A New Step For Sudan?

In December 2018 Sudanese citizens protested austerity measures imposed by President Omar Al-Bashir designed to prevent financial collapse. This included a cut to bread and fuel subsidies – enough to spark a mass protest in the nation’s capital, Khartoum. This mass demonstration evolved into calls for Bashir’s total removal along with the removal of his repressive government which has been in power for 3 decades. On the 6th of April 2019, demonstrators took control of the square near the military’s headquarters calling for the military to back their plight against Bashir. The end of Bashir’s rule came on the 11th of April when a military council (TMC) promised a transition to civilian rule – which to this day the Sudanese people are still waiting for.

In the past few months, there has been a widespread purging of all political dissidents and protestors predominately taking place in Khartoum. Even prior to the agreement on 11th April, state police and various actors within Sudanese society were captured abducting protestors and opening fire on demonstrators in the streets of Khartoum. In what appeared to be a last-minute power grab, these hit squads were armed by the national security intelligence service based around police offices in Khartoum. Despite the agreement on the 11th of April, there are still instances of protestors and demonstrators being targeted by the newly established Transitional Military Council. The situation in Sudan has seemingly gone from bad to worse.

By and large, the international community is generally supportive of the protestor’s calls for civilian government and democracy. However, the geographical significance of its neighbouring states suggests that those nations closer to Sudan have a small degree of sympathy for the TMC. As of June 2019, the Saudi Arabian government continued to receive support from the TMC in its war against Yemen. It is estimated that 14,000 of these fighters are from the Eastern Darfur region of Sudan who are supporting the war effort against Houthi controlled Yemen itself a dire situation. While discussions are a promising sign, the content of them is crucial and it seems that the Sudanese people may have to contend with a TMC for longer than they wish. This is a complicated situation, however, as the TMC does not look like it will give up its control too easily.

The Transitional Military Council has imposed full military control preventing the civilian government from forming a legislative government, cabinet, and council. Instead, the TMC has behaved in a similar fashion to that of the old repressive regime of Al-Bashir. While the transition to a civilian government does take time, the insistence that it will take three years to transition is not enough to assuage the fears, concerns, and most importantly the rights of the Sudanese people. The risk of a civil war is imminent.

As recently as July 5th, a power-sharing deal was brokered between the TMC and leading protest groups. While this is a promising development, one must recall that recent attempts for peace and power-sharing have failed as recently as the 3rd of June 2019.  Over the next few years, it is expected that this new agreement will pave a way forward, however, the recent past suggests that a way forward is a long way down the road. While talks are a promising sign, Ahmed Soliman of Chatham House told RFI News that the new agreement has “five members from each side, then an agreement on an independent civilian to be the eleventh member”.  This will ideally mark the start of a new step in Sudanese history but like so many similar situations, time will tell if it truly works.

Mitchell Thomas