Janjaweed is an Arabic colloquialism meaning “a man with a gun on a horse.” In the summer of 2003, the Government of Sudan (GoS) began robust counterinsurgency operations in Darfur, the western region of Sudan. Utilizing the government’s ground and air forces, in conjunction with Janjaweed Arab militiamen, the GoS attempted to quell a growing militant insurgency in Darfur that was fueled by decades of political and financial marginalization. As a result of the conflict, and via what Sectary of State Colin Powell described as a joint GoS and Janjaweed “scorched-earth policy towards the rebels and the African civilian population,”146 more than 70,000 civilians were killed, over 400 villages were completely destroyed, and more than 1.8 million citizens were displaced.
Historically, in order to establish and protect national security in Sudan, governments have relied on locally based militias or security groups to defeat rebel insurgencies. The Janjaweed was an informal pro-government militia that was utilized heavily by the GoS from 2003—2005 with the goal of defeating and removing all rebel elements from Darfur - a goal which the GoS did not accomplish.
An informal pro-government militia is a pro-government militia that has an informal relationship with a government, which may or may not be widely known and acknowledged. The Janjaweed meets these requirements. The GoS decided to unleash the Janjaweed in Darfur because both the deniability and the “out of control” nature of the Janjaweed aided the GoS in achieving military objectives that would have been significantly more difficult to achieve through conventional forces alone.
Khartoum’s extensive use of pro-government militias began in 1985, in response to offensive operations being conducted by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in southern Sudan.165 The GoS realized that by manipulating preexisting tribal or societal fractures with monetary, political, or military aid, it could successfully turn numerous neutral groups residing in southern Sudan against the SPLA.166 Initially, the GoS viewed the pro-government militias as a force multiplier that would allow the GoS to conserve their own troops, but as the GoS continued to utilize pro-government militias, its leaders realized that militias provided the GoS with plausible deniability.167 Militias allowed Khartoum to broadcast to the international community that there was no real war going on and that the conflict was chiefly local/ tribal conflict, while at the same time the GoS utilized the militias to conduct offensive operations outside of the purview of the international community.
The Janjaweed militias include multiple nomad Arab militia groups. Most Janjaweed were recruited from camel-herding nomads who migrated to Darfur from Chad and West Africa in the 1970s, and from Arab camel-herding tribes from North Darfur. The Janjaweed militias drew on the history of the “Hambati,” who were Arab social bandits. The GoS, fully aware of the “raider culture” of the Janjaweed and the ethnic dynamics and tensions in Darfur, decided to employ the Janjaweed to augment their traditional military forces in the area. Although many of Khartoum’s official calls for militia recruitment solicited any and all help to defeat the insurgency, the GoS specifically targeted the Janjaweed based on the militias’ history of conflict with the ethnic groups that made up the SLA and JEM.
In order to recruit the Janjaweed, the GoS offered multiple incentives and significant military support to the militias: specifically, the government offered payment and access to loot, as well as promises of access to land and administrative power. Militarily, the GoS is reported by multiple organizations to have provided the Janjaweed with small arms, military uniforms, transportation, fire support, communication equipment, money, and food.
Throughout the conflict, the government’s official recognition of its support of the Janjaweed was inconsistent. Most official media statements from Khartoum strongly deny any formal relationship with or support for the Janjaweed.205 In December of 2003, however, President al-Bashir reframed the objectives of the campaign in Darfur and the utilization of pro-government militias, contradicting the official denial: “our priority from now on is to eliminate the rebellion, and any outlaw element is our target … We will use the army, the police, the mujahedeen, the horsemen to get rid of the rebellion.” While alBashir did not specifically refer to the Janjaweed by name, both “the mujahedeen” and “the horsemen” are colloquial or possibly code terms that refer to the Janjaweed.
In July 2004, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1556 demanding that the Sudanese government disarm and disband the Janjaweed and bring their leaders to justice. Defying the United Nations, Bashir not only did not disband the militias but also in 2013 ended up incorporating the fighters into the Central Reserve Police, Border Guards and the newly created Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Thus, the Borders Guards and the RSF are just different names for the Janjaweed.
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