Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, the leader of a notorious paramilitary force fighting for supremacy in Sudan’s civil war, is not the president of his country. Yet on a recent whirlwind tour of six African nations, he was treated just like one.

Some of the continent’s most powerful leaders rolled out the red carpet for General Hamdan after he arrived on a luxury jet for meetings in late December and early January, having swapped his military fatigues for business suits. In Kenya, traditional dancers waited at the plane steps. In South Africa, he sank into an armchair beside a smiling President Cyril Ramaphosa.