Sudan is currently facing multiple ongoing crises – economic, political, humanitarian – that require concerted action to address. Yet the country remains gridlocked by setbacks for Sudan's democratic transition. Unblocking the pathway to transition in Sudan will not be an easy task, and it will require careful reflection and analysis of the best ways forward and practical steps that can be taken by various parties.
This Policy Briefing contributes in a small way to this conversation, offering an analysis of the situation and strategic recommendations. It draws on the author's reflections on various policy and dialogue engagements with Sudanese actors, in addition to a two-week research mission to Sudan in October 2022. The mission afforded multiple opportunities for conversations with including high-level government officials, regional politicians, and UN representatives.
A Revolution thwarted
In December 2018, the Sudanese revolution began when peaceful protests erupted in the streets. Sudanese people protested the regime of Omar al-Bashir, who had been in power for 30 years, and demanded political representation and human rights. For months, no real change occurred in the political scene until the Sudanese military intervened. In April 2019, Sudan's armed forces formed a military council and staged a coup d'état against al-Bashir.  The Military Council succeeded in seizing control over Sudan and overthrowing al-Bashir and his regime. Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf led the council for a day before handing the leadership over to Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan. The Transitional Military Council (TMC) also announced that it created and would lead a transitional government that was intended to last two years. This clashed with the Sudanese people's expectations for a post-Bashir Sudan.
Unsurprisingly, many Sudanese opposed the military takeover and the transitional plans of the Military Council, and thus civilian protests continued. The Freedom and Change Force (FFC), a coalition of 22 Sudanese political parties and social groups created in January 2019, assumed the leadership of the civilian opposition and demanded a power-sharing agreement with the Transitional Military Council. The military's initial reaction to the continuation of the protests was violent, resulting in the death of 101 people and the injury of 326 others. The military leadership, however, ended up agreeing to a power-sharing deal with the FFC.
After many negotiations and the intervention of the African Union (AU), on 17 August 2019, the deputy chief of the Transitional Military Council (TMC), Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti), and a representative of the FFC signed the Constitutional Declaration Deal. The agreement initiated a three-year transitional period and established a new Sovereignty Council, which a military leader would head for 21 months followed by a civilian leader for the subsequent 18 months. The Sovereignty Council consisted of 11 members — five chosen by the FFC, five by the TMC, and one by consensus. The Sovereignty Council appointed Abdalla Hamdok, an economist and public administrator, as the new Prime Minster. During the transitional period, the transitional regime's mandate was to perform 16 tasks, most importantly to 'work on achieving a just and comprehensive peace' and 'hold accountable members of the former regime'. To conclude the transitional period, the deal scheduled elections to be held in late 2022.
October 2021: Two steps forward, one step back
On 25 October 2021, the Sudanese military, commandeered by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, removed the transitional government led by former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. There are competing interpretations of the events of October 2021 according to various Sudanese, regional, and international actors. Whilst many international observers labelled the actions of the military as a coup d'etat, the Sudanese military insists that it was compelled to step in because other parties were "hijacking the revolution" it supported, and to stop a civil war from breaking out.
The change in government happened a few days before the leadership of the Sovereignty Council was supposed to have been transferred over from the military leader to a civilian leader, as per the 2019 power-sharing agreement between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC). It also happened a little more than a year after a failed coup occurred in September 2020, in which some military personnel loyal to al-Bashir attempted to seize power. That attempted coup revealed much about the military's attitude toward democratic transition and heightened tensions between the TMC and the FFC. Sudan's fragility score reflects the instability caused by the failed coup attempt in 2020 and the October coup in 2021; in 2022, its state fragility score significantly rose from 104.8 to 107.1 out of 120 in 2020, ranking 7th in terms of fragility at the global level.
There are multiple reasons for the October 2021 power change in Sudan. Firstly, in the preceding months, the Hamdok government faced a litany of challenges. It was struggling to meet the basic needs of many Sudanese civilians, and progress had stalled in the country's transition from military to civilian rule. In a context marked by rising public dissatisfaction with fuel subsidy cuts and soaring inflation, protestors returned to the streets, with many calling for the military to take over. This period of civil unrest gave al-Burhan a pretext and opportunity to assert the military's control once more.
Secondly, the change may be considered a preventive measure to avoid charges for alleged human rights violations, of which Al-Burhan's military junta had been accused by various domestic factions and international observers. Any transition to democracy would entail the establishment of a constitutional court and appointing a judicial body that could potentially place military officials on trial for these alleged crimes. Furthermore, the October 2021 events occurred a little over a month after Sudan decided to hand over the ousted al-Bashir to the ICC to face charges for alleged crimes committed in Darfur in 2003 and 2004.
Thirdly, it could be interpreted as a means to maintain economic interests. According to a report by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, some high-ranking security officers in Sudan own 408 economic entities, including agricultural companies, banks, and medical import businesses. Additionally, Rapid Support Forces leader Hemedti owns 28.35% of shares in Khaleej Bank, which belongs to the United Arab Emirates. Any new civil administration in Sudan would seek to limit the military's control over the national economy and especially the monopoly of national resources, which constitutes a major political economy obstacle to durable transition.
You can read the full Policy Brief here.pdf.
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