Sudanese face daunting challenges on path to democracy
For the first time in three decades, Sudan has charted a path out of military rule following the formation of a power-sharing government by the pro-democracy movement and the generals who overthrew long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir.
But the fragile transition will be tested as leaders confront a daunting array of challenges. Decades of war and corruption have left the economy in shambles and a U.S. terror designation has hindered Sudan's return from its long-time status as a global pariah.
The civilian and military leaders who now make up the military-led sovereign council only came together under intense international pressure after a crackdown on protests threatened to derail the transition and raised fears of civil war.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, a respected economist, must now convince the international community that Sudan is open for business. That could require painful austerity measures, potentially reigniting the popular anger that drove al-Bashir from power in April.
"There is a huge amount to be done," said Alex de Waal, a Sudan expert at Tufts University. "Sudan will need debt relief, debt rescheduling, lifting sanctions and only then can the real economic reforms begin. Next challenges include corruption and a very high defence budget."
Here's a look at the urgent challenges facing the new government:
Rebuilding the economy
Sudan was plunged into an economic crisis when the oil-rich south seceded in 2011 after decades of war, taking with it more than half of public revenues and 95% of exports. Sudan has been battling rebellions in its long-neglected provinces for decades and is nearly $60 billion in debt.
Hamdok told a local TV station that Sudan needs up to $8 billion in foreign aid in the next two years and another $2 billion deposited as reserves to shore up the plunging local currency.
Sudan: From protests to power struggle
Following the violent crackdown on the protest camp in Khartoum, the tension between the civilians and military became even more strained. Yet the stalemate appears over – for now. Here's a chronology of events. By Kersten Knipp
Breaking fast during the protests: for weeks – even during Ramadan – thousands of protesters camped outside Sudan's defence ministry, demanding a transitional council in which civilians could decide the future of the country. In early June the military moved in and forcefully removed the protesters. Dozens of people died and those who survived reported rapes, sexual abuse and the use of force
For the love of the country: a protester holds up the national flag outside the army headquarters. His demand: that Sudan's Transitional Military Council hand over power to the civilians. This, the protesters believe, will be an important step towards democracy
Warning signs: in early June, just days ahead of the crackdown on the sit-in, the military increased its presence on the streets. Many protesters predicted that the army would not want to hand over power. This was what they hoped for after the ousting of long-time president Omar al-Bashir
The end of an era: from 1989 until his April 2019, Omar al-Bashir ruled Sudan. He suppressed critics. In 1999 he even dismantled parliament in order to maintain his grip on power. His name will, however, be remembered for his handling of the Darfur crisis. His troops' harsh response led to thousands of deaths and for that, he is wanted for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court
A dictator in court: many Sudanese had been waiting for this day for a long time – the day when Omar al-Bashir would have to face a court. On 16 June, he appeared before prosecutors, accused of corruption and the illegal possession of foreign currency. After being ousted, security forces found over one million U.S. dollars stashed away in his villa
The voice of the women: many women actively participated in the protests and they gave the protests a different face. Their presence underlined the protesters demand for democracy and equal rights. During the brutal crackdown by security forces, many women reported sexual abuse and rape as a means to silence them
The Nubian queen – an icon of the revolution: architecture student Alaa Salah became the face of the revolution. A photographer shot this picture as she stood on top of a car and addressed protesters. Photos and videos of her protest chants trended on social media. Online she is known as "Kandaka" or the Nubian queen
International solidarity: thanks to social media, the protests rapidly caught international attention and support from human rights groups and Sudanese living abroad. In a statement, the EU's foreign ministers urged for an immediate end to all forms of violence against Sudanese civilians
Some still support the military: but not all Sudanese civilians are against the army. Some people, in fact, want a tough military rule to give the country security and strength. The army supporters have placed their faith in General Abdel Fattah Burhan, the head of the Transitional Military Council
The strongman in the background: the real power, however, lies not with General Abdel Fattah Burhan, but his deputy, General Mohammed Hamdan Daglu, also known as "Hemeti". He heads the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) who cracked down brutally on the protesters. During the war in Darfur, he commanded the feared Janjaweed militias. The protesters fear that he could, in the end, take power
No end in sight to the protests: the protests continued unabated throughout June. Military leaders on Monday, 23 June, turned down a proposal for a power-sharing deal. The protest leaders, represented by the coalition Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change, which includes the Sudanese Professional's Association, had accepted the deal which was negotiated with the help of Ethiopia
Power-sharing deal negotiated: on 5 July members of the military and protest movement representatives announced they had reached a deal to share power. For the next three years, a transitional council consisting of six civilians and five military figures will lead the country. Democratic elections will then be held. People in Khartoum celebrated the news, though the practicalities of implementation cause conflict to re-ignite
Help from the Gulf: Politicians of other Arab nations continue to watch the developments in Sudan with a certain degree of concern. Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, it is believed, fears that successful grassroots protests could set an example for citizens in the Arab Peninsula. Both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia appear to be supporting the military regime
The neighbour in the North: Cairo seems similarly concerned about the events in Khartoum. Egyptian president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi (pictured l. with Omar al-Bashir in 2018) fears that the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt has been trying to silence, could fall on fertile ground in Sudan. If the Muslim Brotherhood gains support in Sudan, al-Sisi believes that its success might strengthen the group again in Egypt
The transitional government is expected to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. But that could require it to slash food and fuel subsidies and further devalue the local currency.
