2019, protests and riots swept Sudan, toppled ruler Omar al-Bashir, after 30 years in power, and brought about his arrest. Lieutenant general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, commander of Sudan’s Armed Forces (SAF), joined hands with Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (known as Hemedti), commander of the feared Janjaweed militia, grandly renamed the Rapid Support force (RSF) and together seized power in a coup d’etat. This became a short-lived triumvirate leadership when a civilian politician, Abdalla Hamdok, joined as Prime Minister.

The Current Situation

Hemedti’s Cope D’etat on 15 April 2023, to remove Burhan – which in turn led to the eruption of intense and bloody warfare between his militiamen and protesters. Hundreds were killed, and the fighting spread. This has been pushing Sudan into turmoil.

Burhan accuses Hemedti of subversion and of acts of cruelty against the civilian population, as well as of rebellious attacks on SAF troops. Ultimately, Burhan and Hemedti’s power struggle is a reflection of their different backgrounds and of the complexities of Sudan’s political culture. Bashir’s legacy by the respective tribes’ quest for hegemony. Hemedti likes to integrate the RSF fully into the SAF – which is bound to have disrupting effects and difficulties for the military and for Sudanese society. Bashir, from the Ja’aliyin tribe, governed the country for 3 decades – using both the imposition of strict Islamic law, in conjunction with Hassan al-Turabi’s National Congress and the brutal use of military force to repress Dissent. Turabi was the one. Who led the ideology against the Africans of Darfur, allegedly by Radical 

Islam platform but actually, by racist elements. Turabi led the ideological path to genocide. Burhan, while rose through the ranks of the armed forces, was a member of the Shai’kiyyah tribe. Hemedti’s tribe is the Rezaiykat (where he was a Camel Herder), in the southwest, and his RSF is an offshoot of the violent Arab militia – formerly known as the much-feared “Janjaweed”. Thus, the power struggle is also a tribal issue: like Bashir, Burhan claimed the leadership in Khartoum. The western Sudanese of African origins, such as the Fur and other tribes -has been discriminated by Khartoum since the Independence.

The Arab Janjaweed convicted the genocide in service of Bashir and Turabi. The new wave of slaughtering the black tribesmen people in Darfur by Hemedti’s RSF militia has been happening now. In the events which spread to Darfur in October 2023 thousands of people were killed, many were wounded and some succeeded to run away from the region.

Statement of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) talk about hundreds loses in El Geneina on November 4 and 5. Approximately 700 people were reportedly killed in West Darfur after clashes between the Sudanese army and paramilitary RSF at Nov 9.  Women from the city of Al-Junina (West Darfur) cry after receiving the news about the death of their relatives as they waited for them in(bordering) Chad (November 9th). One hundred were injured and 300 others are reported missing.

Reports on a large massacre by RSF numbered by hundreds to thousands citizens of Darfur (November 9th). Some aid organizations described it as “ethnic cleansing” (November 10th).


Darfur sultanate in western Sudan, was added to Sudan only in 1916 after Ali Dinar the last Sultan of Darfur was defeated by British forces. Since Sudan’s independence (1956), this territorial framework preserved till July 9th 2011-the Independence of South Sudan after its separation from Sudan, after a long, difficult process. Sudan borders underwent a further shape which displayed sometimes a violent, belligerent nature, political, religious, and economic mosaic emerged from the tension between borders and identities. That led to the most horrible Genocide in Darfur.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant in July 2008 against Omar al Bashir and some of his government ministers for crimes against humanity (and later for genocidal slaughter of non-Arab citizens there) committed in Darfur, estimates 350,000-500,000 men and women were murdered by the Janjaweed in 2003-2005.

This genocide has been going on (with some interruptions) till now. In addition to racial (Semites and Hamites) and religious (Muslims, Christians, and Animists) divisions, there is great variance within the ethnic groups themselves.

The Muslims are divided into groups claiming Arab extraction vs. non-Arab African groups. The Islamization process of Darfur began at the end of the 16th Century. A clear-cut distinction is made between the “Arab- Muslim north” (centered in Khartoum), the “African (Hamite/black) Christian (and some Animist) south” (located in South Sudan). In the west (Darfur) the split is “Arab- Muslim north”, against African-Muslim(non-Arabs), that is a conflict on racist basis-and not on religious one.

Slave traders in Sudan were mainly Arabs (the most famous was Rahma Abu Zubair), there are also residues of the traditional master slave/Arab-African notion, which is also found in other countries along the sub-Saharan line (such as Mauritania).

The war of Khartoum in Darfur and in the border areas, manifest the rifts in Sudanese society: Arabs vs. Africans, center vs. periphery, and between Muslims on the one hand and Christians and those with traditional African religions on the other.


The war spreads out to Darfur while Hemedti and his RSF militia use it for convicting Darfur’s genocide. While international attention focuses on Russian-Ukraine war and the war in Gaza, they strengthening their activities.

Hemedti/Burhan power struggle is not finished yet and it’s stretching all over Sudan, Hemedti, and his followers are taking part at the massacre in Darfur. The high wave of antisemitism which is have been raising on the west-might bring ignorance from Hemedti’s role in the massacre.

Adam Muhamad Barima from Darfur (in Israel from 2008) – was murdered by Hamas in October 7th in the attack on Sderot (with his Jewish Neighbors). His friends from the Darfurian community in Israel said (17/11/23): “what Hamas had done is similar to the things that happened in Darfur-Hamas is Janjaweed”. Other Countries should refer to the genocide in Sudan and consider their support to a leader who is massacre convector.

  • About the author: Dr. Haim Koren is a member of IFIMES Advisory Board and former Israeli ambassador to South Sudan and Egypt. 
  • This article first published in the Ariel University in Israel


IFIMES – International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan studies, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council ECOSOC/UN since 2018. IFIMES is also the publisher of the biannual international scientific journal European Perspectives. IFIMES gathers and selects various information and sources on key conflict areas in the world. The Institute analyses mutual relations among parties with an aim to promote the importance of reconciliation, early prevention/preventive diplomacy and disarmament/ confidence building measures in the regional or global conflict resolution of the existing conflicts and the role of preventive actions against new global disputes.

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