It took months of mass protests and cost scores of lives, but Sudan is edging closer to what opponents of ousted President Omar al-Bashir demanded when they first went to the streets last year. Bashir, who brutally crushed dissent during his 30-year rule, was pushed out in April by his erstwhile allies in the military and security forces, following four months of nationwide protests over soaring prices of food, medicine, fuel and transportation. Thanks to a power-sharing deal among military and opposition leaders, the North African nation has its first chance in more than three decades to establish a democratic civilian government and undertake urgently needed economic reform.
1. What’s changed in Sudan?
Under the deal signed Aug. 17, the military has ceded some of its powers to a civilian coalition. A so-called sovereign council made up of civilian and army figures is assuming presidential-type duties for three years until elections are held. For the next 18 months, it will be led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, a lieutenant-general who’s been in charge of the military council since the April coup. An as-yet-unnamed civilian leader will take over after that. At the same time, a technocratic cabinet will lay the groundwork for rebuilding the economy. Abdalla Hamdok, an economist who’s worked for institutions including the African Development Bank and International Labour Organization, is the new prime minister, leading the cabinet. The accord also calls for an independent committee to investigate the killing of protesters.
2. What’s still to be resolved?
The pact doesn’t address a number of sensitive issues, not least the roles of several prominent figures who were linchpins in Bashir’s regime. It also leaves open the identity of the civilian who will lead the sovereign council in the second half of its three-year mandate. All the same, activists in the capital, Khartoum, erupted in celebrations after the signing. Meanwhile, the 75-year-old former president appeared in court on Aug. 19 on corruption charges -- something unthinkable less than a year ago.
3. Will the power-sharing deal work?
The jury’s still out. Some opposition parties and rebel groups are refusing to back the accord, saying it needs amendments such as a commitment to achieve peace in the country’s south and west, areas long bedeviled by rebellions against Bashir’s government. There’s also discontent over the continued involvement of Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, one of Sudan’s most powerful men and the leader of the Rapid Support Forces, a notorious militia blamed for a June attack on protesters in Khartoum that claimed more than 100 lives. As he left the signing ceremony, activists jeered him, demanding “blood for blood.”
4. What are Sudan’s economic challenges?
A 2005 peace deal that ended a two-decade civil war led, six years later, to the partitioning of the country into Sudan and a new South Sudan, which took control over three-quarters of the oil fields, stripping the north of a large chunk of its revenue and foreign exchange. (Prior to the split, Sudan ranked as sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil exporter.) Lower crude prices have further dented income from what’s left of Sudan’s output. The government tried to diversify the economy by encouraging mining, but it remains a fledgling industry, and the bulk of the country’s 40 million people depend on subsistence agriculture. Sudan is among the world’s poorest nations, ranking 167th out of 189 countries on the UN Development Program’s human development index.
5. What’s been the reaction outside Sudan?
Regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have made no secret of their desire for a smooth transition; in late April, they extended a lifeline to Sudan’s acting rulers by pledging $3 billion in aid. The African Union suspended Sudan’s membership after the June attack in Khartoum. It has since worked with Ethiopia, Sudan’s neighbor, in mediating talks between the military and pro-democracy groups on a transitional government. Few nations mourned the fall of Bashir, a former paratrooper who spearheaded an Islamist revolution that for a time in the 1990s turned Sudan into a haven for terrorists such as Osama bin Laden. In 2009, he was indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes and genocide in the western region of Darfur.
To contact the reporter on this story: Mohammed Alamin in Khartoum at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Karl Maier at email@example.com, Andy Reinhardt, Michael Gunn
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