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Even before fighting had broken out in Sudan, Hemetti had been utilizing propaganda to gin up support for his cause.

On April 15th, fighting broke out in Sudan between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary militia under the command of Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also referred to as Hemetti. However, the conflict has not been limited to tanks and bullets. Both parties have been engaged in efforts to influence Sudanese citizens and the global community in order to gain support.

The Rapid Support Forces, with the assistance of foreign experts and lobbying companies, has launched a well-orchestrated propaganda campaign utilizing various tools and tactics to further its own agenda.

The Rapid Support Forces are trying to convey several propaganda messages. At the beginning of the fighting, the group portrayed Egyptian soldiers, stationed at an airport under a military agreement between the two countries, as foreign fighters. Hemetti’s forces claim that they are on a patriotic mission to liberate Sudan from these alleged invaders.

Hemetti’s militia has apparently coerced prisoners into recording testimonies that accuse the military of colluding with Islamists to incite the conflict. They also assert that Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the de facto ruler of Sudan, has no decision-making authority.

They have exploited fears related to Gulf and Western countries, and have encouraged soldiers to rebel against the army leadership. Hemetti’s forces have also framed the ongoing conflict as a coup that took place on April 15th, arguing that Abdel Fattah al-Burhan refused to implement the framework agreement signed in December. Before the current fighting broke out, Hemetti’s militia aimed to improve its image in Darfur by trying to connect with the local community by offering free services and publishing promotional songs.

To execute such a large-scale propaganda campaign, Hemetti’s Rapid Support Forces dedicated a social media team based in Dubai, led by Hemetti’s brothers, to disseminate propaganda messages through official Facebook posts and on Twitter. However, this approach has faced scrutiny in several cases.

A recent investigative report exposed a network of artificial accounts being used to amplify pro-militia messaging on Twitter. Reddit users have also questioned the influx of online bots from Gulf countries that support Hemetti. Tech companies have removed pages and accounts associated with the militia for engaging in a coordinated campaign, although there have been instances where these companies were hesitant to respond to requests for the removal of other pages.

Additionally, Hemetti’s Rapid Support Forces have hired several PR companies to improve its image in Europe. As part of this campaign, journalists have allegedly been paid to write articles supporting Hemetti. Recently, a writer from Le Figaro came under scrutiny for publishing an article calling on the international community to support Hemetti.

In an attempt to influence members of the UK Parliament, the militia used a front company to send newsletters updating them on the situation on the ground. These newsletters accuse the Sudanese army of committing war crimes. Hemetti’s political advisor is currently touring Europe and the UK to argue that its fighters are actually protecting civilians.

Traditional media has also been utilized to persuade the public and shape their perceptions of the war. The militia’s spokespersons frequently appear on Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya to spread their message.

Some of these tactics involved manipulating the public by resorting to fake news to exaggerate the militia’s victories against the Sudanese army and distorting facts about ongoing battles. For example, pro-militia pages shared a photo of a jet fighter claiming it was shot down by militia fighters. This claim was debunked by an independent fact-checking organization, which revealed that the photo originated from the Syrian civil war. In another incident, the militia claimed that the Sudanese army had bombed the presidential palace. However, this claim later proved to be inaccurate.

Undoubtedly, Hemetti’s militia has invested significant effort into its propaganda campaign. The tactics and tools it employs, along with the expertise of Western PR companies, provide an advantage over its rivals. However, the war crimes being committed by the militia, such as looting homes and using rape as a weapon, have already caused substantial damage to its reputation that will not be easily repaired.

Mohamed Suliman is a senior researcher at Northeastern University and also holds a degree in Engineering form the University of Khartoum.