Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, the leader of a notorious paramilitary force fighting for supremacy in Sudan’s civil war, is not the president of his country. Yet on a recent whirlwind tour of six African nations, he was treated just like one.
Some of the continent’s most powerful leaders rolled out the red carpet for General Hamdan after he arrived on a luxury jet for meetings in late December and early January, having swapped his military fatigues for business suits. In Kenya, traditional dancers waited at the plane steps. In South Africa, he sank into an armchair beside a smiling President Cyril Ramaphosa.
And in Rwanda, General Hamdan posed solemnly at a memorial to victims of the 1994 genocide — even though his own troops have faced accusations of genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region.
The surprise tour was a remarkable comeback for a commander often rumored dead or wounded since Sudan plunged into war in April. General Hamdan’s Rapid Support Forces are steamrolling across Sudan, beating the country’s regular army into retreat — in large part thanks to military backing from the United Arab Emirates, a Persian Gulf petrostate that is emerging as a kingmaker in the Horn of Africa region, according to a new report by United Nations investigators.
The as-yet unpublished report, obtained by The New York Times, offers new detail about how the Emirates has been smuggling powerful weapons to General Hamdan’s forces, known as the R.S.F., through Chad since last summer — armed drones, howitzers and antiaircraft missiles, sent via secretive cargo flights and desert smuggling routes. The supplies have boosted his forces to a succession of victories that in recent months have altered the course of the war.
“This new R.S.F. firepower had a massive impact on the balance of forces, both in Darfur and other regions of Sudan,” the report says.