Sudan’s transition to free elections undermined by Hemeti

Jihad Mashamoun
By Jihad Mashamoun

Political Analyst on Sudanese Affairs. A holder of a doctoral degree in Middle East Politics from the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, he has authored and co-authored numerous articles on the Sudanese uprisings and Sudanese affairs. He has provided expert interviews on Sudan for both radio and print. Follow him on Twitter @ComradeJihad.

Posted on Tuesday, 31 March 2020 18:49, updated on Monday, 6 April 2020 19:21

Sudan A New Strongman
FILE - In this Sunday, August 4, 2019 file photo, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy head of the military council, right, and protest leader Ahmad Rabie hold up a signed power-sharing agreement at a ceremony in the capital Khartoum, Sudan. (AP Photo, File)/

The assassination attempt against Sudan's Prime Minister Abdella Hamdok’s on 9 March shows the fragile cooperation between military officers and civilians following the transition deal signed on 17 August 2019.

The signing of the constitutional declaration between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Declaration Forces for Freedom and Change (DFFC) was meant to launch a national unity government to prepare the country for free elections.

Many believe the military is reluctant to share power with the civilians.

The agreement established a sovereignty council at the apex of the government in which Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan is its chairman, and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (known as “Hemeti”), his deputy.

Burhan has the casting vote on the sovereignty council on which military officers and civilians each have five representatives.

READ MORE: Sudan’s deep state still poses a threat to the democratic process

Mixing of civilian and military rule

For the first 21 months of the transition, the military had chosen its eleventh member of the council, who is also its chairman: Burhan.

The next step down the hierarchy – the council of ministers – is dominated by civilians but they must refer all critical decisions upwards to the sovereignty council, where the military has a blocking vote, for now.

As a further means of control, the military has appointed the ministers of defence and interior from its cadre of senior officers.

Under the constitutional arrangement, the signatories agreed to set up a legislative council as a third tier of government, which would have the power to monitor the other two.

But its formation has been delayed due to a complex set of peace negotiations with armed opposition groups across the country. And many of those armed groups want representation in the council of ministers and in a future legislative council.

It is the military’s attempt, led by Hemeti, to seize the initiative in those peace talks that is hampering the work of the mainly civilian council of ministers and threatening the transition.

Creating a new image

After so many Sudanese blamed Hemeti and troops of the Rapid Support Force (RSF) – that he commands – for the attack on the sit-in outside Defence Headquarters in Khartoum on 3 June 2019  in which over 110 died, he is desperate to change his image.

Although widely distrusted in Khartoum, Hemeti is said to harbour ambitions for the presidency. And he seems to be using his involvement in the peace talks as a means of forming alliances with groups across the country but also as a means of controlling the proposed transition to free elections.

The Duality of Rule

After Prime Minister Hamdok launched the peace talks last year in Juba with the armed factions of the Sudanese Revolutionary Forces (SRF) and  the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army of Abdel Azziz Al-Hilu (SPLM/A-Hilu), Hemeti intervened in the negotiations.

That goes against what was agreed upon in the constitutional declaration where the sovereignty council is to sponsor peace talks, and the council of ministers initiates and manages the negotiations.

Along with this disregard for the constitutional declaration, Hemeti’s intervention has meant the peace talks with various factions are being run on an ad hoc basis.

This exacerbates the ambiguous relations between the Sovereignty Council and the Council of Ministers, says Nazar Abdel Azziz, a leader of the opposition (DFCF).

Apart from the RSF’s role in attacking activists in Khartoum, Hemeti has also been accused of complicity in war crimes in the former regime’s war in Darfur. In an attempt to wipe clean that slate, Hemeti is now touting himself as a peace maker and supporter of the revolutionaries.

READ MORE: Sudan: Who is Hemeti, the butcher of the revolution?

Engineering the collapse of the government

In business, Hemeti’s links with al-Fakher company, which has been buying gold at uneconomic prices thereby pushing down the value of the Sudanese pound, has worsened the country’s economic crisis.

The level of discontent over living standards has peaked to the point that some activists say it threatens the survival of Hamdok’s government, just less than a year after mass protests triggered the overthrow of President Omar el-Bashir.

Hemeti’s link to al-Fakher company emerged after he transferred the gold mines of Jebel Amir that made him $50m a year.

Central to that relationship is Mahmoud Mohamed Salih who is one of the owners of the company and a representative of Al Junaid, a company in which Hemeti has a stake.

The expansion of al-Fakher’s operations comes as the government is failing to curb inflation, which has been rising sharply for over 18 months. Now al-Fakher company has been contracted by the government to import wheat into the country to address the bread shortages.

Debilitating debt

The government is using local brokers such as al-Fakher mainly because it has been unable to negotiate debt relief and cheap credit to help finance its economic programme.

Much of the government’s economic plan was dependent on the country being taken off the United States’s list of States Sponsors of Terrorism; but that is not happening any time soon.

The postponement of the Friends of Sudan donors’ conference  that Finance Minister Ibrahim El-Badawi had hoped would boost state coffers, has further limited options for the government.

Now El-Badawi is arguing for the lifting of government subsidies as a means of managing the fiscal crisis. But the DFCF is adamantly against that option.

Added to that, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have stopped sending aid which was originally promised to total $3bn; a move that is fuelling the economic crisis,

Many believe that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have stopped aid with the hope that it will weaken the Hamdok government and strengthen Hemeti.

It was Hemeti who helped supply frontline troops to fight in Yemen alongside Emirati and Saudi forces as part of the coalition, and he is now helping to supply troops to Field Marshal Khalifa Hafter in Libya alongside Emirati forces, thereby making him an important ally for the two Gulf states.

READ MORE: Sudan’s quest to come off US terror list: what’s done, what’s missing

What can be done?

Sudan’s transition to free elections and its stabilisation after the revolution last year faces continued internal and external challenges.

But there are several measures that could keep the country on the path to respecting its constitutional role and towards an economic recovery:

  • The transitional government could accelerate  the transfer of businesses run by security operatives during Omar Al-Bashir’s rule to the ministry of finance. That will give the government access to funding to help salvage the economy .
  • Both the transitional government and the DFCF could work together in public forums to communicate more clearly what is happening in the country. In the current vacuum of reliable information, Sudan’s Deep State is using social media to create rumours and hinder the transition.
  •  The transitional government, and the international community, especially the European Union and the US could work together in both pressuring and encouraging the Arab Troika – Egypt, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates –  to support the transitional government. They should be told that the fall of the transitional would be likely to trigger much worse instability and perhaps regional conflict, which ultimately would not be to their benefit.

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