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Sudan: Next stop on the revolutionary road

Jihad Mashamoun
By Jihad Mashamoun

Doctoral candidate of Middle East Politics within the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies of the University of Exeter

Posted on Friday, 16 August 2019 15:35

Sudanese people carry their national flag and chant slogans as they celebrate the signing of a constitutional declaration between Deputy Head of Sudanese Transitional Military Council, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo and Sudan's opposition alliance coalition's leader Ahmad al-Rabiah, outside the Friendship Hall, in Khartoum, Sudan August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

More than ever, Sudan’s opposition has to stay united and determined 

Sudanese have every right to be joyful at the scheduled signing of the constitutional declaration on 17 August that is meant to usher in a power-sharing government between the military and civilians.

With three tiers – a 300-strong legislative council or parliament, a 20-strong council of ministers, and a sovereign ruling council at the top – it will be a complex, unwieldy transitional government.

Many assume that this will end the stand-off between protestors represented by the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) and the Transitional Military Council (TMC) led by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.

It started after senior military officers ousted President Omar Al-Bashir on 11 April after months of mass demonstrations against his regime across the country. But the new junta was not expecting such determined resistance on the streets, so they didn’t take negotiations with the democracy activists  seriously.

Instead the junta tried to bludgeon the opposition, shooting and beating demonstrators at the sit-in in front of the military headquarters in Khartoum on 3 June. Over a hundred civilians were killed then, and dozens more in other military actions across the country.

It was the courage of the protestors – in the face of military power – that pushed the junta to agree to a power-sharing government. That is far from the end of the revolution.

For this transitional government to be effective, the opposition FFC and its supporters have to settle their differences, ensuring that the new order is truly inclusive.

Soft Landings?

The initialing of a power-sharing agreement between the military and the opposition exposed divisions within the FFC. The main disagreement is over how to treat Burhan’s TMC. Some are prepared to negotiate and work with the ruling generals as a necessary step towards setting up a transitional regime that can start to dismantle what Sudanese call ‘the deep state’.

Critics of this approach compare it with the ‘Soft Landing’ strategy, initiated by Al Bashir in 2014, under which the Khartoum regime makes concessions such as opening dialogue with opposition parties – in exchange for the lifting of US sanctions against Sudan.

Sceptics in the FFC insist the generals are not negotiating in good faith, warning that they are playing for time. Doubtless the generals have the  money, networks and military power to control the political arena.

Immunity or bust

Activists are also divided over the military’s attempt to secure immunity from prosecution, especially for its role in the 3 June massacre in Khartoum.

During negotiations leading up to the signing of the political declaration last month, the generals tried to insert a clause giving them absolute immunity in the draft agreement. Activists opposed it point blank.

Before that the Public Prosecutor had appointed a committee to investigate the Khartoum massacre. It then exonerated the generals on the TMC, but singled out a rogue general in the Rapid Support Forces under the command of Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as ‘Hemeti’. The opposition rejected its findings but the generals pressed their demand for immunity in this and all other cases of rights abuses.

That became the main obstacle to a political deal. So the FFC negotiators agreed to a form of ‘procedural immunity’ which means that all members of the three-tier transitional government have immunity unless they are removed from office by a two-thirds vote in the legislative council.

In fact, it is highly improbable that those military officers sitting on the transitional government will be investigated or prosecuted.

Some in the opposition argue that an attempt to prosecute the generals would complicate and drag out the transition. Others insist justice that delayed would be justice denied to their comrades who joined the revolutionaries on the streets.

One gun, one vote?

Another point of division within opposition ranks is how to accommodate Sudan’s multiple armed factions – all in ostensible opposition to the Khartoum regime – within the power-sharing agreement. Since the ousting of Bashir, there has been a de facto ceasefire between the junta and the armed groups, with their disparate agendas.

The two groups who head the Sudan Revolutionary Front – the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) led by Jibril Ibrahim and the Sudanese Liberation Movement-Minni Minawi (SLM-MM) led by Minni Minawi – are viewed with suspicion by those FFC parties who were not part of the transitional negotiations.

That is because after a meeting with Hemeti in Chad on 27 June, both groups played a spoiler role. They pulled out of FFC and demanded 35% representation for armed groups across the transitional government. That prompted accusations of opportunism from other activists.

Days later, Minawi and Ibrahim rejoined the FFC withdrawing their demands for 35% representation but calling for more negotiations over a role for them in the new government. Some in the FFC warn that the role of the armed groups in the transition is far from resolved.

Two groups with real military and political weight –  the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army-Hilu (SPLM/A) of Abdel Azziz Al-Hilu based in the Nuba mountains and the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM) of Abdel Wahid Al-Nur based in Darfur – refused to negotiate with the junta. They would rather hold fire and negotiate with the new transitional government.

The danger for the pro-democracy groups is that the generals will exploit divisions within opposition ranks over principles or personalities to delay or derail the transition.

This suggests three key priorities for the opposition FFC: it must redouble its efforts to unite around a common minimum agenda for a successful transition; it must have a clear and achievable strategy to break up the deep security state; and it must open serious talks with al Hilu and al Nur, to maintain the ceasefire but also to achieve better representation in the new government for regions such as Darfur and the Nuba Mountains

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