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Arms Proliferation in Khartoum. Who is responsible?

Zeinab M. Salih
Zeinab Mohammed Saleh goes knocking on doors...
© Reuters
© Reuters

Following the arrest warrant issued by the UN International Criminal Court in the Hague against President Al-Bashir on 4th March 2009, The Happy Home Store in Khartoum selling your every day needs in armaments that overlooks Al-Jamhoriya Street, announced huge deductions on their arms in solidarity with Bashir and in defense of the homeland against the “invaders and foreigners”. The announcement, which urges the Sudanese citizens to hold arms to defend their President, reflects the problem of arms proliferation especially in the capital Khartoum.  There were said to be up to 48 armed factions situated in residential areas, according to a statement by former Minister of Interior, Al-Zubair Bashir Taha at the National Assembly in 2008.The above-mentioned store is one of 28 stores for arms sales in Khartoum, all of which are licensed by the National Criminal Investigation Department. But these stores are not the only place you can buy weapons, many are also sold on the black market (the Keiri), in Khartoum.

The Abrar Foundation for the War Disabled and Victims of Land Mines reported up to  4 million disabled people in Sudan due to war injuries from arms and land mines across the country.

According to The Abrar Foundation for the War Disabled and Victims of Land Mines, there are over 4 million people in Sudan disabled due to war injuries and the proliferation of arms and land mines across the country. The question is, who is responsible for this arms proliferation in Al- Khartoum which is creating more and more victims? This is what my report will try to reveal.

It is worth mentioning here that this report took a whole month due to very sensitive and difficult access to sources of information.

Armed Militia in Khartoum

The presence of armed militias amongst the civilian population has played a significant role in spreading the culture of violence in Sudan. Most of the armed factions situated in Khartoum, were militias created by the government itself following the war it waged against the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in the south, prior to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The political analyst, Dr. Hasan Maki described to me how these peripheral wars created armies or “sleeping cells” outside the regular army.

Most of these 48 armed militia were gradually demobilised and re-integrated within the regular army as agreed upon in the CPA except one militia which is still out of control namely, the militia of Major General Gabriel Tanj, a senior officer in the Sudanese armed forces. The government in Khartoum has used this militia for securing oil fields in the Higher Nile region against attacks by Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA). But, today, I have found that this militia is still present in Al-Kalakla region in Khartoum and in Al-Ftaihab region in Um Dorman.

When I asked the government as to why the militia of Gabriel Tanj has still not been demobilised or re-integrated within the armed forces the spokesman of the armed forces Major General Al-Aghbash said it was due to “social circumstance” despite many attempts on their behalf.

The Militias in Local Khartoum Neighborhoods

The militias in residential neighborhoods terrorise the citizens.  For example, less than a month ago a girl was reportedly kidnapped by General Gabriel's faction or militia in the Al-Ftiahab Al Muraba’at region. An armed confrontation then took place between General Gabriel's militia and the Sudanese police force. When a Brigadier General from the Police tried to set the girl free he was caught in the cross fire and killed. Mohamed Abdul Baki a freelance worker living near the area described the day when the clash took place as "terrifying", adding that for many months the citizens residing in the area had no idea that there was a militia unit living in their neighborhood. The house where the girl was kidnapped was known as the residence of the Sultan of the tribe of Al-Nuwair, from the South of Sudan. He described how the inhabitents of the house appeared very normal, but on finding the real identity of those living there they stopped any interaction with them. They even withheld their sons from playing with the sons of the Sultan. The freelance worker also said also that some of his neighbours moved to other neighbourhoods fearing for their lives.

Professor of sociology at the Khartoum University, Dr. Mohamed Yousef Ahmad Al-Mustafa believes that the problem does not lie so much in the amount of arms in the hands of the militia, but rather in the culture of violence that has been wide spread in Sudanese society for decades. He says also that this is a result of local cultures and tribes rejecting each other along with the social and economic hierarchy that prevails in Sudanese society.

A Visit to the Arms Stores

To have an idea for myself about the market for arms in Khartoum, I visited a number of stores in the capital. First, I went to Omar Attiya’s store for arms sale, located at Al-Jamhoriya Street. The store holds individual weapons, hunting weapons, and sports accessories. I introduced myself and told him I was writing a report on arms sales. At first, he welcomed the idea.  I asked him about the source of arms and he said it was the United States. Then I asked whether there was an arms deal between the Sudan and the United States, explaining that to the best of my knowledge, America had imposed sanctions prohibiting arms sales to Sudan. Once I finished my question, the man’s immediate reaction was to send me out of his store.

I kept looking at him while he repeated his sentence “get out of here, please!”. I had no choice but to go out and to thank him. I went to another neighboring store on the same street called The Happy Home. The owner, Malek Yihia Hussein welcomed me warmly. It seemed that he thought I wanted to buy a gun. Once he knew I was a journalist, he told me that it was the end of his day and that he must close the store. In other words, I was dismissed, but in a polite manner. Nevertheless, I insisted that I had but one question and so he politely agreed to give me some of his time.

