The Janjaweed: Between Politics and Politicization of Identity in the

The Janjaweed: Between Politics and Politicization of Identity in the

01-01-2014, 08:41 AM


Post: #1
Title: The Janjaweed: Between Politics and Politicization of Identity in the
Author: Adeeb Yousif
Date: 01-01-2014, 08:41 AM

The Janjaweed militia has been used, as manufactured tool of ethnic counterinsurgency as there is no ethnic group or a tribe called Janjaweed in Darfur or across any part of Sudan. Darfur has more than 85 different tribes, who speak over 14 different languages but can be categorized into two groups: the African indigenous group and those of Arab origin. Among these ethnic-groups, tribes, and the doctrines-religious-beliefs, the Janjaweed do not exist. However, the Government of Sudan (GoS) has managed to create this identity, by brainwashing a “group” into thinking that they must support the governments agenda, and with that created unhealthy categories within the society— Us Versus Them —so as to make each group view the other as the enemy who has no right to live.

Most people assume that the Darfur conflict is about African versus Arab or farmers versus pastoralist’s but that is not the main causality of this conflict. The conflict is about Politics and Politicization of Identity —the psychological data of an idea that kills people; an idea that makes people kill each other even those from the same family. One must not strengthen the idea that the problem is an identity of African versus Arab as this is an incorrect assertion but one that is currently gaining momentum nonetheless. The idea is that everybody has to do ‘x’ or they must die. This is not true as it is not about race; it is not about identity in itself; but rather it is about the “Politicization of Identity”.

The Janjaweed: as a Tool of Ethnic Counterinsurgency
Just as it would be wrong to suggest that all white Americans supported racial segregation, it is also incorrect to argue that all Hutu were mobilized to kill Tutsi during the Rwanda genocide. Instead we understand that the roots of the problems 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 family, clan and tribe by categorizing some as good and others as bad. The result can be seen by the mass atrocities committed in south Sudan and the Darfur conflict.

The idea of categorizing all Arabs in Darfur as “Janjaweed”, is unfair and does not help to bring the Darfur conflict to an end. The truth of the matter though is more complex. In the first instance, some Arab groups joined the resistance movements from day one; others willingly worked for the ruling regime in 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 though, has been able to maintain its power by successfully pitting Arab elements and groups against non-Arab ethnic groups, and dividing everyone. In this article, I will be elucidating the dynamics of the Janjaweed group in order to talk about the future potential for conflict resolution in Darfur.


As mentioned above, 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 ruling regime has created this identity, brainwashing 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 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, a possible solution would be for the government to train counterinsurgency groups from within the population to achieve the primary objective of helping and directing the military to defeat the insurgency with a mixed balance application of both military and non-military persons. According to David Petraeus (2007), the goal is to recruit individuals who know the local language, culture, and terrains and provide military intelligence information 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 ruling regime is recruiting tribes to fight against other tribes. It would be fair to call them an “ethnic” counterinsurgency because they are not recruiting individuals, but rather whole tribes and elements of ethnic groups. The ruling regime 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 were given was to kill all the “infidels” in South Sudan. The ruling regime 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 ruling regime. Such a strategy is characterized as a religious war—a Fatwa of Jihad—which was declared on April 27, 1993. They promoted the killing of infidels or other resistance to the ruling regime. 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 more crimes. 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 ruling regime 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 ruling regime has formed a militia from some elements of the Arab groups to fight by their side. The orders are to kill every “civilian, rebel, 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 mainly composed of the tribe of the insurgency by then. 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 as I have witnessed the Janjaweed militias. The fact remains that supported by air forces, they have killed civilians, burnt 2800 villages, displaced 2.5 million persons, destroyed properties, and raped women, all in the name of God. In his book Sudan, South Sudan, and Darfur: What Everyone Needs to Know? the US special envoy to Sudan mentioned that there were about 300,000 confirmed dead. — Andrew S. Natsios (2012). In 2004 the UN had described the situation in Darfur as the “World's worst humanitarian crisis”. — United Nations News Centre (2004), due to the atrocities that were being committed and still ongoing in the region.

It is the element from Arab groups supported by the ruling regime 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 | Programs | Panorama (2004)
In a video interview with tribal leader Musa Hilal, he confirmed to Human Rights Watch that all Janjaweed militia were led by top army commanders and were getting their orders from Khartoum. He also emphasized that he personally played a role as facilitator and his duty was to obey the government and mobilize people to join the PDF. So as to defend the country; the most important goal was to fight for their survival and the county’s stability. —HRW 2006

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 regime maintain power. They are not representing their entire tribes as the 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 regime due to current economic changes in Sudan. Economic condition was the major reason for those individuals to join this group. To enter a group, Individual and Group Theory suggested that people think about assessing the group, initiation or group norms. Unfortunately that is not the case for the Janjaweed militia as they only think about how much they can gain. In a phone interview, a Janjaweed leader told me:

We have been used and abused by the 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. — Janjaweed leader
Dictators in in different parts of the world have been adopting “divide and conquer” as their policy. The dictator in Sudan is not an exception but they have originated and added a new system (divide, confuse and conquer) in order to maintain their power. This has managed by creating a non-existing identity such as the Janjaweed, which they use to suppress individuals or groups that speak out against them. Unless and until this system is changed and replaced by a system that values human life and accepts ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity, it is hard to imagine that the conflict in Darfur and across Sudan will come to an end. Respecting diversity is one where people show their happiness, sadness, settle their disputes and above all how the people want to live with each other. Learning from the experience of others such as those in Rwanda, today we are experiencing a different image, where social justice was put in place and replaced if not all, at least most of the previous causations of their conflicts. Sudan can learn to do thee same.
Adeeb Yousif is, PhD researcher in the program of the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR) at George Mason University, he may be reached at: [email protected]