Al-Bashir took similar measures during his final years in power, resulting in inflation of more than 40% in 2018. Price hikes set off protests last December that escalated into a full-blown uprising.
International lenders might also demand greater transparency and new efforts to combat graft in a country that consistently ranks among the most corrupt . That could bring the civilian leadership into conflict with various security organs that have profited off the country's chaos.
Back to the fold!
Hamdok told journalists that his first priority is to get the United States to lift its designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, which dates back to the early 1990s, when the country briefly hosted Osama bin Laden.
"We want to tell the world we are moving away from sanctions, issues of punishment and all that, to a Sudan that is coming back to the fold of normal nations," he said.
The U.S. lifted sanctions on Sudan in 2017, but investors have been slow to return because of the rampant corruption and instability.
The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have offered billions of dollars in aid since al-Bashir's overthrow, but it has been channelled through their allies in the military and the security forces, raising concerns it could be used to finance a new patronage regime.
Of special concern are the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group that grew out of the brutal Janjaweed militias that put down the rebellion in Darfur in the early 2000s. The RSF has been accused of war crimes and blamed for attacks on protesters in recent months. Its leader, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, sits on the sovereign council and is widely seen as laying the groundwork for a revival of authoritarian rule.
Hamdok said he wants to bring all the country's finances under the control of the Finance Ministry. "We want it all, whether it is from our partners and our friends or from our own resources," he said.
Experts say that could place him on a collision course with the generals.
It would be "quite challenging" to wean the security agencies of their "addiction to massive theft and massive rights violations in the protection of their privileges," said Suliman Baldo, a senior researcher with the Enough Project.
Elusive peace deals
One way to simultaneously reduce the defence budget and boost economic prospects would be to resolve the country's various internal conflicts.
Fighting in the western Darfur province has largely died down in recent years, but rebels and bandits are still active there and in Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
The country's main rebel groups have observed a cease-fire since al-Bashir's overthrow in solidarity with the protest movement. The power-sharing agreement calls for the new government to make peace with rebel groups within six months.
Hamdok said the government hopes for a "peace dividend" that would bring the military budget down from 70-80% of state spending to no more than 20%, with the rest devoted to economic development.
But the main alliance of Darfur rebel groups, known as the Sudan Revolutionary Front, has rejected the power-sharing deal, complaining it is not represented. Another rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Amy, has said it will only hold talks with a civilian government.
Still, de Waal says "there is a better chance for peace now than at any time in the recent past," noting that Hamdok has already met with rebel leaders in Ethiopia. "For their part, the rebels also know that this is their best chance for a deal," he said.
The power-sharing agreement only emerged after months of tense negotiations that collapsed at one point after security forces killed scores of protesters.
Lingering distrust between the pro-democracy movement and the military could hinder any bold action during the three-year transition to elections. A general will lead the sovereign council for the first 21 months, followed by a civilian the next 18.
The protest movement may struggle to retain its cohesion, given the inexperience of its mostly young leaders and their struggles to present a united front during much of the negotiations. The Communist Party has already rejected the power-sharing deal, saying it did not go far enough in ensuring those behind the violence against protesters would be punished.
The question of transitional justice has loomed large since the overthrow of al-Bashir, who is still wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
The military has said al-Bashir, who was jailed in Khartoum shortly after his removal from power, he will not be extradited. He appeared in a defendant's cage at a corruption trial that began earlier this month and Sudanese prosecutors have also charged him with involvement in the killing of protesters.
Rasha Awad, editor of the online Sudanese newspaper Altaghyeer, said the new administration must reform the judiciary in order to achieve "transitional justice," but fears the military could stymie such efforts in order to protect its interests. (AP)