Conversation | Explainer: tracing the history of Sudan’s Janjaweed militia

Former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir was finally removed from powerafter six months of peaceful protest earlier in 2019. The protesters were hopeful for a new beginning but their quest for a civilian government has been shut down by a military council that includes Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the leader of a paramilitary unit called the Rapid Support Forces that has its roots in the Janjaweed. Tsega Etefa explains who the Janjaweed are and why their presence doesn’t bode well for peace in the country.

What is the history of the Janjaweed – when did the group come together and why?

The term Janjaweed refers to the armed groups of the Arabs of Darfur and Kordofan in western Sudan. They call themselves fursan(horsemen). 

Darfur, located in western Sudan, is a vast plain about the size of the US state of Texas. It is divided into three states: North Darfur, with its capital at El Fasher; West Darfur, with its capital at El Geneina; and South Darfur, with its seat at Nyala. North Darfur is semi desert, while the western and southern regions have rich, fertile lands. Darfur’s population is estimated at 7 million. All Darfurians are black Muslims even though many identify as Arab based on genealogy linked to Saudi Arabia. Darfur shares borders with the Central African Republic, Chad and Libya.

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