Five challenges Sudan faces after 30 years of dictatorship

After 30 years of dictatorship, the recently deposed Omar Al Bashir leaves a legacy of civil wars and millions of Sudanese people dispossessed, displaced, or refugees. In addition, Sudan’s state coffers are empty, the economy has collapsed catastrophically, there is widespread corruption, and a divided population of whom half live below the poverty line.

Editor-in-Chief of Radio Dabanga, Kamal El Sadig (Irina Raiu)

After 30 years of dictatorship, the recently deposed Omar Al Bashir leaves a legacy of civil wars and millions of Sudanese people dispossessed, displaced, or refugees. In addition, Sudan’s state coffers are empty, the economy has collapsed catastrophically, there is widespread corruption, and a divided population of whom half live below the poverty line. The country, rich in raw materials, has survived for the last few years on loans and handouts, thus becoming a vassal to regional and international interests. Kamal El Sadig, Editor-in-Chief of Radio Dabanga, underscores the five most urgent challenges facing the country.

The dictator might have been deposed, but the so-called ‘deep state’, the markers of his rule, remain. Al Bashir seized power together with a group of Islamists on June 30, 1989. He overturned Sudanese democracy with a military coup, and commandeered the entire country, including the regular army, government services, and the economy in the name of religion.

The new regime did not leave it there, however. Via a policy termed ‘empowerment’, they replaced the entire civil service structure. Religious and racial discrimination against large population groups in the south led to the secession of the independent state of South Sudan in early 2011.

Sudanese agriculture became an export product. Large tracts of fertile land were sold to foreign investors, especially from the Gulf States, Turkey, and China. The illegal allocation of the country’s riches was the largest organised plunder in the history of Sudan, and led to civil wars in Darfur in 2003, and the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile region in 2011.

The organs of the old regime

Omar Al Bashir and other leading figures of the so-called ‘Islamic regime’ such as Abdelrahim Hussein and Ahmed Haroun, as well as Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb are wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

In December 2018, new price hikes as fuel and bread shortages persisted were the last straw for the Sudanese. They began a peaceful uprising that, four months later, led to the fall of Al Bashir on April 11 and the establishment of a Transitional Military Council (TMC). These developments can be seen as a partial victory for the Islamist power base. The head has been chopped-off, but the limbs and the heart of the old regime remain, and will have to be removed with much effort and patience. For this reason, large groups of demonstrators have maintained sit-ins in front of the headquarters of the Sudanese army in Khartoum since April 6, as well as other military garrisons across the country. Their slogans: “It [the regime] has not yet fallen” and “We want a civilian government, not a military council”.

The new reality in Sudan is negotiations between the military council and leaders of the uprising, who signed the Declaration for Freedom and Change on January 1. These representatives of the demonstrators, a large part of the population, are seeking a civilian government that must get the country back on the rails during a ‘transitional period’ of a few years. However the ‘old guard’ fear such developments, and they are being closely scrutinised by regional and international powers.

Five challenges for Sudan:

Political Islam

The internal and external challenges to a new democratically governed Sudan come firstly from the adherents to political Islam. They have the financial resources and the economy de facto in their hands via the army, heavily armed militias, officialdom, allied trade unions, and certainly via the media. The many satellite channels, radio stations, and local newspapers are only independent in name. These power dynamics could make things difficult for the revolutionaries, via a counter-revolution, or by winning elections after the transitional period.

Armed resistance

Secondly, there is the armed resistance; a complicated power arena dominated by five main movements. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) resisted the old regime under leadership of Abdelaziz El Hilu in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile region. In the region of Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) led by Abdelwahid El Nur does the same.

These two groups have never entered peace negotiations with the government. Three other rebel groups did, namely the SLM faction of Minni Minawi, the Justice and Equality Movement, and the SPLM-N wing led by Malik Agar. They also signed the Declaration for Freedom and Change, and have announced that they are waiting for the formation of a transitional government with which they can conduct further peace talks.

The SLM of El Nur and SPLM-N El Hilu demand a secular state. El Hilu’s group will only lay down its arms once the southern regions have received a large measure of self-governance. All of the conditions for new conflicts are therefore present.

Marginalised population groups

The so-called marginalised population groups form a third challenge. These groups consist of millions of homeless who have fled economically impoverished areas on the periphery to take their chances in and around the capital Khartoum. They have grievances that do not overlap with those of the bulk of the demonstrators, and could form strong new opposition should the transitional government not address their demands.

Legacy of the Darfur war

The felonious role that the leaders of the Transitional Military Council, especially the president Abdelfattah El Burhan and vice-president Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (aka Hemeti), played in the Darfur war form a fourth challenge. At the same time, both military leaders have cultivated goodwill by acting on the demands of the demonstrators and deposing Omar Al Bashir. They are therefore important and decisive factors in the transition process, and that has improved their image. However a lack of flexibility by the ‘old guard’, including the Rapid Support Forces, Sudan’s main government militia under the command of Hemeti, can well remain a risk during the transitional period.

International influences

The fifth challenge is at regional and international level. The attitude of Egypt and the Gulf States (Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) with regard to the new rulers one hand, and of Qatar and Turkey on the other, will certainly influence the future of Sudan. Internationally, much depends on the further reactions of both the USA and European Union as well as Russia and China; all countries that are important to the transfer of power in Sudan. If they support the demands of the people, the Sudanese can achieve a complete triumph instead of a partial victory.

The two most important parties now, the military junta and the signatories to the Declaration of Freedom and Change, will have to display goodwill, be flexible and willing to compromise, to make room for a new generation who can govern the country in a democratic manner in the near future.

Read this article in Dutch at Clingendael Spectator

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