Officers and gentlemen: The people who hold Sudan’s fate

Monday July 22 2019

Sudanese anti-regime demonstrators on April 11, 2019 outside the military headquarters in Khartoum.

Sudanese anti-regime demonstrators on April 11, 2019 outside the military headquarters in Khartoum. Sudan's transition crisis has attracted an array of strange bedfellows brought together by the economic hardships of Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year reign. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

MOHAMMED AMIN
By MOHAMMED AMIN
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PETER MUNAITA
By PETER MUNAITA
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The forces pitted against each other in the Sudan crisis have left many analysts unconvinced that the political declaration signed between the ruling transitional military council and the protest Alliance for Freedom and Change will hold until democratic elections are held at the end of 2022.

The transition crisis has attracted an array of strange bedfellows brought together by the economic hardships of Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year reign, which entrenched the military at the apex of the central government and incorporated militias at the periphery to counter rebel groups keen on better distribution of political power and resources.

There are conflicts between traditional ethnic leaders and rebel groups formed mainly by indigenous African communities seeking equality with populations of Arabic descent. Also at play is a civilian middle class comprising professionals agitating for privileges similar to those enjoyed by the men in uniform and the militias that back them.

This array of interests has left Sudan at a political crossroads despite the exit of Mr Bashir on April 11 which saw a section of his security committee transform into the Transitional Military Council that appears to have been handed the longer end of the stick by the political declaration.

 

Here are the key players:

TMC

Composed of the national army, the reformed militia now known as the Rapid Support Forces and the Intelligence Security Service, the TMC is essentially an extension of Mr al-Bashir’s regime. Sources say that the majority of the TMC members supported Mr al-Bashir until they saw an opportunity of a palace coup in junior officers disobeying orders to quell protests that had gone on for four months. Sparked in December last year by austerity measures that would have seen the costs of foodstuffs and energy rise, the protests by professionals morphed into a political movement when opposition leaders and crusaders who had watched in silence joined in.

Insiders say external players — notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates — tacitly backed the ouster of Mr al-Bashir with one eye on safeguarding a key market for their goods and the other on keeping Sudan’s forces in the alliance fighting against the Iran and Turkey supported Houthi rebels in Yemen grounded. The alliance pledged $3 billion to Sudan within no time of Mr al-Bashir’s ouster.

By virtue of its composition, the TMC is divided, and suspicions run deep especially after the June 3 massacre of 61, officially that is, of protesters outside the military headquarters.

Those close to the military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan sought to blame the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces leader and second-in-command Mohamed Hamdan Dagelo for the killings. Dagelo, commonly referred to as Hemedti after Mr al-Bashir fondly called him “my protector” after his exploits in Darfur, in turn blamed the National Security and Intelligence Service for the violent dispersal of the protestors, some of whose bodies were retrieved from the Nile. In pointing fingers at NISS, Hemedti was effectively blaming its former chief Salah Gosh, whom the TMC forced to resign two days after Mr al-Bashir ouster.

Since then TMC has talked of several attempted coups — the latest of which it attributed to some soldiers in the army and intelligence service — saying a dozen people had been apprehended. Fissures in the TMC emerged a day after Mr al-Bashir was ousted with veteran soldier al-Burhan taking over from Awad Ibn Ouf, Mr al-Bashir’s former defence minister. Word at the time was that Mr Hemedti, with his 30,000-strong force now controlling Khartoum and bringing in an estimated $1 billion from its engagement in Yemen, prevailed upon Ibn Ouf to step down. Within TMC, Mr Hemedti is the only outsider having no military background and his title having been bequeathed by his exploits with the Janjaweed militia that was accused of atrocities in Darfur before Mr al-Bashir commissioned it as a force in 2015 to protect him from rising rebellion across the country and potential coups.

“The TMC has the responsibility to bring those who killed the protesters to justice,” said Sudanese political analyst Khalid Alfaki.

Although an independent investigation into the killings was included in the political declaration, it remains to be seen what action would be taken on its findings should a section of the highly divided TMC be found to be culpable.

A critical test is likely to come sooner with the naming of the five generals who will sit in the 11-member Civilian-Military Council whose role, and that of a 20-member Cabinet, will be defined in a Constitutional Declaration expected to be thrashed out in the coming week. The military will contribute only two ministers — Defence and Interior — in the Cabinet that will be majorly filled by the protest movement.

Under the declaration, a military representative will lead the council for 21 months, followed by a civilian for 18 months, at the end of which elections will be held.

For now, Mr Hemedti is (de facto) calling the shots and roaming the countryside in apparent peace-building efforts that signal an early election campaign. He has had engagements with foreign dignitaries, including from the US, either at home or abroad, where he has pledged to keep RSS in Yemeni and safeguard stability in a country key to the fight against extremism from the Horn of Africa to Chad and the Sahel.  At home, Mr Hemedti is the face of the new administration with regular briefings on national television and analysts say it was no sheer coincidence that he signed the Political Declaration on behalf of the generals.

THE PROTEST MOVEMENT

There are fissures in TMC, and there are rifts in the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), formerly Alliance for Freedom and Change (AFC), the umbrella association that mobilised the protests so effectively that resulted in the signing of the political declaration.

Formed in January 2019, weeks after the Sudanese Professional Association (SPA) called for mass protests against rising cost of living and then president Bashir’s political intolerance, FFC brings together a motley of interests. There are politicians in the Sudan Call group, which includes the National Umma Party that is led by the ex-prime minister Alsadig Almahdi, the Sudanese Congress Party (SCP) and the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (RSF), a grouping of rebels from across the country. SPA is in the second group, which is playing a civil society role in the movement ensuring political interests do not trump liberties that the ordinary person is craving for after years of repression by Mr al-Bashir’s Islamist regime.

Yet there is a third player — the leftist National Consensus Forces (NCF) featuring the Sudanese Communist party and other leftist movements — and a fourth if political leaders who were deported from the country in June by TMC are added.

It is therefore not surprising that apart from the spokesmen of the different organisations and Ahmad al-Rabiah, who signed the political declaration on behalf of the FFC — no other personality has stood out during the seven months of protests.

“FFC is an alliance that only united to stand against the former Islamist regime. This is why we are currently witnessing a lot of differences especially between the leftist NCF and the Sudan Call which is more or less liberal or rightist,” Sudanese political Analyst Abdullah Ali Ibrahim said.

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