Winnipegger is a political adviser to a general in Sudan's deadly conflict

A 49-year-old Sudanese Winnipeg man who previously worked as a taxi driver in the city is now in a political advisory role in the conflict in Khartoum. Yousif Ibrahim Ismaeil is working with Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the leader of a paramilitary group fighting Sudan’s army.

Yousif Ibrahim Ismaeil's role questioned by some members of Manitoba's Sudanese community

Three men stand side-by-side in suits, with the man in the middle pressing his hands together as he speaks.
Yousif Ibrahim Ismaeil, centre, who is currently working as a political adviser to a general in Sudan's internal conflict is pictured in a 2010 file photo during a truce ceremony in Doha, Qatar related to previous violence in the country. (Mohammed Dabbous/Reuters)

A Sudanese Winnipegger says he's serving as a political adviser to the general leading a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in the deadly struggle for power in Sudan, a job which has left some people in the city's small and tight-knit Sudanese community questioning his involvement with one of the warring factions in the month-long conflict.

Yousif Ibrahim Ismaeil, 49, said in a phone interview with CBC on May 5 he's a lawyer originally from Darfur in western Sudan who came to Canada as a refugee in 2003. He said he's a Canadian citizen who moved to Manitoba in 2007 and worked as a taxi driver to pay for a post-secondary education in conflict resolution studies and international development at the University of Winnipeg.

Speaking through WhatsApp from what he called a "safe place used for communication with Wi-Fi" in Khartoum, Ismaeil told CBC he went to Sudan following a coup in October 2021, when Sudan's army and the RSF toppled a civilian government. 

"I'm working in the political file. My job is to work with (civilian) parties back to the transitional government and bring democracy," he said. "That's the role I'm playing during this period." 
A man wearing a dress shirt is pictured.
Yousif Ibrahim Ismaeil, 49, is a Canadian citizen from Winnipeg. He's now serving as a political adviser for Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, leader of the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan. (Izzat Elmahri/Facebook)

He has spoken to international media outlets about the conflict. 

Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known as Hemedti, is the leader of the RSF and has been the deputy of Sudan's ruling council since 2019. He is in a power struggle with Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan's army and the leader of Sudan's ruling council.

Fighting between the two sides, which broke out on April 15, has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, left hundreds dead — including civilians — and thousands more wounded. Both sides blame each other for provoking the violence.

The conflict erupted in Khartoum and has since spread beyond the capital city. 

Revolution in 2019 paved way to adviser role

Ismaeil said he became a political adviser to the RSF because he's been following Hemedti since the revolution in Sudan in 2019 which resulted in the ousting of the autocratic former president, Omar al-Bashir. Plans to complete a transition to a civilian-led government were upended amid disagreements between al-Burhan and Hemedti.

As the plan for a new transition developed, Hemedti aligned himself more closely with civilian parties from a coalition, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), that shared power with the military between Bashir's overthrow and the 2021 coup.

A man speaks into a microphone.
Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo speaks during a press conference at Rapid Support Forces headquarters in Khartoum, Sudan on Feb. 19, 2023. Ismaeil is acting as an adviser to the general. (Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters)

"I've been advising him [Hemedti]. He's my colleague, he's my classmate in the first year in primary school," Ismaeil said. He said he's known Hemedti for a long time and is supportive of his beliefs.

Ismaeil spoke to CBC Radio in 2014. He said he was invited to Doha, Qatar in 2010 where he alleged he was drugged and held against his will after refusing to accept Qatar's position on the peace process related the conflict in Darfur in western Sudan.

Father of 2 attended Sudanese community gatherings in Winnipeg

Ismaeil is a father of two children. He and his wife are now separated. 

Ismaeil told CBC he believes in what he's doing. But some members of the Sudanese community in Winnipeg are questioning his association with Hemedti and the RSF.

Mekki Mohamed, general secretary of the executive committee of the Community of the Sudanese Canadian in Manitoba, said he's known Ismaeil since 2009. They were both going to school at University of Winnipeg at the time.

A man in a dress shirt and black pants is pictured in front of a couch and a wall with a picture frame on it.
Mekki Mohamed, with the Community of the Sudanese Canadian in Manitoba, has several close family members in Khartoum. (Josh Crabb/CBC)

"He attended any gathering…summer picnics…and also any party regarding the Sudanese independence day, Eid celebrations," Mohamed said. 

Mohamed has family in southern Khartoum and is worried for their safety.

Mohamed's upset Ismaeil chose to go to Sudan to become a political adviser for Hemedti. While he doesn't think Ismaeil has much sway on the situation, he hopes he's pushing for an end to the fighting. 

