General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the second officer to be sworn in as Sudan’s new military ruler in consecutive days, is a “veteran soldier” largely unknown outside the army.
On Friday, Burhan became chief of a military council that deposed Omar al-Bashir, after the president’s immediate successor General Awad Ibn Ouf stepped down following little more than 24 hours in power.
Protesters, determined to see a civilian government after the end of Bashir’s iron-fisted three decades in power, saw Ibn Ouf as a regime insider and a close aide of the toppled leader.
Ibn Ouf’s exit has catapulted Burhan from the shadows to the de facto head of the country.
“Burhan is a high ranking officer within the armed forces, but basically he’s a veteran soldier,” said an army officer, who did not want to be named.
“He’s never been in the limelight like Ibn Ouf or General Kamal Abdelmarouf,” the officer said, referring to the army’s former chief of staff.
Burhan had a stint as Sudan’s defence attache to Beijing.
On Friday, hours before he was named as Sudan’s new military ruler, he was seen talking to protesters who have camped outside the army headquarters since April 6.
– ‘No political leanings’ –
Born in 1960 in the village of Gandatu, north of Khartoum, Burhan studied in a Sudanese army college and later in Egypt and Jordan.
He is married and has three children.
He was commander of ground forces before Bashir made him inspector general of the army in February.
Sudanese media and analysts say Burhan coordinated sending Sudanese troops to Yemen as part of a Saudi-led coalition against the Iran backed Huthi rebels.
Willow Berridge, author of Civil Uprisings in Modern Sudan and lecturer in history at Newcastle University says the Yemen portfolio saw Burhan work closely with Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
It is with the support of this group that “he now appears to have come to power,” said Berridge.
“The role in this latest move of the Rapid Support Forces — branded by many as a revamped version of the Janjaweed militias who committed mass atrocities in Darfur — will make many cautious,” Berridge added.
She noted that the various Darfur based rebel groups, which feed into opposition coalitions, would be especially wary.
The conflict in Darfur erupted in 2003 when ethnic black rebels took up arms against Khartoum’s Arab dominated government, accusing it of neglecting the region economically and politically.
The United Nations says about 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict, while millions have been displaced.
Bashir deployed Sudanese troops to Yemen in 2015 as part of a major foreign policy shift that saw Khartoum break its decades-old ties with Shiite Iran and join the Saudi-led coalition.
Sudanese soldiers and officers are fighting in Yemen, and have suffered significant casualties.
While it is unclear how many Sudanese troops have been deployed in Yemen, photographs of killed or wounded soldiers on social media have regularly sparked calls for withdrawal.
“Burhan doesn’t have any political leanings, he is a professional soldier,” the anonymous officer said.
But as de facto head of the country, he will not be able to escape making difficult political decisions.