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CWA # 224, 25 February 2020
Abigail Miriam Fernandez
CWA Brief, February 2020 Fragile settlement and tattered economy for Sudan, the settlement that has been reached is fragile and the country’s economy remains in deep distress. Several obstacles lie ahead for the Sudanese transitional framework that has been put in place
CWA Brief, February 2020
Fragile settlement and tattered economy for Sudan, the settlement that has been reached is fragile and the country’s economy remains in deep distress. Several obstacles lie ahead for the Sudanese transitional framework that has been put in place
The North African Region in particular to Sudan and Algeria witnessed remarkable protests that ousted dictators. In Sudan, President Omar al-Bashir who was holding the office for nearly 30 years was removed from power by the Sudanese Armed Forces on the 11 April 2019 by a wave of protests that began across much of Sudan over soaring bread prices, a result of a deep economic crisis which began after the southern part of the country seceded by a referendum in 2011, taking oil wealth with it. (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 had gone on to propose that there would be a three-month state of emergency and a two-year transition period to prepare for civilian rule promising free and fair elections.
Sudan’s military council and the pro-democracy council reached a new power-sharing agreement on 5 July 2019, with help from the African Union (AU) and Ethiopia who played roles of mediators. AU mediator Mohamed Hassan Lebatt stated that both sides have agreed to establish a joint military-civilian sovereign council that they would rule on rotation for three years and three months, where the military would be in charge for the first 21 months, then a civilian-run administration would rule for the remaining 18 months. The agreement laid out that five seats would go to the military and five to civilians, with an additional seat given to a civilian agreed who would be selected by both sides.
On 17 August 2019 Sudan’s pro-democracy movement and the ruling military council signed a power-sharing agreement. The ceremony was held in the capital, Khartoum. This marked the end of protests and negotiations that had been going. Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan was a signatory for the military to the power-sharing deal. The deal laid down that there would be a joint civilian-military sovereign council which would govern Sudan during the three- year transition period. The council will be made up of 11 members, five civilians, five from the military and one person will be chosen by the council. The military will head the council for the first 21 months after which the civilian leader will lead for the remaining 18 months. They had also agreed for a cabinet in which the prime minister will be chosen by the civilians and two other posts of defence and the interior minister would be nominated by the military. Further, the deal also promised an investigation into all the violence that had taken place.
On 22 August 2019, Abdalla Hamdok was chosen by the protest movement to be the Prime Minister. Along with this, the sovereign council was inaugurated, which comprised of six civilians and five soldiers to rule Sudan for three years until elections can be held. Burhan was sworn in as the council’s chairman and he would lead the council for 21 months followed by the appointment of a civilian ruler who would be appointed by the people would take over the next 18 months. Nine other members of the council also took their oath of office. The sovereign council would oversee the formation of the government.
The country has since August has been ruled by this joint civilian-military sovereign council. Further on December 14, days before the anniversary of the uprising, a court in Khartoum convicted al-Bashir for corruption and sentences him to two years in detention at a state-run rehabilitation center. In Algeria, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who had been in power for 20 years, announced his resignation following weeks of rallies and demonstrations on the 3 of April 2019. This came in protest to his earlier decision to seek a fifth term. The Algerian army had called for the 82-year-old to be declared incapable of carrying out his duties and protesters vowed to continue protest until the entire government is ousted. Pressure had been building since February after the announcement that had made and protests were seen across the country. The protesters were not satisfied with the promise he made that he would not come back if he was re-elected and they also went on to rejected Bouteflika’s offer of him leaving at the end of his current term – 28 April - as not quick enough. Further, the demonstrations also called for a change in the whole political system, in which the military also has a significant role.
A caretaker government was put in place, however, demonstrators continued where they demanded the removal of three people, they labeled the “3B”. That is Senate Speaker Abdelakder Bensalah, head of the constitutional council Tayeb Belaiz and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui. To take power away from these people and to dismantle the whole political system was the aim of the protesters.
Abdelkader Bensalah, the speaker of Parliament’s upper house became the successor of the Bouteflika, he pledged to organise free elections within 90 days, however, despite the peaceful protests that were going on some demanded radical change as soon as Bensalah’s appointment was announced. Algerian police used water cannon to disperse crowds demonstrating against the appointment of a new interim president.
On 10 April, Bensalah announced that presidential elections would be held on 4 July, and continued to uphold his pledge to hold free elections within 90 days in line with the country’s constitution.
Demonstrations continued to grow with the youth becoming more involved, Friday became the main day of protest, where demonstrators would occupy the steps outside the Grand Poste and into the central square. The protester depended on Algeria’s powerful military for all their agendas. In return, the Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaid Salah, pledged his support for the demonstrators. The protesters also looked at human rights lawyer Mostefa Bouchachi for his help to guide Algeria’s transition, he believes that the army will fall into line behind the protesters because they will hold firm and that no person can stop them reaching democracy. On 2 June, the election that was to be held on 4 July was deemed to be “impossible” by authorities due to the lack of candidates. Demonstrators broke out again out on the streets of the capital Algier, calling for President Bensalah and the prime minister to resign. With the demonstration growing bigger and bigger every Friday, the situation in Algeria got worse.