I kept looking at him while he repeated his sentence “get out of here, please!”. I had no choice but to go out and to thank him.

At first I asked him about the announcement made eight months back about reducing the cost of weapons in solidarity with President Bashir after his arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Hussein said there was no such advert or announcement in the store. He admitted that there was an advert in the newspaper Lahu Wa Laha [For Him & Her] but he said the advert had nothing to do with the President's arrest warrant. Hussein asserted that he was working fully independently of any security bodies as an independent businessman.

On visiting the General Administration of Criminal Investigation Department in Khartoum, Brigadier General Taj Al-Ser Hasan listed the conditions for granting arms licenses to weapon stores in the city. He said that all owners of arms stores should have sufficient capital entitling them to be businessmen with secure and well-equipped storage for storing weapons, with good locks to avoid any theft. He further stressed that these stores were regularly monitored and that the police inspected them every few months. He said that when the conditions are violated the license is withdrawn from the dealer. He explained to me that the arms imported by dealers are registered by the security forces and each weapon has its own number to prevent it being smuggled or sold on the black market. Brigadier Taj Al ser Hasan said that anyone who wants to buy a weapon should present a certificate of search for the investigation department, a certificate from the concerned committee, and should prove that he is able to use the weapon. He dismissed the notion that any arms were being distributed illegally.

While visiting the neighborhood where the arms sale stores were I noticed a big picture of President Al-Bashir hanging on the wall of a luxurious reception hall of the Abu Mrein store on which it was written: “In solidarity with President Al-Bashir, buy your ammunitions and weapons here”. This seemed to be taking advantage of the arrest warrant in order to promote and sell more arms. When I asked Mahmoud Abu Mrein, the owner of Abu Mrein’s stores, the oldest arms store in Sudan as to whether there was a good turnout in response to this advert, he said there was a very good turnout. When I asked him about the quantity of weapons he sold each month, he replied that he thought it was a strange question, adding that even the government itself would not even have the figures.

While visiting the neighborhood where the arms sale stores were I noticed a big picture of President Al-Bashir hanging on the Abu Mrein store's reception hall on which it was written: “In solidarity with President Al-Bashir, buy your ammunitions and weapons here”.

Only the National Security Apparatus and the Criminal Investigation Department would know since they are the ones responsible for licensing arms sales and arms stores. Nevertheless, he told me they might not sell even one piece in a whole month. When I asked how could arms sale be a source of income giving that they might not sell one piece in a whole month while they pay taxes and alms as well as the rent of the store, he murmured: ”though we sell the least, nevertheless it is sufficient to compensate”.

The owner of Abu Mrein store, who drives a 450,000-SG Brado, dismissed the idea that there was a black market for arms sales in Sudan, explaining that the security bodies monitor all the unlicensed arms throughout the country.

But the rhetoric was being increasingly disproved by the facts I was discovering. The facts are that unlicensed arms are being constantly sold on the black market in Khartoum. Khartoum is the biggest market for arms sales in the Sudan followed by the province of the Blue Nile. Arms are mostly sold in Um Dorman city, according to an unauthorised arms dealer I spoke to working in this business since for four years, who as yet has not been questioned by the authorities. Of course, I cannot reveal the true name of this university graduate in his late 30s due to the obvious sensitivities of his job. He refused to talk to me on the phone and all I knew about him came through a mediator that he trusts.

..the rhetoric was being increasingly disproved by the facts I was discovering.

Through the mediator he revealed that his job is very profitable. He told me how it is restricted to a small number of people who buy weapons on the black market for twice the official price. He said that many people don't want to deal with the bureaucracy and laborious procedures regarding the licensing of weapons. Adding that the arms market flourishes at the time of greatest national insecurity as was the case with the Um Dorman’s event last year.  This information was corroborated by an SPLA captain who asked to remain anonymous. He said that members of the armed forces were selling arms that they had been ordered to transfer. He said he had been a member of the militia of the Popular Defense that fought alongside the Government before the two were integrated into the armed forces and he often witnessed the sale of arms between the forces and arms brokers.

 Brigadier General Taj Al-Ser Musaed from the General Administration of Criminal Investigation Department in Khartoum said that the long legal procedures to acquire weapons was deliberate so that arms smuggling could be closely monitored and controlled. But with my investigation I can see clearly that the facts are that the black market for weapons is flourishing in Sudan. This is partly due to the hight prices asked for weapons when going through the normal licensing channels. For example, an Italian 35mm caliber gun would cost 2500 Sudanese Pounds to buy, with a 600 pound license fee on top. Whereas my university graduate source told me on the black market you can pick up a Kalashnikov machine gun for as little as 500 Sudanese pounds with no additional license fee on top. The facts speak for themselves.

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