Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 21 May 2019

The Perils of Managing Transition: Will Sudanese Kandakas be the option?


By Luka Kuol, PhD

Global Fellow at Peace Research Institute Oslo, Associate Professor at University of Juba and Fellow at Rift Valley Institute

Since the eruption of the Sudanese popular uprising on 19th December 2018, the protesters have made considerable achievements by forcing the militaries to unseat and arrest one of the longest-serving dictators on the continent, Omer El Bashir, arrest of most leaders of the ousted regime, appointing new chief justice and attorney general, and cleansing the Transitional Military Council (TMC) from members allied with Bashir. Also, the international community including the African Union has supported their call for a civilian transitional government. With this popular uprising, the Sudan of Bashir is destined to vanish and to be supplanted hopefully by a new Sudan that reflects the aspirations of protesters. Despite this optimism, the uprising faces challenges of transitioning from the 30 years of misrule to a new dawn of a better Sudan. Like other transitions[1], the transition in Sudan will face enormous perils that will be detrimental for its success and its management may require a new breed of leadership probably the consensual leadership of women; the new Kandakas.

When the common enemy is gone, division sets in

On top of these challenges of transition is the unity of protesters and opposition groups. Although the Force for Declaration of Freedom and Change (FDFC) provides a national umbrella for all opposition parties including civil society organizations, the collective decision-making process and alignment of political positions may taint their credibility and weaken their positions in dealing with the TMC and protesters. Some analysts categorize the protesters into four groups; namely (i) professionals’ association, (ii) liberal and left-wing political parties, (iii) traditional conservative parties, (iv) and armed groups’ movements. Although these groups have different political agendas, they have been bound together by their common political enemy; the regime of Bashir. After the ousting of Bashir, the political difference among the opposition parties started emerging. This is reflected in the proposal on “the declaration of constitutional principles” that was presented to the TMC by the negotiation team of the DFFC. The Sudanese Professional Association (SPA), the Sudanese Communist Party, and the National Umma Party of Sadiq al-Mahdi rejected this proposal and called for the formation of leadership council for effective coordination and collective decision. Even this call for the leadership council may create more division among opposition groups unless such leadership is entrusted to credible and trusted personalities in the opposition. The flare-up of division among the opposition parties before the remnants of the former regime are erased may dash the high expectations that Sudanese attach to the transition.

The Pace and Sequence of Transition: Time is of Essence

Experience from other transitions has shown the centrality of time and pace of transition. The delay of the FDFC to agree with TMC on transitional arrangements is not in favour of the opposition parties. Although the TMC and FDFC have agreed on a transition period of three years, this period is too short to obliterate the remains of the regime of Bashir and level ground for fair political competition. This agreed period would definitely be in favour of the former regime to reorganize and rebrand itself and use its existing political structures and resources to emerge again and assume power after the general elections. The opposition parties that have been out of the political marketplace for the last 30 years will find it difficult within three years to present their political agenda and win the confidence of rural Sudan. The pace of transition is usually determined by the trust and credibility of transitional institutions. The political rivalry that is exhibited between and among the members of FDFC before the formation of the transitional institutions is likely to deepen during the transition period. If such division persists, the sacrifices of the protesters for a better Sudan are likely to be squandered by the former regime unless there are credible personalities entrusted to manage the transition.

Another challenge during the transition will be how to secure the legitimacy of the transitional institutions; particularly after the TMC suspended the 2005 Transitional Constitution. This has not only created a constitutional vacuum in the country but it has also given the TMC absolute executive, legislative and judicial powers. Without agreed upon a transitional constitution, the legality of transitional institutions to be established may be in question. The real question is what type of legal framework that should govern the transition and how such a framework be drafted and promulgated? Although the suspended constitution may provide a good basis for the drafting the transitional constitution, the process of drafting such a constitution must be inclusive and consensual. During the drafting process of the constitution “the elephant in the room” would be the status of Sharia, the Islamic laws, during the transition.

While the suspension of the constitution has implicitly annulled Islamic laws and other laws adopted by the former regime, the drafting of the transitional constitution would undoubtedly renew debate of the role of religion in the state of new Sudan. Although the overwhelming majority of Sudanese are Muslims, they may differ whether political Islam is appropriate for Sudan particularly after their experience of 30 years of misrule in the name of Islam. There are new protests organized by Islamists who felt isolated in the discussion of the transitional arrangements and call for the Sharia to prevail during the transitional period. These Islamist protests are likely to be seen as the beginning of the coming back of the former regime to the political scene and that may polarize the Sudanese and drag the drafting of the transitional constitution to issues that should be resolved by Sudanese during the national elections. The drafting of the transitional constitution must be inclusive and involve as well as the Islamists who call for the Sharia during the transition. This process of drafting the transitional constitution would require trusted and impartial personalities who will be able to build consensus and bridges between and among various stakeholders.