"Sit together, hand the power to the civilians," Mohamed said. 

Like Mohamed, Winnipegger Noureddin Suleiman is worried about the safety of his mom and sister who live in Khartoum. He said he's surprised by the position Ismaeil has taken.

A man wearing a long grey top and a cap is pictured standing in front of a red chair in a room with red and yellow walls.
Noureddin Suleiman is a Sudanese Canadian man living in Winnipeg. He knows Ismaeil through the community and is concerned about his family in Khartoum. (Josh Crabb/CBC)

"We were going to a peaceful transition, to peaceful government, to civilian government," Suleiman said. "Now they started this war. What surprised me is him defending the action of the militia."

Not everyone feels the same way.

Sudanese Winnipegger Ahmad Hamid told CBC he sees Hemedti as the lesser of two evils and argues that if he takes power he will be forced to hand over the country to a civilian-led government. He said al-Burhan is loyal to the previous Bashir regime.

Feds won't comment on Ismaeil, citing privacy

The United Nations Human Rights Council on Thursday May 11 adopted a resolution for more detailed monitoring of alleged rights abuses in Sudan.

Lloyd Axworthy, a former foreign affairs minister, said Canadians associated with groups in violent conflicts abroad can be charged and prosecuted in Canada under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.

"Working with that group gets them very much involved in what I think is one of the most egregious and terrible actions where two armed forces are basically destroying the lives of tens of thousands of people," Axworthy said.

WATCH | Sudan humanitarian crisis worsens as ceasefire fails: 

Sudan humanitarian crisis worsens as ceasefire fails

5 months ago
Duration 2:07
A ceasefire meant to give people a window to flee war in Sudan never started, worsening the humanitarian situation on the ground.

David Matas is a Winnipeg-based human rights lawyer who wrote a letter to the government of Qatar on Ismaeil's behalf following his 2014 allegations. He's no longer his lawyer and couldn't speak to specifics but he said not everyone associated with a government or entity committing atrocities is complicit.

"They have to be complicit in the acts and not just be sort of around at the time," said Matas. "There has to be something that the person accused did wrong, as opposed to an entity with which he was associated did wrong." 

In a statement in response to questions about Ismaeil's role, Global Affairs Canada said it doesn't keep track of citizens who choose to travel outside the country and that it has not been in contact with Ismaeil. 

A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said it "cannot speculate" on Ismaeil for privacy reasons.

In a response to CBC, IRCC said there can be consequences for residents involved in conflicts abroad.

"The government is determined to deny safe haven in Canada to war criminals and persons believed to have committed or been complicit in war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide," IRCC said in an email.

A man's face is pictured in an image with a shadow effect.
Yousif Ibrahim Ismaeil is pictured in a photo posted to Facebook in May 2015. (Youssef Izzat Elmahri/Facebook)

Ismaeil hasn't been accused of any wrongdoing nor has he been charged with any crime.

"I'm managing the political side with the political parties but I didn't commit a crime," he said. "I'm trying to help and I'm trying to push for peace. "

South Sudanese Winnipegger weighs in on conflict

Reuben Garang, a South Sudanese Winnipegger, was displaced from his home in 1987 by a brutal civil war before coming to Canada in 2004. 

He doesn't know Ismaeil but Garang said what's happening now in Sudan is "unfortunate." He said the RSF was a militia created to suppress people in Darfur and now they're now fighting the very army that created them.

"The Rapid Support Forces…were created by Omar al-Bashir to help his agenda of Arabizing the region of Darfur," Garang said. "Now they gain so much power and they have influence in the region and now they are fighting over controlling the country."

Ismaeil told CBC he is in Sudan because of his beliefs.

"We're working for peace, justice, development and democracy," Ismaeil said. "This should be the future of Sudan."

Winnipegger is a political adviser to a general in Sudan's deadly conflict

4 months ago
Duration 2:52
A man who worked as a taxi driver in Winnipeg is now serving as a political adviser in the conflict in Sudan. Yousif Ibrahim Ismaeil is working with the general of the Rapid Support Forces which is fighting with Sudan's army. He says he's there to push for democracy, stability and peace but some Sudanese Winnipeggers have concerns about his role.


Josh Crabb


Josh Crabb is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He started reporting in 2005 at CKX-TV in Brandon, Man. After spending three years working in television in Red Deer, Alta., Josh returned to Manitoba in 2010 and has been covering stories across the province and in Winnipeg ever since.

With files from Reuters