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Tensions between military and civilian governance in Sudan over USA bill

December 17 - 2020 KHARTOUM / WASHINGTON
USA Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Sudan PM Abdallah Hamdok in August (SUNA)
USA Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Sudan PM Abdallah Hamdok in August (SUNA)

Disagreements between the military and civilian components of Sudan’s government resurfaced last week over a bill presented by the US Congress on Friday. The bill supports the democratic transition in Sudan and advocates tightening the monitoring of the Sudanese army, security forces, and intelligence services.

The bill is called the Sudan Democratic Transition, Accountability, and Fiscal Transparency Act of 2020 and was supported by both Democratic and Republican politicians in the USA.

The bill requires the USA State Department to, among other things, submit a strategy that includes “an assessment of security sector reforms by the Sudanese government, such as demobilizing militias and fostering civilian control of the armed force”. The act also included the Defence Financing Bill and elements that allow the USA to financially support Sudan.

The bill has caused controversy within the Sovereign Council as especially the role of the army in the country’s economic affairs will be challenged. Earlier this year, Lt Gen Abdelfattah El Burhan, Commander-in-Chief of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Chairman of the Sovereign Council, received widespread criticism with his defence of the role of the SAF in Sudan’s economy.

Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok took aim at the Sudanese military over its vast economic activities on Monday. He said these should be limited to the defence sector. “In today's world, there is no place to hide,” he said and explained that financial transparency and accountability of companies related to the government and the military is a basic and imperative requirement, as it is not possible to manage the resources of the Sudanese people without it.


Chief-of-Staff Lt Gen Mohamed El Hussein referred to the bill in his speech at a graduation ceremony of a new army batch of the Nimeiri High Military Academy in Khartoum on Wednesday. He said that the armed forces will remain resistant to “the deceitful cunning among some Sudanese as they sought help from foreigners and attempted to bring in foreign laws and legislation.”

El Hussein said that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF)* is not a politicised group and does not seek power or has any interests in staging coups. “Armies with such characteristics around us collapsed, and have been replaced with militias,” he said.

The military chief considers the removal of Sudan from the US list of States Sponsoring Terrorism (SST) “a new platform for the country to address all issues”.

Abu Hajja, advisor to the chairman of the Sovereign Council, criticised people he did not mention by name and described them as “trying to conceal the role of Chair Lt Gen Abdelfattah El Burhan in removing Sudan from the SST list”.

He stated that “the attacks affected the defence industries system” and explained that “the defence companies operate under full control of state agencies” and “in terms of more transparency than you may expect”.

Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok said in response to a question about the US bill, that transparency is required and that the army’s competition with private sector companies is unacceptable. He emphasised the need for the “defence industries system to limit its scope to military industries only”.

USA negotiations and deals

A senior official in Washington confirmed to Sky News that representatives of the US Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministries are holding talks with diplomatic and military representatives of the Sudanese government. The representatives have arrived in Khartoum in order to sign joint security and military agreements between the two countries.

The official emphasised to Sky News that these agreements include contracts on arms provision to the Sudanese army, including short-term soft arms sales, in addition to training programmes that include visits of Sudanese officers to the USA and sending American trainers to Sudan.

New forms of security and military coordination have been agreed upon too. These will include intelligence cooperation to combat terrorism, especially extremist violence in surrounding African regions such as the Horn of Africa. The senior official did not rule out that the Sudanese government would allow US forces to use military facilities inside Sudanese territory if needed.

USA Sudan relations

Two days ago, Sudan was officially removed from the USA State Sponsors of Terrorism (SST) list. Since then, sending government delegations and other forms of international collaboration or debt relief have been made possible.

Yesterday, the Minister of Finance, Heba Mohamed, announced that Sudan will receive a trade delegation of CEOs from the 10 largest American agricultural companies in the coming days in a bid to attract new investments. Delegations of business leaders from other sectors are expected to follow.

* The SAF consists of the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, set up by the ousted Al Bashir regime in 2013 to fight the rebel movements in South Kordofan and in Darfur. The SRF was integrated into the SAF in August last year. At the same time, however, the militia stays a force unto itself. The RSF has reportedly built up a vast business empire that captures not only a large part of the country’s gold industry but has huge interests in many sectors of the Sudanese economy as well.

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