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CWA # 116, 27 May 2019

Africa
Sudan: Between Democracy and another military rule

  Abigail Miriam Fernandez

Will Sudan will see democracy? Will the military be a stabilising force? What do the people actually want? How smoothly do the transitions of power look? Is there pressure from the immediate region for this movement? Does the instability of Sudan affect the region? Is this an international issue?

Research Intern, NIAS and Department in International Relations, Stella Maris College, Chennai

What happened?

Amid ongoing protest, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir who was holding the office for nearly 30 years was removed from power by the Sudanese Armed Forces on 11 April 2019. The coup leader putting down his resignation while the military took over.

General Ibn Auf was initially sworn in to lead the military council, however, he announced his resignation as soon as the military took charge and declared Lt General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan as the new head of the transitional military council. The council has gone on to propose that there would be a three-month state of emergency and a two-year transition period in order to prepare for civilian rule promising free and fair elections.

The protest brought the Sudanese people together. The organisation of the protests was led by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) a group of doctors, lawyers and workers.  A large percentage of women have also come forward to participate in the demonstrations. The protesters were mostly young. On hearing that the military council had taken over there was a sit-in outside of the military headquarters, demanding that the military hand over power to a civilian government as soon as possible.

What is the issue/ background?

Bashir was removed from power after months of anti-regime protests, with the military deserting him and siding with the civilians. He came to power through a military coup in 1989, during the long civil war between Sudan's north and south. During his rule he was accused of war crimes through the Darfur Conflict, he was charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity and genocide but the investigation was suspended due to lack of UN support.

In 2011, South Sudan became an independent nation through a referendum, this split brought about a number of problems one of them being finance, South Sudan had now gained 75% of the oil reserves and the country had already been heavily sanctioned by the US. The government had imposed a number of measures in response to the declined oil rate, but this led to protest and unrest in Sudan.

In late 2017, the US lifted some sanctions. However, the economy continued to deteriorate and in response to this, the government once again imposed strict measure to cut fuel and bread subsidies. This triggered mass protests across the country. The protesters also began to demand that Bashir should step down from power.

In February of 2019, a state of emergency was declared by Bashir in response to Sudan's National Security and Intelligence Services saying that Bashir would step down. He tried to pacify the protester by saying that he would step down at the end of his term, however, this was not taken into consideration by the people.

In April of 2019, demonstrators reached the military headquarters, thousands camped outside throughout the week, while security forces used tear gas and made arrests, the police ordered officers not to interfere with the citizens or peaceful demonstrations. Some soldiers had also stepped in to protect protesters.

The protests reached a climax on the symbolic date of 6th of April 2019, the anniversary of a 1985 non-violent uprising that removed dictator Jaafar Nimeiri. They assembled outside the headquarters of the military and refused to move.

 

What does it mean?

What this change means for the region still remains unclear because of a number of uncertainties and problems that Sudan faces. Will Sudan will see democracy? Will the military be a stabilising force? What do the people actually want? How smoothly do the transitions of power look? Is there pressure from the immediate region for this movement? Does the instability of Sudan affect the region? Is this an international issue?

To answer the first question, democracy still remains to be a vague idea for Sudan as it is difficult to see how the situation will turn with the military being in power. Democracies have been unable to thrive in the northern part of Africa because of an inefficient and corrupt government or dictators have ruled the states. For a country like Sudan, adequate measures will need to be put in place so that the people will not just receive democracy as it is but will be able to make effective use of it.

Whether the military will be a stabilising force for Sudan looks to be optimistic from the claims made by the military council who have said that the army had “no ambition to hold the reigns of power” any longer than expected. However, claims like this have usually gone on unfulfilled.

The people of Sudan are hoping for a national transitional government that will be formed on the bases of merit and good conduct, their main aim is to establish a complete democratic structure through free and fair elections along with economic opportunity, jobs security, welfare and education.

So far, the protest has been peaceful, there have been no drastic clash between the people and the military, where the latter has promised to be open for dialogue with the people and all other political groups for the transition of power. If this communication and coordination continue then the transition can be smooth, however, if there are hiccups in communication then a positive transition is doubtful.

From the region, Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, Tunisia and Jordan all called for the political actors to ensure that the national supremacy of Sudanese people’s demand for freedom, peace and justice be fulfilled. They have also gone on to urge the international community to support the people in their quest. From outside the region, the United States has called on the transitional authorities to allow civilian participation in the transition process. However, there has been no response as yet from the other players in the region including Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries.

Is this an international issue remains to be certain no, a country like Sudan is of no importance to big global players and thus they would not voice to make this an international issue. However, there has been some response from an organisation such as The Human Rights Watch calls the ousting of long-time Sudan strongman Omar Bashir as “momentous” and welcomes the release of political detainees, according to a statement from HRW Associate Africa Director Jehanne Henry. Human Rights Watch has also called on Sudanese authorities to implement the 2009 International Criminal Court arrest warrant against Bashir for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The United Nations has released $26.5 million from its emergency relief fund to provide "food, livelihood, nutrition, health, water and sanitation assistance" to the people "affected by a worsening economic crisis and food insecurity" across Sudan over the next six months.

The people of Sudan are celebrating this victory, they hope that this will bring the people together to form a stronger and united Sudan. However, the transition that needs to take place is one that needs to happen with precaution so as to not plunge Sudan into a deeper civil war.

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