Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok appointed veteran Darfur rebel group leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) Jibril Ibrahim as Sudan’s Finance Minister on February 8th, 2021. Some Sudanese citizens and analysts have questioned Ibrahim’s new role because of his Islamist stance and former alliance to Omar al-Bashir. The appointment comes as part of a series of governmental changes that address the economic crisis in Sudan. Hamdok described plans for investments in petroleum and electricity, reiterating his argument that Sudan must focus on “productive investments that help the economic distress the country is going through,” says Reuters. This “reshuffle” of the cabinet is a step to hopefully bolster a smooth transition to democracy, and combat inflation and commodity shortages. The cabinet expansion led by Hamdok comes following a peace deal signed in October with rebel groups, and Ibrahim’s appointment is a nod to the truce between the rebel groups and the Sudanese government. Reuters reports there has been a slew of cabinet appointments preceding Ibrahim. Mariam Sadiq al-Mahdi, a leader in the Umma Party and daughter of former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, is now Sudan’s foreign minister. The new minister of cabinet affairs is Khalid Omar Yousif, a Sudanese Congress Party leader and instigator of protests against al-Bashir.
The dire economic crisis in Sudan has commanded the attention of both domestic and international groups. The Financial Times details Sudan’s “disastrous” economy following the coup that removed Omar al-Bashir from power, and in September of 2020, Prime Minister Hamdok declared an economic state of emergency after the currency tanked. There has been devaluation in the black market and a soaring inflation rate of 166 percent in August 2020, says the Financial Times. The COVID-19 pandemic has also created a plethora of new economic issues, along with a shortage of hard currency and catastrophic flooding of the Blue and White Niles. Logain Ali, a teacher who participated in the 2019 street protests, says “we’ve gone through 30 years of being oppressed (under al-Bashir), so now we want some type of positive change, we are holding on to some hope that the transitional government (under Hamdok) will do something about it.” Despite promises by the new regime, Ali notes that there is “(an economic) checklist and they haven’t really ticked any boxes on it.” Another activist, Thouiba Hashim Galad, agreed with Ali, and frets that “if we don’t have bread, demonstrations will start again.”
The existing crisis has “added pressure” on the hybrid civilian-military government to make a deal with the U.S. that would remove Sudan from the list of pro-terrorist states, says the Financial Times. It is clear that cross-national cooperation is vital in Sudan’s road to economic recovery. Hamdok’s economic advisor Adam Elhiraika tells the Financial Times that “the country is in need of external support” because “economic challenges are overshadowing a lot of achievements made in other areas.” To address its financial hardships, Sudan requires U.S. support to access multilateral lending and pay off $60 billion in past debts, says the Financial Times.
Much of Sudan’s longstanding economic hardships stem from President Omar al-Bashir’s three decade dictatorship. During the worst of his reign, Sudan devolved into civil war and violence. In 2003, war in Darfur broke out after rebels launched an insurgency. Al-Bashir’s response to the conflict displaced 2.7 million from their homes and caused 300,000 deaths. According to Crisis Group, his administration failed to invest in Sudan’s agrarian and pastoralist economy, instead “pouring money into the bloated security sector and in the process racking up an international debt burden.” Khartoum also lost a critical source of oil revenue when South Sudan seceded in 2011, which contributed to complaints about al-Bashir. In 2019, following weeks of protests against his rule, President al-Bashir declared a state of emergency and fired his cabinet and regional governors, says PBS News. In April of 2019, the Sudanese military led a coup to overthrow al-Bashir and begin talks of an incoming democracy. Prime Minister Hamdok then assumed power in September of 2019 as part of a three year power-sharing agreement between military, civilians, and protest groups.
For over a decade, al-Bashir has been wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of “war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, rape, and genocide in the Darfur region,” says PBS. Sudan’s transitional government elected to send the deposed leader to court at the Hague in the Netherlands. Hamdok and the rest of the interim administrations thought they could handle al-Bashir’s criminal trial domestically, but it has grown clear that they require external assistance in convicting al-Bashir. Sudan is still dealing with ending multiple civil wars, but also wants to honour requests of rebels who want justice from suffering at the hands of the corrupt ex-President. Efforts to mend al-Bashir’s corrupt legacy thus tie back into Hamdok’s new cabinet appointments, including Ibrahim’s position as finance minister.
Appointments of new cabinet members, as well as other initiatives by the transitional government, will promote future success for Sudan. However, there is much work to be done to achieve stability and peace. Though the removal of al-Bashir in 2019 was a step toward political reform, the roughly sixteen months of the interim government headed by Hamdok has had little success. Al-Bashir’s exit ended mass anti-corruption demonstrations against him, but there remains violence, civilian dissatisfaction, and overall unrest in Sudan. The New York Times reports that hundreds have been killed or injured in Darfur during a January 2021 conflict, thus “dampening hopes for long-lasting peace in an area that has been plagued by fighting and instability for decades.” This violence contradicts the previous October 2020 peace deal signed with rebel groups. Armed forces stormed the city of El Geneina and then blockaded a camp for internally displaced people, says the New York Times. Not only has Sudan suffered recent violence surges, but the still new administration has been under-equipped to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to existing economic pressures, the pandemic has sparked increasing food prices, rising unemployment, and falling exports, says the World Bank. The International Monetary Fund even announced an economic stagnation for Sudan in 2020.
The persistent economic struggles and violence in Sudan require immediate attention. Prime Minister Hamdok and his administration have a duty to mend the crisis at hand and instigate a smooth adjustment to democracy. Though it will take time to reverse al-Bashir’s corrupt policies, Hamdok must be aggressive in tackling his already established goals of peace and economic success. To foster progress and well-being in Sudan, the current administration must coordinate relief for vulnerable populations. According to ReliefWeb, the OCHA Sudan Situation Report defines 9.3 million Sudanese as in need of assistance, including 6.2 million people who are expected to lack food and 2.7 children who are malnourished. Also, infectious diseases like malaria and dengue fever run rampant in Sudan, and climate change has exacerbated the frequency of natural disasters. An abundance of factors, along with poor infrastructure and denial of basic services, contribute to the vulnerable Sudanese population.
The question of how to finance relief to struggling citizens remains. According to Crisis Group, “without urgent donor assistance to provide economic relief to a suffering population, public support for the cabinet’s reform agenda could collapse.” As time passes with little to no reform, Sudanese populations will grow restless and dissatisfied. Thus, potential protests may uproot the civilian-military government that “barely hangs together,” says Crisis Group. A donor conference on June 25th, 2020, co-hosted by the EU, Germany, the UN and Sudan, discussed possible proposals of international aid. Crisis Group offers several solutions to economic hardship: sponsoring a cash transfer program to offset inflation following the decision to lift fuel subsidies and introducing new policies to guard funds and bolster popular support for changes. With a near bankrupt treasury, Prime Minister Hamdok must act swiftly to locate funds that will both assist vulnerable Sudanese and maintain peace. Donor allies should partner with Hamdok to ensure a smooth transition to a more permanent government in coming 2022 elections.
Obstacles toward peace in Sudan will only worsen without aggressive strategies to reinvigorate the country’s economy. Sudan requires both domestic policy and international coordination by Hamdok, Finance Minister Ibrahim, and the rest of the interim administration.
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