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Sudan needs to tread carefully in its political transition

October 14, 2019 at 3:43 pm

A young Sudanese boy is seen at a protest demanding a civilian transition government in front of military headquarters in Khartoum, Sudan on 5 July 2019 [Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency]

Sudan has always featured on the news for a variety of reasons.  Over the years, it has been the ongoing conflicts that engulfed the country attracting media attention.  The mass killing of people in Darfur, a region west of Sudan, is perhaps the main event that has captivated people’s attention to the politics of the country.  The massacre in Darfur led to global condemnation and subsequently, the former Sudanese president, Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, was indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC).  The ICC has accused Al-Bashir of directing and commanding the actions of the local militia, known as the Janjaweed, during their ‘Scorched Earth’ campaign in Darfur.  Before the advent of Darfur, the civil war between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the government left thousands dead and displaced. The SPLM in South Sudan struggled for a united and secular Sudan and condemned the Sharia law, amongst other grievances.

READ: Student protests in western Sudan for bread and fuel for the third day

Sudan has just undergone another political transition, led primarily by the youth of the country.  What started as a protest against high food prices and the failing economy, led to the toppling of the government of Al-Bashir.  Al-Bashir ruled Sudan with an iron fist, for over 30 years. During that period, corruption was rampant and the country remained under-developed and largely dependent on external donations.  Sudan has a plethora of natural resources including oil and huge water resources from the Nile River, the longest river on earth. Yet, the country remains extremely poor and can hardly feed its own people. The recent change of government has brought hope to the people of the country, and the election of Prime Minister Abdula Hamdok has indeed signaled a new and optimistic political future for Sudan. However, notwithstanding the positive political optics, there seem to be a number of challenges facing the interim government. The expectations of the youth are unrealistically high; most youth are under-educated and unemployed.  They expect the government to address their discontentment swiftly. Moreover, forgotten in the current political process are the former opposition groups that have been fighting the oppressive rule of Al-Bashir’s government over the years, most of whom are currently still outside of the political process.  The various SPLM groups (SPLM-AW, SPLM-N, etc…) in regions such as Darfur and Kordofan, for example, have been fighting for recognition and acknowledgment of their resentment for decades. Unfortunately, as the political process unfolded, they were left behind. It would have been an opportune moment to include them in the interim political process. However, the rush to address the immediate ignored their importance in the process. Unfortunately, this could prove costly for the political future of Sudan.

Finally, and importantly, another challenge facing the interim government is the existence of the Old Guard in the interim government.  The interim government known as the Sovereign Council consists of five civilians chosen by the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) alliance, five members of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and one civilian.  The Sovereignty Council is a collective head of state which is mandated to lead the country towards full political stability in 39 months.  The chairman of the Sovereign Council is Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, a former Sudanese army lieutenant.  Burhan is part of the Old Guard and worked closely with Al-Bashir, arguably one of his former foot soldiers.  Burhan’s deputy in the Sovereign Council is the commander of the powerful Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. Dagalo is a very divisive figure who led the Janjaweed militia forces in Darfur.

READ: ‘We will not participate in Sovereign Council and Cabinet in interim period’

Members of the RSF stand accused of killing scores of protestors during the revolution in June 2019.  According to doctors and activists “the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary body led by the deputy president of the Transitional Military Council (TMC), Mohamad Hamdan Dagalo, killed dozens of people and threw their bodies into the Nile to try to hide the number of casualties during a dawn attack on pro-democracy protesters in the Sudanese capital.”  Moreover, besides accusations against Dagalo, he is viewed by most in Sudan as an “untouchable” figure who is most certain to escape justice because of his command of the RSF.  The RSF is part of the TMC; it currently guards the streets, important government infrastructure in Khartoum and other parts of Sudan. Consequently, most Sudanese doubt if former president Al-Bashir will ever face justice for his crimes as long his accomplice in those crimes, Dagalo, is still in charge of the RSF.  The Sudanese will, therefore, have to tread very carefully moving forward, and perhaps the first and most significant step will be to begin the process of destabilising the position of Dagalo. As long as he remains in power, there will never be justice for the people of Darfur, in particular, the hundreds of protestors who died during the revolution earlier this year.

Massacre in Sudan - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Massacre in Sudan – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

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