The pending cabinet reshuffle, schedule next month, is unlikely to make a huge difference to Sudanese current economic difficulties. Despite the signing of two peace deals ending 17 years of conflict in Darfur and South Kordofan, which in theory should lead to a redistribution of the country’s defence spending, the light at the end of the tunnel in Sudan remains barely visible.
The next few months will be crucial for the country’s Prime Minister, who despite an upbeat beginning to his tenure, has not managed to make in-roads into Sudan’s major problems and has had to put up with a growing sense of despair caused by rising prices, lack of basic medicines and the falling value of the Sudanese pound against other hard currencies. The plan to install a technocrat government fell flat with major ministers offering up their resignations in July. In some respects, the wealth of experience brought to the table by some ministers, like former finance chief, Ibrahim El-Badawi – a veteran economist, was always going to be insufficient in the climate where expectations were sky high and human capacity hindered by acute lack of resources remained at rock bottom. Sudan’s future policies and the future government will mean throwing caution to the wind and fully implementing the constitutional arrangement that has governed the country to date without the key legislative bodies.
Foreign relations in the shape of encouraging investment and building sustainable international ties still appear to be the most important means to bring about a change of fortunes. However, Sudan is embroiled in a geopolitical strategic battleground, not of its own making, where getting Arab-Israeli relationship in the run-up to the US election is taking precedence. A visit from the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, did nothing to turn around the country’s fortunes. Sudan hoped the visit would address sanctions and remove its name for the list of countries sponsoring terrorism, but Pompeo was looking to address Middle Eastern issues and add Sudan to the list of countries that would make peace with Israel. Reports in the economic weekly paper Elaff, suggest Pompeo offered Sudan $500 million and a promise to remove its name from the list of states sponsoring terrorism in exchange for normalizing diplomatic relations with the Zionist state. Sudan demanded $10 billion but agreed on a form of words i.e. “Sudan’s has no mandate,” to excuse itself when it became clear that a deal could not be struck.
It is feared that the spectacle of thousands of baton-wielding protestors in the East of the country might become commonplace following the unpopular decision by the transitional government to support a civilian governor – a man with his roots from outside Sudan. The appointment resulted in the disturbing week-long scenes of violence between the Beja and Bani Armmar tribes leading to death of at least three people and the injury of dozens more. The government was forced to make an embarrassing U-turn of the appointed governor, Saleh Ammar, replacing him with another candidate but not before the existing governor was rewarded with a foreign ambassadorship to placate his discomfort at being removed.
The incident appears to symptomatic of Sudan pending disintegration of the fabric of Sudanese society as a report of communal violence also mount in Darfur in the West and Kassala and Port Sudan in the East. Veteran politician, Saadiq El Mahdi of the National Ummah Party last week said that Sudan has three choices ahead on it: chaos, a military coup, or early elections. The strongest option seems to be a choice between chaos and early elections as despite the present political and economic conditions there is no desire in Sudan for another military coup.
The three-month state of emergency due to the flood that has destroyed 100,000 homes, affected half a million people, and has killed at the time of writing more than 100 people. The waters have brought help and support from the outside but will further add pressure to the economy as the country’s infrastructure, namely roads, bridges, and electricity, are affected. Added to the difficulty are the problems caused by the coronavirus with hospital closures and beds reserved for Covid19 sufferers.
With the three-year transitional period set to end with elections in 2022, the transitional government appears to be storing up major difficulties for any future elected government. The splits in the ranks of the Freedom and Change movement, with the Communist party choosing to stay outside the government, for tactical rather than ideological reasons mean that Islamic leaning opposition parties are considering how best to galvanize the opposition to the government. Some of its leaders are in jail. Some are exiled abroad. While others like the National Ummah Party and the Popular Congress party are considering making an alliance. This has not gone unnoticed by military president, Abdul Fatah Al Burhan of the sovereign council met with the National Programme Group an alliance of traditional parties consisting of Sudan Renaissance Alliance of Tijani Al-Sissi and Democratic Unionist Party of Ahmed Bilal and other various groups who work with and alongside the former regime.
The fact is that the former National Congress ruling party has left a bad taste in the mouth of the Sudanese who have been left to deal with the consequences of the years of mismanagement and corruption. Sudan cannot afford to ignore the past, but nor can it afford to continue stumbling into the future.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.