After weeks of peaceful sit-ins outside the military headquarters in Khartoum, the uneasy truce between Sudan's security forces and thousands of protestors demanding change was finally ruptured at dawn on 3 June. Members of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF)--a militia widely condemned for human rights violations in its suppression of rebels in the western province of Darfur--fanned out across the city and proceeded to kill over too demonstrators.
A grim warning had been given just days before by Mohamed "Hemedti" Hamdan Dagolo, the leader of the RSF and vice-president of the Transitional Military Council (TMC), the body that has controlled the country since the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in April. "My patience has limits," he said.
Hemedti, along with the head of the army, Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, has emerged as a key figure within the TMC. With a violent past and control of a paramilitary force estimated to number as many as 40,000, many fear that he has set his ambitions on more than simply preventing Sudan's transition to democracy.
His reported vast personal wealth--accrued from the gold trade, along with outsourcing his militia to the former regime and Saudi Arabia to fight the war in Yemen--underpins his power.
In 2017, Sudan produced 107 tonnes of gold, making it the third-largest producer on the continent after Ghana and South Africa. Some 70% of output is estimated to be smuggled abroad, although the true size of the illicit trade is hard to quantify.
Through his militia, Hemedti controls one of the country's most lucrative gold mines --Jebel Amer in North Darfur.
By origin a member of the Rezeigat tribe in the Darfur region, Hemedti rose from humble origins as a trader of cloth and camels. In 2003, he joined the Janjaweed, a local militia that was waging a brutal campaign against Darfuri rebels on behalf of the government under the leadership of tribal chief Musa Hilal. The conflict has left 300,000 dead, according to UN estimates.
Through his role in the war, he gained favour with President Bashir, who in 2014 put him in charge of the RSF, which had been formed as an offshoot of the Janjaweed. The group was given the status of a regular force but retained its violent modus operandi, and Bashir began to use it as a bulwark against the strength of Sudan's military.
"That's when Hemedti became quite strong," says Omer Ismail, senior advisor at the Washington-based NGO Enough Project. "Bashir was not confident in the army...