Sudan is undergoing a major transition following the 11 April ouster of Omar al-Bashir, one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders. The strongman’s toppling, prompted by a sustained, peaceful campaign by a diverse and well-organised protest movement, raised hopes that the country might make a transition to more inclusive, civilian-led rule. That transition has been halting and is fraught with risk, with the old military regime showing little appetite for real change. Sudan matters not least because it sits in one of the most geostrategic locations on the continent, straddling the Horn and North Africa, with a long Red Sea coastline, and serving as a historical bridge between North and sub-Saharan Africa. Through field research and advocacy with Sudanese and international actors in the region, we aim to reduce the likelihood of conflict inside Sudan and encourage a genuine transition to more inclusive governance by Khartoum and an attendant shift toward positively engaged regional and international relations.
Sudan’s military junta and opposition have agreed to form a civilian-led administration to steer a transition toward free and fair elections. But the generals signed only under pressure. All Sudanese – and outside partners – will need to remain vigilant lest they try to restore autocracy.
Ruling military council and opposition coalition signed landmark constitutional declaration to govern power structures for three-year transitional period until elections. Following 17 July political agreement, Transitional Military Council (TMC) and opposition coalition Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) 4 Aug reached constitutional agreement and held formal signing ceremony 17 Aug, prompting thousands to celebrate in capital Khartoum. Agreement outlines military and civilians’ share of positions in sovereign council, which will oversee formation of council of ministers and legislative council; FFC to appoint 67% of legislative council, and all positions in council of ministers bar interior and defence ministers, to be appointed by TMC. Rebel alliance Sudan Revolutionary Front same day rejected constitutional declaration. FFC-nominated economist Abdalla Hamdok 21 Aug sworn in as PM of transitional govt, and TMC head General Abdel-Fattah Burhan as chairman of Sovereign Council. TMC 8 Aug annulled death sentence issued in 2014 against leader of rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North Malik Agar. During countrywide protests 1 Aug against alleged killing of protesters by paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in North Kordofan’s capital el-Obeid 29 July, unidentified armed actors killed at least four protesters in Omdurman near Khartoum. TMC 2 Aug said it had arrested seven RSF members for 29 July killings. Court 19 Aug opened corruption trial of ousted President Bashir, 31 Aug indicted him on corruption charges and for illegal possession of foreign funds, and denied request for bail. Hearing adjourned to 7 Sept. U.S. 7 Aug said it was not ready to remove Sudan from list of state sponsors of terrorism; 15 Aug imposed visa ban on former head of National Intelligence and Security Services Salah Gosh, barring him from entering U.S.. Intercommunal clashes in Port Sudan, capital of Red Sea state 21-26 Aug reportedly left 37 dead. Sovereign council 25 Aug dismissed provincial governor and head of security services, deployed troops and declared state of emergency in Port Sudan. Clashes between farmers and herders in North Darfur state left three civilians dead 11 Aug. Amid economic crisis, Sudan received financial and food aid from regional partners: notably, Saudi Arabia 30 July transferred $250mn as part of aid package announced in April.
The UN General Assembly kicks off on 17 September amid general scepticism about the world body’s effectiveness in an era of rising great-power competition. But the UN is far from paralysed. Here are seven crisis spots where it can make a positive difference for peace.
Ethiopia is building a mighty dam on the Blue Nile, promising economic benefits for both itself and Sudan. But Egypt fears for its freshwater supply. The parties should agree on how fast to fill the dam’s reservoir and how to share river waters going forward.
Popular protests are rumbling across Sudan, shaking President Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year grip on power. The authorities have cracked down hard and, as the demonstrations intensify, they may ratchet up the repression. External powers should urge restraint and offer Bashir a way to the exit.
By 12 October, Washington will decide whether the steps Sudan has taken qualify it for lifting some U.S. sanctions. But to push forward afterwards will require a new roadmap that ties further sanctions relief and improved bilateral relations to political reform and human rights.
China, traditionally averse to intervening abroad, is testing the role of peacebuilder in South Sudan, where it has unique leverage. This could portend a growing global security role, but further Chinese engagement will likely be tempered by self-interest, capacity constraints and aversion to risk.
The clock is ticking for President Trump who must decide by 12 July whether to lift decades-long U.S. sanctions on Sudan. The failure of economic penalties to alter Khartoum’s behaviour so far means Washington should repeal some sanctions and continue a process of conditional engagement.
All roads forward in Sudan now run into the Hemeti problem. Over time, his power will need to be reined in, yet any action against him at the moment risks civil war.
Sudan is not one signing ceremony away from righting itself from Bashir’s rule. A political deal remains necessary to avert the worst in Sudan, but is only the beginning.
Any agreement is a positive step [in Sudan]. The challenge will be actually getting the military council to do as it promised.
There is still no clear path forward that involves everyone on the military council [in Sudan] simply stepping aside, partly because Hemeti, in particular, represents such a big problem.
What is striking is that the protest movement’s support [in Sudan] is unprecedented, both very broad and very deep.
What is clear is that there has not been a clear break from the old [Sudanese] regime. And what we know is that what the military says and what the military does can be quite different.
Faced with the most serious protests against his 30-year rule, President Omar al-Bashir’s declaration of a state of emergency will not save his bankrupt, unpopular regime. Instead, security forces must halt worsening violence, Bashir should step down and all sides should work on a broadly inclusive transitional government.
In 2019, the African Union faces many challenges, with conflicts old and new simmering across the continent. To help resolve these crises – our annual survey lists seven particularly pressing ones – the regional organisation should also push ahead with institutional reforms.
Drawing from analysis in our Sudan briefing, Improving Prospects for a Peaceful Transition in Sudan, the Washington Post Editorial Board argues that, faced with nationwide unrest and unpalatable alternatives, President Bashir should relinquish power.
Originally published in The Washington Post