A look at Sudan’s Political Transition One Year Down the Line

On August 17, 2020, Sudan will mark one year since the signing of a power-sharing agreement that had ushered in democratic transition after decades of autocratic and oppressive rule. The agreement brokered between the Transitional Military Council and leaders of the protest movement, the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), set the country on a 39-month long transition. During this period, parties have demonstrated significant political will towards the changeover but challenges including protracted negotiations with rebel groups, economic stagnation and growing distrust between military officials and civilians abound. A conclusion on the formation of a Legislative Council, negotiations with rebels and a dispensation of justice to address historical injustices will help maintain the momentum of the transition and achieve the objectives of the revolution. On their part, Friends of Sudan, the country’s international development partners, should move quickly and support the country financially to bolster its economic revival.

Peace Deal, Renewed Violence 

The temporary de facto Constitution of Sudan, the country’s supreme law for the transition, requires that transitional government co-opts all rebel groups into the government for purposes of cementing peace and securing support for the much-needed nation-building efforts. While negotiations with rebel groups have been ongoing for a while now in Juba, under the facilitation of South Sudan, they have been prolonged with numerous adjournments. These drawn-out talks have contributed to the delay in the execution of other crucial tasks such as the formation of the Legislative Council, a key entity needed for legislation and enhancement of the civilian role in the transition process. Be that as it may, on June 10, 2020, parties to the Juba peace talks announced an agreement in principle. This paved way for the inclusion of rebels in the transitional authority and a possible extension of the transitional period for a further 12 months should the deal be signed.

While the peace deal is a significant step towards peace and stability in Sudan, the escalation of violent attacks in the West Darfur region in recent weeks is inimical to the quest for peace in Darfur and the rest of Sudan. For instance, on July 25, 2020, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Sudan reported that an estimated 60 people had been killed and 60 wounded in an attack carried out by an unidentified group of about 500 attackers. This attack followed in quick succession other attacks that have led to the displacement of civilians, destruction of property, and hindered access for humanitarian organizations in the Darfur region. While the motives and perpetrators of these attacks are yet to be established, the timing, coinciding with a breakthrough in negotiations, raises concerns over intentions to derail the peace deal and the ability of the transition government to protect civilians in the said region.

Delayed Promises, Unmet Expectations

Renewed violence in certain parts of the country is not the only challenge encountered during the transition thus far. The formation of the transitional government, under the leadership of Abdalla Hamdok, inspired high hopes both from Sudanese people and the international community. Firstly, it came at a time when soaring inflation was threatening the country’s economy, thanks to a corrupt and patronage system that former president Omar al-Bashir had created. The expectations notwithstanding, Sudan’s economic outlook today is far from encouraging. According to a statement issued in March by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), inflation had continued to rise in Sudan. In its projection, the IMF stated that the economy of Sudan would shrink by 1.2 per cent in 2020. This is likely to deteriorate further due to economic disruptions caused by COVID-19. In June 2020, the Friends of Sudan held a conference in Berlin, Germany with the objective of mobilizing resources for the transition. They committed to a joint package of USD 1.8 billion meant for development, social support, humanitarian needs and response to COVID-19. The dire economic situation, therefore, puts the civilian authority at a crossroad. It not only risks weakening the trust of citizens in the new dispensation to deliver economic reprieve but also erodes the leverage of civilians over the military officials that have for long been suspected of harboring motives to undermine the transition.

These challenges, coupled with a slow-paced investigation into historical injustices committed by previous regimes, including the June 3, 2019 attack on protesters, have cast doubt on the ability of the transitional authority to deliver justice to victims of repression in the country. A committee formed to investigate the June 3, 2019 attack is yet to submit its report. Neither has it attempted to buttress its capacity by incorporating external experts as provided for in the terms of reference.

Sustaining the Momentum

To increase its chances of success, the transition authority needs to function at its full strength. To this end, the process of formulating a Legislative Council must be finalized to take away law-making duties from the Cabinet and the Sovereign Council in line with separation of powers principles. The Legislative Council is also needed to provide oversight of the Cabinet and the Sovereign Council in the exercise of their mandates. Secondly, international partners need to increase and speed up their financial support and investment to enable the government to reverse the spiralling inflation, provide jobs and meet its social obligations. This will help sustain civilian confidence in government and ensure progress in the implementation of other democratic tasks such as constitution-making. On its part, the authorities should sustain the war on corruption by expanding investigations to include former and current officials who might have misused public resources or used their positions, be it in the security forces, to benefit unduly. Finally, progress must be seen in transitional justice efforts currently ongoing be it through financial redress to victims of past abuses or trial of perpetrators either domestically or through other credible international jurisdictions like the International Criminal Court.

Elvis Salano is a Research Assistant at the HORN Institute

Photo: Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (Right) at a conference in 2019 (Photo Credit: Ashraf Shazly/AFP)

Comments are disabled.