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What future for Sudan?

10.08.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
In recent times, the east African state of Sudan has been plagued by crisis ranging from economic to political. The horn of Africa country that has been generally peaceful started facing instability following demonstrations triggered by high costs of living and worsening economic conditions. On December 19, 2018, Sudanese started demonstrating in the eastern city of Atbara, following government’s move to wipe out wheat and fuel subsidies at the suggestion of international lenders. The protests later turned deadly, spreading to several towns and major cities including Omdurman and the capital Khartoum. The protests, demanding that the government looks into the high cost of living of the people, later transformed into calls for long time leader Omar al-Bashir to step down.

The Genesis of the Crisis in Sudan
One can say Sudan’s problems started in 2011, when south Sudan gained independence from Sudan following a referendum that had been part of a peace deal agreed between Bashir and rebels from the south. The split later had considerable financial consequences on Sudan as South Sudan gained 75% of the territory’s oil. The Sudanese economy that had suffered a great deal due to a decade of US sanctions was hit hard. As a result, the government imposed austerity measures and cut subsidies in response to the drop in oil revenue that later led to a series of protests as prices for basic commodities rose.
In late 2017, the US lifted some sanctions on Sudan. However, the economy continued to go down and by November 2018, inflation was at almost 70%. Given the high level of inflation, the Sudanese pound plummeted in value, thereby causing the government to impose emergency austerity measures and cut fuel and bread subsidies. This move by the government sparked waves of mass protests across the country in December that have affected the country till date. Over 1,000 protesters were reportedly detained by government forces.

The Ouster of Omar al-Bashir

Government’s response to the December 2018 demonstrations was rather violent, which drew international attention. A defiant Bashir went ahead in February 2019 to declare a national state of emergency, dismissing the federal government and replacing all state governors with members of the security forces instead. Bashir went further to pacify protesters, saying he would step down at the end of his term in April 2020 and not seek re-election. This however did not cajole the demonstrators in any way as they continued to push for the longtime leader to step down. Critics recounted that he had previously pledged to step down and then gone back on his word. On the weekend of April 6–7, there were massive protests for the first time since the declaration of the state of emergency. On 11 April, the military finally removed al-Bashir from power in a coup d’état. Then came a post Bashir Sudan. What then has become of the nation?

Sudan’s Transition to Democracy

It was hoped that with the removal of Bashir as president of Sudan, the country will at least experience a certain level of calm and tranquility. This did not happen as there were more rainy days ahead for the east African state with a power vacuum and a tug of war between the military and civilians as to who will lead the country for the time being before elections are conducted.

On May 14, the military and Sudan citizens agreed on a three-year transitional arrangement whereby the military acts as a transitional government for three years at which point civilian rule would take place. They however disagreed over the composition of the sovereign council, which would be the highest decision-making body in the transitional period. Talks were then postponed as the military asked that barricades by protestors that are outside the designated protest area be removed. In late May 2019, leaders of the protest movement, the Sudanese Professional Association began street protests, demanding that the Transitional Military Council, TMC, which had taken over after Bashir’s overthrow, immediately and unconditionally hand over power to a civilian-led transitional government. What was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration turned bloody on June 3 when security forces reportedly attacked the Khartoum sit-in, opening fire and killing at least 100 people and injuring more 300 others.

The June 3 assault marked the worst violence in Sudan since the ouster of Omar al-Bashir on April 11. In retaliation to the June 3 massacre, opposition groups carried out a 3-day general strike from 9–11 June, calling for sustained civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance until the TMC transfers power to a civilian government. On 12 June the opposition agreed to stop the strike while the TMC accepted to free political prisoners. This therefore paved the way to renewed negotiations to form a civilian government. A verbal deal brokered by the African Union and Ethiopian mediators was then arrived at on July 5 between the TMC and civilian protesters represented by the Forces of Freedom and Change. The two parties announced that they would share power to run Sudan through executive and legislative institutions until elections are organized in mid-2022.  According to the power sharing accord, a new transitional civilian-military ruling body will be established, consisting of a total of six civilians and five military representatives. A general will head the ruling body during the first 21 months of the transition, followed by a civilian for the remaining 18 months, according to the framework agreement. The deal also agreed on the creation of a “transparent and independent investigation” into events following the 2019 Sudanese coup d’état, including the Khartoum massacre. A written form of the agreement was later signed on July 17 by both parties.

The July 5 verbal deal however faced some obstacles, when the Darfur Displaced General Coordination, representing people from Darfur displaced in relation to the Darfur genocide, objected to it, describing it as “flawed in form and content” and “a desperate attempt to sustain the rule of the National Congress Party. The July 17 written agreement equally faced hurdles, as a few days after its signing, rebel groups represented by the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), the National Consensus Forces (NCF), a coalition of political parties that opposed al-Bashir’s National Congress, and the Sudanese Journalists Network objected to it. The NCF and the SRF claimed the FFC had signed the deal in Khartoum without waiting for the NCF and other opposition forces, who had still been discussing the proposed deal in Addis Ababa.

A constitutional declaration was signed in August 4 between the TMC and the opposition coalition that will now pave the way for a transition to civilian rule. It sets the shape of an interim government that will govern Sudan for a transitional period of three years until elections are held. The move was welcomed with much jubilation by Sudanese as hundreds of people took to the streets of Khartoum, chanting revolutionary songs and waving national flags. A formal signing of the document will take place in front of foreign dignitaries on August 17.

It is not certain what future lies ahead for Sudan that has experienced economic and political woes ranging from mass protests and killings to disagreements between the military and civilians over a transitional government. But it is hoped that with the signing of the constitutional declaration, things will go back to normal.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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