Sudanese revolutionaries face challenges of governing a divided nation

Civilians who have helped end the repressive regime of longtime Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir are finding that it is often more difficult to wield power than to obtain it. Barely three months after forming a difficult transitional government with military and paramilitary rulers attempting to seize control, these revolutionaries have begun to end three decades of mismanagement. It’s a race against time: within three years, the transitional authorities face the challenge of instituting responsible and inclusive governance for the first time in Sudan’s history, while holding elections and completing a democratic transfer of power.

These challenges are compounded by the structure of Sudan’s new government, which is the product of a compromise between civilians whose relentless protests crippled Bashir and the generals who ultimately overthrew him in April. Power is divided between civil and military factions in an 11-person Sovereign Council, with leadership alternating between the two during the 39-month transition. Not only do the two camps have radically different visions of the future of Sudan, but they are sharply divided between them.

The civilians, grouped under the banner of the Forces for Freedom and Change, or FFC, are a mix of professionals, civil society activists and leaders of the mainstream political opposition. They are weak and inexperienced, but face enormous public expectations. They must channel the wave of energy and optimism generated by the revolution into a government program that delivers tangible benefits to an impatient population. Their priorities include tackling Sudan’s acute economic crisis, restoring peace to a country traumatized by years of internal conflict, and bringing accountability not only to the victims of the former regime, but also to those who have suffered. were killed, raped and detained by security forces at the height of the crisis. revolution earlier this year. At the same time, the FFC must build a party structure from scratch to participate in the elections at the end of the transition period, most likely against an emboldened organization that succeeds Bashir’s former National Congress Party.

Divisions run equally deep among security personnel and more likely to lead to violence. The military wing is headed by General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, who heads the Sovereign Council for the first 21 months of the transition. The paramilitary groups, which have become a rival source of power under Bashir, are led by Mohammed Hamdan Daqlou, known to the Sudanese as Hemeti, who commands the country’s main militia, the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF. Hemeti is widely regarded as the Sovereign Council’s primary intermediary, although – or perhaps because – his forces played a leading role in the massacre of more than 100 unarmed protesters in Khartoum on June 3.

More clashes between the civilian and security factions of the transitional government are on the horizon. One of the likely hot spots is how to navigate security sector reform in a country where military and paramilitary forces have repeatedly committed serious human rights violations. The FFC knows that lasting change in Sudan is impossible unless the influence of the security forces is reduced, but it is also keenly aware that its Sovereign Council counterparts will not voluntarily relinquish their powers.

The people who started the revolution and are now charged with securing it are inexperienced, divided and threatened inside and outside the transitional government.

Meanwhile, the risks of a counterrevolution remain a significant threat. Authorities have already foiled a coup attempt in July led by officers linked to the former regime. In addition, the transitional government must negotiate with an assortment of armed groups from the conflict-affected areas of Darfur and the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. While most of these armed groups are ideologically inclined to support the FFC’s vision for a more inclusive Sudan, their loyalty cannot be taken for granted until the ongoing peace talks in South Sudan are successful. assume they do.

For the transitional government to be successful, it must take steps to hold its civilian representatives accountable while reassuring the military that its fundamental interests will be protected. Simultaneously, he will have to try to limit the influence of spoilers within government, like Hemeti, and those outside, including the remnants of Bashir’s regime and the armed groups that have so far refused to join. peace talks.

The FFC can help itself by asserting its role of governance, including as a provider of basic services, rather than letting the security forces apply for credit. RSF, for example, has tried to achieve public relations victories in recent weeks by leading medical convoys in areas of the country affected by cholera and dengue. The FFC should use the power of the streets, staying close to the upward movement that led the revolution. Its ability to mobilize mass street protests that attract international attention and support has already been essential in controlling the army’s ambitions at times when the revolution was in danger, especially in the weeks following the massacre. of June.

The international community can provide diplomatic and technical support to these essential efforts to remake Sudan by persuading recalcitrant armed groups to join the peace talks, supporting legal reforms in Khartoum and pushing the transitional government to honor commitments. policies and human rights that it took in its draft constitutional charter. Outside powers can act on the pleas of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok as he continues the thankless task of visiting capitals around the world to seek to ease Sudan’s enormous debt burden. The United States in particular can remove a major hurdle by removing Sudan from its list of terrorist sponsor states, an anachronistic designation sparked by the old regime’s ties to Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s. The list prevents Khartoum to access loans from international financial institutions. The Gulf states, which have forged close ties with the Sovereign Council military because they see them as the strongest guarantors of stability in Sudan, are best placed to advocate for a gradual reform program in the Sudan. security sector which ultimately places the RSF and other paramilitary organizations under the authority of the army.

Supporters of Sudan abroad can increase the chances of a successful transition by staying engaged, but ultimately the Sudanese will control their own destiny. The people who started the revolution and now find themselves tasked with securing it are inexperienced, divided and threatened from inside and outside the transitional government. Their actions in the coming months will help determine whether 2019 turns out to be a fleeting moment of optimism, or the year in which Sudan has taken a decisive step towards a peaceful and democratic future.

Richard Downie is Senior Associate of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Thelma J. Longworth