Sudan’s military leaders are increasingly reaching beyond their own borders for help from lobbyists, wealthy Persian Gulf states, and even a former U.S. congressman to shore up their legitimacy and control in the aftermath of a coup.
The de facto military ruler of Sudan, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, known as Hemeti, brokered a multimillion-dollar lobbying deal to increase his sway in the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and multilateral institutions and welcomed a former member of the U.S. Congress to Khartoum for meetings amid a growing power struggle in the east African country.
The posturing comes ahead of a massive pro-democracy rally in Khartoum on Sunday, which some experts and U.S. officials fear could turn violent, after forces under Hemeti killed at least 100 protesters and wounded hundreds more in a bloody crackdown at the beginning of June.
Sudan’s Transitional Military Council, which has led the country since the ouster of longtime leader Omar al-Bashir in the wake of widespread protests, signed a $6 million deal with a Canadian lobbying firm in May to curry favor in the United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.
The lobbying contract, which was signed by Hemeti, according to public disclosures filed last week with the U.S. Justice Department, sheds new light on the general’s shadowy behind-the-scenes push with foreign interlocutors to consolidate control and illustrates how many foreign governments have worked to stake claims in Sudan. The Canadian lobbying firm working with the military council, Dickens & Madson, seeks to secure a meeting between Hemeti and U.S. President Donald Trump and the heads of Middle Eastern governments and will work to ensure that it “attain[s] recognition as the legitimate transitionary leadership of the Republic of Sudan,” according to the contract.
The contract also outlines other priorities, including the lobbying firm working to “provide military training and security equipment”; obtain “infrastructural and food security support” from the Russian government; and even obtain funds from a Libyan general vying for power in that country in exchange for military help.
The lobbying firm is led by a former Israeli intelligence operative, Ari Ben-Menashe, and has worked in the past for the Zimbabwean and Libyan governments.
Hemeti took de facto control after Bashir was toppled in April following months of anti-government demonstrations. Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, remains under arrest in Sudan, but the powerful security forces and military junta that propped up his rule for three decades are still in place. Hemeti, the head of the notorious paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), implicated in war crimes in Darfur, has tried to portray himself as the one man who can bring stability to Sudan.
Main opposition groups and pro-democracy protesters have challenged the military council, insisting that it should cede power to a civilian-led democratic government, calls that are backed by the United States. Hemeti has sought support from wealthy Gulf states and other countries to shore up his legitimacy in the ensuing power struggle.
In addition to backing from a Western lobbying firm, Hemeti also received a public relations boost from a former U.S. congressman, James Moran, who visited Sudan last week and met with the Sudanese leader. Moran, now a senior legislative advisor and lobbyist at the law firm McDermott Will & Emery, spoke at what appeared to be a rally in Khartoum after meeting with Hemeti, praising his time with the general and saying he was “impressed” with everyone he met, including the Sudanese leader.
Moran’s visit gave Hemeti a potential public relations win, reinforcing the perception—at least in state media—that he is backed by the international community. During the rally, Moran was incorrectly introduced as a U.S. senator. Hemeti and the junta have shut down regular internet access in Sudan, and Moran’s visit was displayed on state television, making his speech the only information that many Sudanese have regarding the international community’s stance toward the general.