The Utility of Militaries During the Transition

The success of any transition rests on the role of militaries and their commitment to a transition that will establish a level playing field for democratic transformation. Sudan has its own experience of the role of militaries during the transition in 1964 and 1985 as that produced nothing but a brief period of democratization to be followed by military coups. The current discussion about the role of militaries is largely informed by such experience as reflected in the demand by the FDFC for civilians to have the majority in the transitional sovereignty council. The initiative by eminent Sudanese mediators including the well-known and highly respected journalist, Mahjoub Mohamed Saleh, to find a Sudanese homegrown solution to bridge the gap between the TMC and the FDFC is another sterling example of the importance of national mediation in conflict resolution in Africa. Their proposals are realistic and reasonable, as they have principally affirmed the demand of the protesters of forming civilian transitional government and recognizing the role of militaries during the transition.

Although the TMC and FDFC have agreed on most of the transitional institutions except the composition of the ceremonial joint transitional sovereignty council, the proposal of Sudanese mediators of forming a sovereignty council with the majority (70 percent) of its members from civilians but chaired by the military will provide a pathway for agreement. As the sovereignty council will be ceremonial without powers to interfere in the affairs and the business of transitional technocratic government, the composition of the council should not derail the formation of a transitional government. The time is of the essence for the protesters and opposition parties to expedite the formation of the civilian transitional administration and to assume the powers of the state. The security risk of the remnants of Bashir’s regime to come back and recapture state is real and it can only be averted by forming the transitional government that must include military leaders who sided with protesters.

Managing Expectations, Consensus and Leveling Field

The experience of the post-Arab Spring[2] necessitates for Sudanese to thoroughly comprehend what they will be able to achieve during the transition. With post-Bashir institutional vacuum and increasing political uncertainty, this transition will be the most challenging period in meeting the aspirations of protesters. One of the challenges that will face the transition is the management of expectations of the protesters. The protesters went into street demanding basic survival needs. Having a simple, clear and time-bound roadmap of what to be achieved during the transition will greatly help in managing such expectations. In meeting such expectations, the transitional government should focus on quick wins in delivering basic services while laying the foundation for sustainable delivery of such services. The transitional government will have a golden opportunity to create an opportunity to revive the rural economy and create a conducive economic and legal environment for investment. The civility and resilience shown by the Sudanese during this uprising may provide an opportunity for the international community to support the transitional government to deliver and meet the basic needs of the protesters.

Also, the decision-making process during the transition period will pose a real challenge. The clarity of roles and responsibilities of various transitional institutions and mechanisms for breaking deadlock will be central for the effective decision-making process. Reaching decisions through consensus should be ideal during the transition period and this would require consensual leadership. The main task of the transitional government is to level field for general elections while meeting the basic needs of citizens and should not be dragged into resolving strategic and ideological issues such as the role of religion in new Sudan that will be resolved by Sudanese during the general elections.

Sudanese Kandakas[3], the hope

The management of the transition will require a new breed of leadership. There is cumulative and unambiguous evidence of the positive role of women leadership in the peace process and peacebuilding and this has been recognized as a prerequisite for the fulfilment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This is consistent with the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 that calls for leadership and participation of women in maintaining and promoting peace and security. The history of Sudan provides an exemplary and heroic role played by Sudanese queens (Kandakas) during the kingdoms of Kushite and Nepta by resisting and defeating the Roman Empire in their attempt to conquer the kingdom of Nepta. Besides this historical women leadership, the Sudanese women were the first in the Arab world and Africa to organize themselves under the Sudanese Women Cultural Association in 1946 and later on Sudanese Women Association in 1952.

Sudan was the first country in Africa to have a female member of the parliament in 1965 and first female minister in 1970. It seems there is a resurrection of the historical leadership of women in the current protest with women not only at the forefront but also constituted about 70 percent of the protests. It is not surprising that women hold a bigger stake in the uprising as they have been disproportionately affected by the 30 years of oppressive regime of Bashir; particularly the supposed Sharia laws and Public Order Laws that control and intimidate them by way of punishing them for “indecent acts” in public, such as wearing “obscene outfits” or “causing an annoyance to public feelings”.

Given such leading role of women during the uprising, Sudanese are likely to set another example by having women not only represented adequately in the sovereignty council and transitional parliament but also in the technocratic government that should ideally be headed by women. I know there are highly qualified candidates for the position of prime minister including one female candidate and one hopes that the choice would rest on appointing a new Kandaka to manage the transition period. Having a female leader during this critical period is essential for ensuring the much-need unity, consensus building and trust.

[1] Nicholas Haysom and Sean Kane, 2013. “Understanding the Transition: A Challenge and

Opportunity for Mediators”, Center On International Cooperation, New York University.

[2] Nicholas Haysom and Sean Kane, 2013. “Understanding the Transition: A Challenge and

Opportunity for Mediators”, Center On International Cooperation, New York University.

[3] https://m.facebook.com/NidalAlnaeem/posts/207402686339197?_rdr

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