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Sudan’s military make new concessions in power equation

By Patrick Smith, in Khartoum
Posted on Friday, 3 May 2019 15:28

Sudanese protesters attend a demonstration in front of the defense ministry compound in Khartoum, Sudan, May 2, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

The first signs have emerged that Sudan's military could be ready to cede more power to civilians.

In the wake of the opposition’s latest proposal for a transitional government, a top general in the junta has conceded that the military and civilians could share sovereign power equally in an interim arrangement leading the country to free elections.

Khartoum-based political analyst Muhammad Osman says he expects the ruling Transitional Military Council will give a fuller response to the opposition’s political roadmap within the “today or tomorrow”. But he added that: “They’ll end up with a hybrid ruling entity. The question is whether decision making authority will rest with civilians or generals.”

The plan set out by the opposition Forces For Freedom and Change at a press conference yesterday (2 May) envisages three layers of government:

  • A sovereign executive council which would have the final say on all critical issues of political direction, security and foreign affairs; the FFC envisage 15 members of this council which would be chaired by a civilian and comprise another seven civilians and seven military officers
  • A 17-strong ministerial council of technocratic and independent civilians who would manage constitutional and political reforms over the next four years
  • A 120-strong legislative assembly whose members would represent the country’s regional and ethnic diversity as well as the strongest possible presence of women.

In response Lieutenant General Salah Abdel Khalek, the junta’s political director, told the BBC’s James Copnall on 2 May that power would have to be shared on the sovereign council: “Not a majority of civilians. My soldiers would not accept this….maybe half and half.”

  • However, grudging this sounds, it is a step forward from the military’s earlier offer of three seats to the civilians on the council with the remaining seven seats being held by military officers.

Lt Gen Abdel Khalek gave more ambiguous signals on issues such as transitional justice suggesting the new government would have the “full freedom” to conduct trials of people accused of human rights abuses.

  • But when asked about Darfur, he strongly defended the military’s role: “There was a war in Darfur between the army and the militias …it was not a war against the civilians.”
  • Neither did he accept the International Criminal Court’s charges of genocide against ousted leader Omer al Bashir: “It was not a genocide like what happened in Rwanda, for example.”

Yet Abdel Khalek insisted that if the new government wanted to withdraw Sudanese troops fighting alongside Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, in Yemen, the military would not stand in its way. That will be food for thought for Riyadh and Abu Dhabi after they offered a $3bn rescue fund to Sudan’s junta this week.

Mohamed Nagy Al Asam, a leader of the Sudan Professionals’ Association which played a key role in launching the FFC, sounded warnings about the slow pace of negotiations about the handover of power to civilians.

  • Al Asam, along with other prominent activists has joined two rounds of talks with the generals this week.

Acutely aware of the optics of the political bargaining in Khartoum, the generals have tried to downplay any schisms between them and the opposition. The Deputy head of the junta, General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo also known as “Hemeti” said the military was on the side of revolutionary change.

  • But for many activists, Hemeti’s involvement in the transition is unacceptable because of the role played by his military units, the Rapid Support Forces, in suppressing dissent in Darfur in the west of the country. In fact the opposition encampment around the Military HQ is surrounded by armed pick-up trucks driven by Hemeti’s forces and recognizable by their distinctive number plates.
  • Hemeti has tried to distance himself his mentor, Omer al-Bashir, arguing that it was his refusal to obey orders to fire on the opposition that led to the ousting of the long-time President on the night of 10 April.

Bottom line: For diplomats and foreign officials visiting Khartoum, Hemeti has become a point man for the junta. He has become a symbol of the rapidly shifting political sands in Khartoum.

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