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Why Sudanese should cautiously celebrate the political declaration?

By Luka Biong Deng Kuol

As Sudanese have every reason to celebrate the political declaration signed by the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) and Transitional Military Council (TMC), one may have some reservations and concerns but with the optimism of a better future for Sudan.

The Reasons to Celebrate

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which is part of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), stated after the conclusion of a power-sharing agreement on 5th of July between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and FFC that “Today, our revolution has won and our victory shines". There is no doubt that the 5th July power-sharing deal and the subsequent political declaration both deserved to be celebrated by the Sudanese people, particularly the protesters who have shown exceptional determination and resilience. The persistent defiance and nationwide mass demonstration on June 30 after the deadly crackdown of protesters by security forces on June 3 was a defining moment that contributed to the conclusion of the 5th July agreement. This demonstration has not only challenged the political power calculus of the TMC of crushing the uprising but it has shown that FFC enjoys very broad support from all spectrums of Sudanese society and exceptional capacity to mobilize Sudanese people to sustain the uprising. The agreement and political declaration have unlocked the impasse on abolishing the TMC and replacing it with the sovereign council with the civilian majority. With this Agreement and political declaration, all transitional institutions will have not only civilians as a majority but they will be headed by civilians except sovereign council that will be headed by the military during the first half of transitional period.

One important provision of this Agreement is the establishment of an independent national investigation committee for the atrocities committed since the eruption of the uprising in December 2018 including the killing of innocent protesters on 3rd of June. Another important aspect of this Agreement and political declaration is the affirmation of the equality of citizens before the law regardless of race, religion and sex with a clear focus on equal rights for women. These commitments are meant to undo the laws enacted by the regime of Bashir to segregate citizens based on religion and sex. In other words, the political declaration has made the TMC succumb to the will and demand of the Sudanese people to establish civilian transitional institutions. The management of the transition period requires both legitimacy and conducive security environment that can be only provided by FFC and TMC respectively. With this agreement innocent lives would be spared, the sacrifices and agony sustained by protesters since the beginning of the uprising would be ameliorated and daily life would return to normalcy. One would say the agreement is a win-win and the Sudanese have the right to celebrate.

The Reasons to be Cautious

As there are reasons to celebrate, there are equally reasons to be cautious about the power-sharing agreement and political declaration. The TMC has been changing its position over power-sharing agreement; particularly the transitional legislative assembly, and this raises serious concerns. This makes some analysts doubt whether TMC is genuine in transferring powers to the civilians. Besides this concern of the real intention of the TMC, there are other concerns including some unresolved transitional issues, the possibility of new power calculus and dynamics that may emerge to undermine the Agreement and the uphill task of meeting the expectations of the Sudanese people and addressing the structural problems that triggered the uprising.

The key unresolved issue is the formation of the transitional legislative assembly and any delay in its formation will paralyze the functioning of the transitional government. Having sovereign council and technocratic government to act jointly as the legislative body, instead of the transitional parliament as provided for in the political declaration, may undermine the separation of powers and checks and balances mechanisms. The FFC and TMC may need to consider allocating sufficient seats of the transitional parliament to the armed groups as well as reasonable representation in the sovereign council.

The real game-changer during the transitional period will be Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo ‘Hemedti’. Recognizing his political, security and economic might, the Agreement did not temper with his forces, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), that have been recognized as part of the national army. Alex De Waal describes Hemedti as the dominant player in Sudan’s political marketplace as he has economic power through gold; smuggling; and the funds earned from the troop deployment in Yemen, coercive power through his RSF and a shrewd politician who moves fast and seizes opportunities. With these sources of power, Hemedti may rebel and wage a new coup during the transition; particularly if the findings of the national investigation committee implicated him in the atrocities committed on 3rd of June.

Although the FFC has undoubtedly shown unified leadership in dealing with the TMC, its signature of the political declaration without getting the consent of armed groups and other parties tainted the unity among its members. Such unity may be fragile during the transition period as the narrow political interests and political competition will prevail over the national interest of putting Sudan on the democratic path. If FFC fails to form a national coalition umbrella organization of its members to contest the general elections, the remnants of the regime of Bashir may regroup and rebrand themselves under new political party that may win the general elections since they have resources, external support, political system and experience that are in short supply with the FFC. If the general elections bring to power again the political Islamists, Sudan will again be put on another trajectory of agony, repression and suffering.

The transitional government will hardly mobilize locally the necessary resources to meet the basic needs and expectations of the people of Sudan. The regime of Bashir left a ramshackle economy after its leaders squandered and looted the national resources as revealed by enormous evidence of the unprecedented massive corruption during the 30 years of misrule by the political Islamists. The gold resource that is now the main foreign exchange earner is monopolized and smuggled by armed militias including RSF of Hemedti. The agriculture that used to be the mainstay of the Sudanese economy and provided employment for the overwhelming majority of rural Sudan has been neglected to the level that it can barely sustain rural livelihoods. The limited proceeds from the oil sector and fees on the oil export of South Sudan will hardly pay the wage bill of civil servants. Yet, people have high expectations from their civilian transitional government and may be disappointed if their technocratic government fails to deliver the basic services and live up to their expectations.

The resolution of conflicts in the peripheral regions of Sudan such as Darfur, Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile, Eastern Sudan and Nubi in Northern Sudan has not been resolved by the 5th July peace deal and political declaration. Any delay in resolving these conflicts and participation of the armed groups in the transitional government will pose a real threat to the transitional government. There is also the daunting task of transforming and professionalizing the security sector that has been politicized by the political Islamists during their 30 years of misrule of Sudan. Without overhauling the Sudanese security sector, the transitional period would be witnessing recurrent coups that may threaten the lifespan of the civilian transitional government.

The Reasons for Optimism

The real safeguard to the survival of the implementation of the 5th July Agreement and political declaration is the unwavering determination of the people of Sudan to put an end to the 30 years of Islamic regime by establishing a civilian transitional government. Although there might be temptations for the military to forge coups, the Sudanese people will be vigilant to quell any military takeover. Another reason for optimism is that if the civilian technocratic transitional government is provided with necessary resources and conducive political environment, it may deliver not only the basic services but it will lay a solid foundation for putting Sudan on the path of stability and sustainable and inclusive economic growth. As the IGAD and AU have mediated the power-sharing agreement, political declaration and constitutional declaration with support from the international community, these organizations will provide the necessary guarantees. Importantly, if the technocratic transitional government comes up with a reasonable plan for the recovery of the Sudanese economy, the Gulf countries, some Islamic Countries, European Union, China, and Troika will be willing to support and finance such plan. Last but not least Sudan has the opportunity to genuinely address the grievances of the peripheries and to embrace diversity as a virtue and to move away from the exclusive Arabo-Islamic identity-centric that threatens its territorial integrity. Paradoxically, Hemedti seems to be opportunistically championing the agenda of the periphery and he is likely to entertain the demands of the armed groups in the power-sharing agreement.

Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) at US National Defense University, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and University of Juba