Sudan’s ruling military council and a coalition of opposition and protest groups have concluded two days of talks on July 5 in the capital, Khartoum, with an agreement to share power in a transition period before elections. African Union (AU) mediator, Mohamed Hassan Lebatt, announced at a news conference that a sovereign council will be established, rotating power between military and civilians leaders for the interim period of just over three years. The sides have agreed that five seats will go to the military and five to civilians, with an additional seat given to a civilian with a military background. Also agreed upon were the formation of an independent government and the launch of a transparent, independent investigation into violent events in recent weeks. News of the agreement set off street celebrations by thousands of people.
“This agreement opens the way for the formation of the institutions of the transitional authority, and we hope that this is the beginning of a new era,” said Omar al-Degair, a leader of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) – an umbrella organisation of opposition groups. “We would like to reassure all political forces, armed movements and all those who participated in the change from young men and women … that this agreement will be comprehensive and will not exclude anyone,” said General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy head of the Transitional Military Council (TMC).
The agreement breaks weeks of political impasse since large scale demonstrations led to a military ousting of autocratic President Omar al-Bashir on April 11. Demonstrations were initially held against a spiralling economy and fuel and cash shortages but quickly escalated into calls against his rule, gaining momentum following Algeria’s long-term President’s, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, resignation in response to weeks of similar protests. Bashir has ruled autocratically for 30 years and is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague over allegations of genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region during an insurgency that began in 2003 and killed an estimated 300,000 people.
Initial negotiations on the transition collapsed when security forces violently dispersed a protest camp in Khartoum on June 3. More than 100 people were killed in the dispersal and subsequent violence, according to opposition medics. The government, however, disputes those numbers, placing the death toll at 62. The AU and neighbouring Ethiopia stepped up mediation efforts and negotiations resumed after mass protests in more than 10 major cities started again last Sunday, in what social media users have dubbed the “millions march.”
The agreement should be hailed as an important step towards peace and democratic governance in Sudan. However, it is still the first step in a long process. Any new government that includes the paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), and its commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemeti, still remains a major concern. The RSF has been involved in a number of human rights abuses and the violent repression of protests in previous years. Accused of the violent crackdown on protesters on June 3, trust is severely low in the military institution’s efforts to give power back to civilians.
Given the controlling power of the RSF, however, a deal with them, for now, is the only way forward. It is important, as UN Security General Antonio Guterres has urged, that all sides “ensure the timely, inclusive, and transparent implementation of the agreement and resolve any outstanding issues through dialogue.” This must be followed by a roadmap towards a form of state governance that is removed from military and security forces control after the transitional period. Large scale peaceful protests have demonstrated that the military will be forced to listen to the demands of the people. This pressure must be sustained in the transition period ahead to ensure a successful democratic transformation.