On 27 October, Algerian judges and prosecutors began an open-ended strike to demand the independence of the judiciary after a massive reshuffle that has affected thousands. This came as the numerous anti-government protests against a planned December presidential election that must be overseen by judges. The streets of Algiers were once again filled on Friday as people took to the streets for the 36th consecutive week to demonstrate against the country’s ruling power-brokers.
On 3 November, Algeria’s electoral authority stated that the country’s presidential election which is to be held on December 12 will be contested by five candidates. The contenders are former Prime Ministers Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Ali Benflis, former Culture Minister Azzedine Mihoubi, former Tourism Minister Abdelkader Bengrine and Abdelaziz Belaid, head of the El Mostakbal Movement party.
On 19 December, Former prime minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune was sworn in as the new president of protest-hit Algeria, a week after winning a widely boycotted election.
Major Trends in 2019
Fragile settlement and tattered economy for Sudan, the settlement that has been reached is fragile and the country’s economy remains in deep distress. Several obstacles lie ahead for the Sudanese transitional framework that has been put in place. Hamdok and his cabinet have to take measures to prioritise reviving back the economy which is in a state of deep distress. Another critical and immediate priority is addressing mass youth unemployment and underemployment, which fuelled protesters. The issue of corruption is another area that needs to be addressed. An additional challenge is in context to the various armed groups that have not accepted the deal, which could be a threat to the transitional framework. Further, Sudan’s generals only signed the power-sharing agreement under intense external pressure. They could still play spoiler during the transition if they choose to challenge new reforms they see as threatening their political and business interests.
Prolonged political crisis
Algeria faces several political, economic and social issues, the political instability that exists creates a vacuum for the demonstration to continue and cater to the continued rise of corruption. Further, the economic situation in Algeria is at an all-time low with the economy becoming stagnant with a predicted increase in unemployment. Being a rentier state that has driven all of their finance from the oil reserves has plausibly left the Algerian economy bound for problems.
This together with the political upheavals in the country has left many social issues, where people have become dissatisfied with the authoritarian rule of army generals resulting in the protest that has shaken the country.
Forecasts for 2020
Given the relatively smooth transition in Sudan with the agreement of the power-sharing deal, an authoritarian backlash and military rule could become a reality due to several factors. Sudan has a history of such relapses, where through her history there have been successful uprisings which have been taken over by the military, throwing the country back into this cycle of instability. Thus, this history of an authoritarian military rule remains an uncertainty. Given this, it is important to see in the next year how this transition plays out, where generals who once held power might have to take a step back and share this power with the civilians. However, it is also important to note at this juncture that the Sudanese civil resistance that 2019 has witnessed has been of a different calibre, they have sowed considerable resilience and are likely to be more prepared if there is a backlash from the military.
Return of armed conflicts
Whether Sudan would see the rise of armed conflicts also remains a question that the coming year might answer, given that the country is facing a politically uncertain situation and an economic crisis does not help ease the risk of conflict. There may be armed escalation if there is an unwillingness to ensure that the transitional deal is followed or if there is an attempt by the armed forces to reinforce their authority giving rise to a civil uprising. While a civil war could cause a distressing situation in Sudan, worsening the humanitarian situation and further damaging the economy, the probability of such an outcome has considerably lower with the signing of the power-sharing agreement. Thus, there seems to be hope for Sudan to transition into a democracy.
Civic groups as peace makers
Key areas to look would be, firstly to look at the ability of the diverse Sudanese civic groups to continue building political harmony amid varying interests and priorities. Secondly, to look at the three-year timeframe that has been established for the transitional regime, looking at how elections might be conducted and ensuring free and equal voting opportunities for all. Thus, with the appointment of a civilian-led government, there is a prospect to help rebuild a stable economy and create a government in Sudan that would ensure human rights and personal freedoms. Further, this transition has created an optimistic response from the international community, where countries such as the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the EU have shown support for Sudan.
In Algeria, with the election of Abdelmadjid Tebboune, there remains unrest in the country. People remain displeased with the newly elected President, in whom they do not have any hope. Although, Tebboune has promised to carry out several reforms addressing the economy and corruption among the elite, to question is will he be able to fulfill all his promises when he has no support from the people. Thus, in Algeria, a political crisis still exists with very limited potential for a democratic change to take place. It is key to note how these two North African countries have progressed individually and to look at their impact in the region. While Sudan has seen a progressive change concerning the transition and there exists some amount of optimism that the framework laid down might be carried out as planned, Algeria remains in a political turmoil with the demonstration rendering no substantial change due to the political structure in the country. In context to their impact in the region, Morocco has witnessed several protests against corruption and unemployment. It would be interesting to see how these two countries follow up with their agenda in the coming year, will there be a success in the established framework? Will the political reforms put in place cater to the democratic process? And if will this democratic process by a sustained effort. These are potential questions that may be answered in the coming year.
Abigail Miriam Fernandez is pursuing her Masters in International Studies from Stella Maris College, Chennai
This essay was published at the NIAS Quarterly on Contemporary World Affairs, Vol 2, Issue 1, January-March 2020
NIAS Africa Team
NIAS Africa Team
Allen Joe Mathew, Sayani Rana, Joel Jacob