Derailing Sudan’s Transition to Democracy

Published September 25th, 2021 - 06:34 GMT
Sudanese celebrate the departure of Omar Al Bashir
After Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was ousted, members of the Sudanese military gather in a street with protestors in central Khartoum on April 11. 2019 (Ahmed Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images)

The recent attempted coup in Sudan is a reflection of things past. By now one would have thought Khartoum would have been used to military coup d’états with the first occurring in 1969 and the latest just this September, 2021.

The fact it was stopped by the new civilian-military rulers of the country just shows how far Sudan has moved from a coup-ridden country – 10 coups - to one-based on democratic participation.

But the military-in-politics idea has nowhere ended in Sudan. Today soldiers in shining boots still believe they are the guardian of the revolution that started in 2018-19 and resulted in the removal of the 30-year-rule of Omar Al Bashir. Although, he is in custody and awaiting to be handed to the International Court of Justice, many say this coup attempt was made by his Muslim supporters in the army who are still harking-back to his lost rule.

They, albeit a minority, are not satisfied with the joint-power sharing agreement, a deal made in 2019, between the military generals and civilian activists to introduce a viable system of democracy in the country and revitalize its political and economic institutions for the benefit of the people.

The Sudan revolution would be remembered not only because of the nationwide popular rising that lasted as many months but because of the military-civilian arrangement that was reached to establish full-fledged democratic system that was supposed to be reached in stages and everybody agreed to that: the military, civil society activists, women groups and political parties that clamored for the end of the Bashir grip on power.

An equation was reached: A Sovereign Council was set up with equal representatives, five from the army and five civil society activists that was to pave the way for elections in 2024. The head of the council was to be an army General Abdel Fattah Al Burhan with his deputy General Mohammad Hamdan Dagalo; the army was to head the council and to rule for 21 months and after that a civilian member of the council was to rule for 18 months at the end of which there will be held general parliamentary polls.

Within this framework a Prime minister was chosen by the name of Abdulla Hamdok with an interim government to run the affairs of the country. The ministers in the 20-member cabinet which includes a woman and a rebel leader representing the ever-problematic Darfur, is approved by the Sudan Sovereign Council and makes and enforces laws and legislations. It’s a two-tier interim system.

When the coup attempt was made on 21 September both the military officers and the politicians reached out to their daggers and started to blame each other for what happened.  First to go was Abdulla Hamdok. While he recognized that the coup attempt was “remnants from the previous regime” who sought to end the “civilian democratic transition” and the fact it was carried out by soldiers and civilian personnel, he went after the military and effectively blamed them for what happened.

He said what needs to be done now is to restructure the military and bring it under greater civilian control and oversight. He added the military had major business interests in the country with companies in the different sectors of the economy including agriculture and infrastructure, pointing out 80 percent of the public resources are outside the control of the Ministry of Finance.

There was much finger pointing which made Al Burhan and Dagalo who represent the military side seethe with anger and thus begun a slinging-match. Despite, the power-sharing deal it was argued tensions between the military and civilian personnel never stopped but this time they were reaching high points from the head of the Sovereign Council and his deputy on the one hand, and a civilian on the council named Mohamed Al-Faki Sulieman who says the military men want to dominate the political side inside the council but this is not acceptable.

To use a euphemism, he said relations between the military and the civilians on the council had been “unwell” for some weeks now but this is rejected by Burhan who describes the military as the “guardian for the transition” and says that comments made by politicians are “unacceptable”. He added politicians are neglecting “public welfare” and “consumed by internal squabbles,” and looking after their seats.

His deputy Dagalo was equally hard and shows the tensions that exist on the Sovereign Council. He reiterated it is the politicians who are the main cause behind the coups – it is argued that since 2019 several military attempts were made against the civilian government one of which directly against Hamdok in 2020 were he survived an assassination attempt.

Dagalo was frank in his assessment. He said it is politicians who are the main cause behind the coups because they are neglecting the “average citizen” and “are more concerned” with “fighting over how they can stay in power”.

“Politicians are the main cause behind coups because they have neglected the average citizen … and are more concerned of fighting over how they can stay in power,” Dagalo said as quoted by the official news agency SUNA.

But this is just some of the accusations that have been levelled by both sides. How much will this continue is anyone’s guess. The problem that arises at the moment is that both the military and the civilians-would-be-rulers have got themselves into this joint deal which they must follow till its final conclusion if they believe democracy, representation, assembly and elections lie at the end of the tunnel.

While a lot of changes have been made – Sudan is no longer on the list of states sponsoring terrorism, paid $335 million to US victims of past terror attacks – it now stands in good stead for receiving developmental loans from such global institutions as the World Bank and IMF and therefore can get the country moving again.

The problem of this is can the street wait? Already there are protests again, not similar to the earlier period but seem to be gaining momentum in Port Sudan and South Darfur. Hamdok says he is trying his best, he has reduced rampant hyperinflation running at 400 percent but basic commodities are still too expensive.

In this situation, cool heads continue to be needed. If we are to believe there is a now a deep schism between the military and politicians the best way is talk, talk and negotiations because it is them who agreed to this “civilian-military” framework which is quite unique and distinctive. The best thing to do is make it work, coup or no coup attempts!

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