Sudan’s new agreement: Hailed by politicians, denounced by protesters

By Mourad R. Kamel
Posted on Friday, 9 December 2022 16:19

Protesters march during a rally against a signed framework deal between political parties and the military that provides for a two-year civilian-led transition towards elections and would end a standoff triggered by a coup in October 2021, in Khartoum, Sudan December 8, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

Sudan’s deadlock continues despite a new framework agreement signed between the country’s two top generals and the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), a pro-democracy group. 

In the new agreement, the military – which took power in a coup in October 2021 – would relinquish their political powers to pave the way for a two-year transition period, beginning with the appointment of a prime minister to lead a civilian government until free elections are held.

The military leaders behind the coup, and signatories of the framework deal with the FFC, include General Abdelfattah Al-Burhan (commander in chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces) and General Mohammed Hamdan ‘Hemeti’ Dagalo (the country’s number two).

  • However, the agreement has not been heralded as a major breakthrough by everyone because it did not stipulate a starting date;
  • Is widely opposed by Sudanese protesters, including the pro-democracy Resistance Committees;
  • And leaves behind some unresolved obstacles.

However, the contested deal is the product of months of work. Back in July of this year, Burhan had already said Sudan’s army would not take part in political talks and that the new government should be civilian led, unlike Abdullah Hamdock’s government that was led by both civilians and military figures.

According to Kholood Khair, the founder and director of Confluence Advisory, a think-tank in Khartoum, the framework agreement is based on the draft transitional constitution put forward by the steering committee of the Sudan Bar Association. “The Sudan Bar Association is a technocratic body, and this gives the deal the opportunity to garner a lot more trust than if it had been undertaken by any other partisan-oriented political blocs,” she says.

Reshuffle for the Generals

While declaring his agreement to the deal, Burhan stated that the military institution’s powers should not be used in the interest of a specific political group, party, tribe, or community. He added that the army should no longer intervene in politics and leave it to the elected officials.

On paper, it is clearly stated that the head of the armed forces should revert to a civilian force leading the transitional government and that military-owned enterprises will be under the control of the finance ministry.

“The massive incongruity here is that in the Sudan Bar Association draft, it says that there are three recognised official branches of the security sector in Sudan, including the Sudan armed forces (SAF), the police force, and the General Intelligence Services (GIS). Whereas in the deal that was signed on Monday, it has four organs, and the addition is the Rapid Support Forces,” Khair tells The Africa Report.

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) are Sudanese paramilitary forces also known as the Janjaweed, and are known for their ruthless involvement in the Darfur War, where their actions have been labelled as crimes against humanity. They also had a role in the violent dispersal of a sit-in in June 2019 that killed 120. The RSF has been led by Hemeti since its creation in 2013.

The powers of real control over the forces rest with the commander-in-chief, who is Burhan in the case of the army and Hemeti in the case of the Rapid Support Forces.

The addition of the RSF to the security sector in the agreement signed on Monday will allow both of these two generals to keep control of the country’s security apparatus but will also enable Hemeti to be on equal terms with Burhan. “Hemeti is still the head of the RSF but isn’t Burhan’s deputy anymore, which means that the entire RSF- including Hemedti as its leader – are no longer a branch of the SAF but are on an equal footing with the Sudan Armed Forces,” says Khair.

While both Burhan and Hemeti will have to answer to the new civilian leader, many fear that person will be granted symbolic powers and will not be able to challenge the military leaders who will monopolise the security sector.

“The biggest gainer from this agreement is the RSF, as a semi-governmental militia, got rid of all aspects of government supervision over it, whether it was from the executive authority or from the army establishment. The powers of real control over the forces rest with the commander-in-chief, who is Burhan in the case of the army and Hemeti in the case of the Rapid Support Forces; but if one reads between the lines, the civilian who will hold the title of Supreme Commander only has honorary powers,” Amgad Fareid Eltayeb, the former assistant chief of staff to the ex-prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, tells The Africa Report.

Foreign influence and regional hegemony

Sudan’s stability would be key to playing a role in regional mediation, but external forces have played a role.

“The international footprint is evident and is all over the place. The coup was supported by numerous foreign powers, and Russia tops them. Russia was not happy with a democratic prospect in Khartoum, and we need to underline that Bashir was a close ally to the Russians. Moscow has […] very close relations to the RSF and the SAF, and they have cooperated not only in Sudan, but in neighbouring conflicts,” says Eltayeb, who extensively researched the RSF.

The UAE and Egypt appeared aligned in their distant support of the October coup, but today they seem to be distancing themselves by quietly supporting different camps. “There are today two camps, a pro-Burhan camp supported by Cairo, and a pro-Hemeti camp supported by Abu Dhabi,” says Kholood Khair.

“Burhan gets international plaudits for being part of the deal, relieves himself from the burden of governing […] and secondly the burden of having to answer to Hemeti’s ills, because of his relationship with Moscow and his involvement in politics across the Sahel,” she says.

However, in the streets, the situation has not changed. The message that protesters are sending is that so long as the military putschists lead the country, whether directly or indirectly, they (the protesters) will also remain.

“Let’s talk common sense and common sense says the following: if someone commits a crime they should be sent to trial. This would be an example to any military leader that if he/she kill[s], or rape[s], will end up in the courtroom. They have used these methods for years to deter protesters, but we are still here,” Ahmed Ismat, a spokesperson for the Khartoum resistance committee, tells The Africa Report.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options