Sudan uprising: The unwanted change

When Al-Bashir was ousted from power in April after more than three decades in office, most Sudanese breathed a sigh of relief. The dictator who has ruled the country with iron fist and committed many atrocities was no more. The hope was that not only would justice be served, and the nation reconciled but more importantly, good governance will take foot in the country. However, these aspirations were quickly pushed to the background. To the surprise of the protestors, power was reorganized into the hand of top lieutenants of the former regime. Some of these officials are indicted on war crimes in the highly contested region of Darfur. The protest continued; the military doubled down their efforts. While negotiations were on-going, Mr. al-Burhan, the leader of the military, moved into the presidential palace, strategically exploiting the power of the gun against the inexperience and weak pro-democracy coalition.

The negotiations ended abruptly after the June 3 killings; when troops attacked pro-democracy demonstrators in Khartoum, killing at least 100 people and injuring 300. The actual number of deaths, injuries, and rapes in the aftermath of the overthrow of Bashir might not be never be known, but what is for sure is that Sudanese did not back down on their demands, including good governance. The demonstrations continued, internet access was cut off, but citizens of social media showed love, changing their profile pictures to blue; to represent the protestors in Sudan.

After weeks of international pressure, the negotiations started again, and on Friday 5th July 2017, a deal was reached. Both sides have hailed the agreement, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan, head of the Transitional Military Council calling it a comprehensive agreement that includes everyone. Omar al-Degair, the leader of the pro-democracy coalition, called it the beginning of a new era. While this is a welcome development, events in the next three years will determine whether this was a comprehensive deal or the right step. Sudanese are cautiously hopeful; the deal did not give them a civilian leader as they were hoping for, but they have sent a signal; enough of the dictatorship.

The first part of the agreement relates to power-sharing. The military council and the pro-democracy group have agreed to form a joint sovereign council that will govern the country in the next three years or a bit longer. Per the agreement, the military will rule the country for the next 18 months after which the civilian council will govern for the next 12 months. The leader of the transitional military council, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is expected to be the first ‘president.’ The idea of power sharing is not new to the continent, so are the challenges that come with it. Sudan’s southern neighbor, South Sudan epitomizes these challenges. Unless one group is willing to compromise the future of the deal looks bleak. Ideally, the military needs to compromise because the work of the army does not include governance, but Sudanese history points to the opposite; the military is uncompromising. They love politics and want to have a say in it.

The other alternative which is more plausible is for the civilian government to give in; that will defeat the purpose of the uprising. I say it is more plausible for these reasons. The civilian coalition is made up of individuals and organizations that came out to protest because against the soaring prices of foodstuff particularly, bread. This demonstration later turned against Al-Bashir which led to his overthrow. The point I am making here is that aside from the harsh economic conditions in the country that started the protest, this group have little or no ideological basis to cling on to in the future. The military knows this; it exploited it during the negotiations and will exploit it over and over again.

Aside from the weak civilian coalition, the fact the military will govern the country in the next 18 months without the legislature at least in the next three months puts the whole country at a disadvantage. Within this time frame, they can make laws/decrees (call it what you want to call it) which will not protect themselves but most importantly set precedents for the civilian government to follow. The new Sudan will likely be based on the legislation of the military. Since the overthrow of Al-Bahir, have the military shown signs of good governance? Can Sudanese them to build the foundation for a law and order society?   

Another aspect of the agreement deals with the composition of the executive council. It will be made up of 11 members, five from each group, and the last person agreed by both parties. The challenge with this agreement is the status of the 11th member.  It is unclear if the person will be a civilian or from the army although the mediators preferred to refer to him or her as a civilian. This ambiguity is poised to create some confusion. Mainly, because of the fact that the legislative council has been suspended in the interim. This means the 11th member is likely to be the power broker in both decisions making and legislation. The lack of clear definitions on who it will be, the powers the person will have will definitively have unintended consequences on the future of Sudanese politics. But first, it will be interesting to see if the two groups can agree on an individual; and if he or she will act in neutrality. The big question is, what happens after the appointment of the 11th member, and one group is uncomfortable working with him or her? Interesting times ahead in Khartoum.    

Also, the new government agreed to investigate all atrocities committed after the ousted

of Al-Bashir which will be headed by an independent body. The composition of the independent body is unknown yet, but my guess is if it is set up immediately, then the military will have much influence on it since they will head the government in the next 18 months. The same army that is accused of the brutalities. However, If it is set up after the military hands over power to the civilian government will the coalition group have the guts to investigate the team they are sharing powers with? What about if the military decides to enact laws in the first 18 months to protect itself from any prosecutions? How independent will this body be?

The above analysis paints a dark picture of the agreement and surely against the will of most Sudanese. However, the question is what are the alternatives? one way to go is for the people to continue protesting until the unlikely events the military bow to pressure. This seems far-fetched because the uprising did not generate much attention among world leaders as one would have expected. Lessons from Rwanda and Burundi show that when it comes to Africa, the world is slow to react, this compromise might not represent what we all hoped for, but maybe it can be a step in the right direction. The military filled the vacuum after the departure of Mr. Bashir; the reality is that they have always been part of Sudanese politics and they will do anything to at least have a say in any government be it military or civilian.  Their actions are not unexpected.

The deal also gave the civilian coalition some victory. They select the members of the technocratic cabinet to be formed independently of the generals. This is where the coalition must be firm and decisive. It has the support of most Sudanese; they have to select the best of Sudan to fill these positions. This will be a massive challenge as I have indicated earlier on, there are no clear unifying factors that bind the pro-democracy together aside from the demand for the civilian government. But the future of Sudan depends on the choices they make with the selection of the technocratic cabinet. If the right selections are made, they can at least offer some checks on the military.  Hopefully, the civilian coalition will not allow their interest to overshadow the destiny of Sudanese. 

Lastly, there are concerns over Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo (Hemeti), the second in command and the head of the Rapid Support Forces, the paramilitary group accused of most of the brutalities. Though many would be uncomfortable with him playing a leading role in the country, he would likely be in the government. How would this affect the investigations on military brutalities and national reconciliation? There are also lingering questions about Omar Al-Bashir and Gen. Salih Ghosh, the former head of the National Intelligence Unit.

Omar Hassan Al-Bashir is defeated, but Sudan is not out of the woes yet, there were jubilations on the streets of Khartoum and Omdurman after the military, and the civilian governments reach a compromise, but realities that led to the uprising persist. The economy has not recovered, and the military has shown not to be any different from the dictator they replace. The weak pro-democracy civilian government carries the aspirations of Sudan; the dead the living and the generations unborn. The next three years will be crucial.