What is next for Sudan after the long dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir?

After 30 years of authoritarian rule, Sudan is struggling to find a path towards a democratic government and economic development in a region afflicted by conflicts and foreign intervention

What is next for Sudan after the long dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir?
A person waves the Sudanese national flag - Photo: Hussein Malla/AP
English 28/06/2019 15:08 Gabriel Moyssen Mexico City Actualizada 16:10
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After 30 years of authoritarian rule that saw a civil war, ethnic divisions, and the partition of its territory, Sudan, the third largest African country, is struggling to find a path towards a democratic government and economic development in a region afflicted by conflicts and foreign intervention.

Months of mass protests that began in 2018 led to a coup on April 11 ousting President Omar al-Bashir, who was elected three times in fraudulent elections after seizing power in 1989.

During his regime, supported by the northern Arab Muslim tribes, Bashir continued the fight against the Christian and Animist southern separatists headed by Sudan’s People Liberation Army, leaving more than two million casualties and millions starved and displaced.

In 2005, an agreement ended the hostilities, granting Southern Sudan autonomy for six years; at the end of this period, followed by a referendum, the regionnearly one-third of the total territoryseparated into an independent country known as the Republic of South Sudan (RSS). 

Today, 75% of the former Sudanese oil reserves lie in the RSS, while the export infrastructure—including the pipelines, refining facilities, and the Port of Sudan,—are all located in Sudan.

The loss of oil revenues, in particular from the region of Juba, contributed to Bashir’s fall, as the subsidies on fuel, bread, and electricity were eliminated.

New conflicts erupted in South Sudan between President Salva Kiir and his Vice-President Riek Machar. The RSS is currently considered a “fragile state” by aid agencies; this month, its government and the United Nations reported that a record seven million peoplemore than half of the country’s populationare facing severe hunger, due to a lack of rain, the ongoing economic crisis, and civil war.

Bashir was also involved in the Darfur crisis. Enclaved in the western border with Libya and Chad, Darfur was the scenario of a rebellion launched since the early 80s by the discriminated non-Arab/Arabized population.

The ruthless Janjaweed militia attacked civilians in response to the insurgency; estimates from the UN placed the number of deaths in 300,000, although Bashir insisted that no more than 10,000 had died in Darfur; in any case, the Sudanese ruler was accused of genocide by Washington and in 2009 he became the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court, for allegedly directing a campaign of mass killing, rape, and pillage against civilians.

Under arrest

On June 17, Bashir was charged with corruption-related offenses, as he made his first public appearance in Khartoum since he was overthrown in a peaceful coup.

However, the talks between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the pro-democracy movement which followed his fall collapsed when security forces cleared a protest camp outside the army’s headquarters in Khartoum.

The sit-in organizers claimed that more than 130 people were killed and that tens of bodies were thrown into the Blue Nile river, yet the authorities announced a lower death toll of 61 people, including three members of the security forces.

In recent weeks, Ethiopia and the African Union (AU) have been mediating between both sides and a leading opposition figure, Sadek al-Mahdi, said on Wednesday that the neighboring country and the AU will present a proposal for a solution to the crisis.

Leader of Umma Party, Sudan’s largest political party, and former prime minister ousted by Bashir in 1989, Mahdi said the proposal would include the setup of a temporary legislative body.

In the earlier round of talks, the TMC and the protest movement had agreed on that point, with 67% of seats for the coalition Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC).

“Some have complained that the 67% for the FFC means excluding us. The mediation will review the shares,” said Mahdi. Nevertheless, the military council refuse to agree, declaring that the initiative was to pave the way for resuming negotiations, “not to offer proposals for solutions.”

Mahdi also criticized the Sudanese Professional Association over calls for demonstrations next week to pressure the TMC to hand over power, planned to mark the 30th anniversary of the Muslim Brotherhood-backed coup that brought Bashir to power.

For his part, Lieutenant General Salah Abdelkhalek, a member of the TMC, insisted in an interview with French media that the military “don’t want to stay more than six or nine months” in power.

In the United States, Makila James, Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Africa and The Sudans, told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that Washington was considering all options, including possible sanctions if there was more violence.

The U.S. believes the best possible outcome is an agreement between the military authorities and the opposition, she told the Africa Subcommittee, praising the mediation effort led by Ethiopia.

Washington sanctioned Sudan under Bashir over its alleged support for militant groups and the civil war in Darfur. Trade sanctions were lifted two years ago, yet Sudan is still in the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, which prevents it from accessing badly needed funding from international lenders.

The TMC has been bolstered by support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have offered USD $3 billion in aid.

In contrast with Egypt, which backs the army and wants stability, the Persian Gulf nations are providing Deputy Head of TMC, Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, Hemeti, with weapons and money because his powerful Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has sent thousands of soldiers for their disastrous invasion of Yemen, including a new batch last weekend.

In fact, the June 3 massacre in Khartoum took place in the wake of Dagalo’s visit to Saudi Arabia, where he vowed to continue deploying Sudanese troops in Yemen—the RSF is composed by members of the Janjaweed militia,—and aligned with Riyadh against “all threats and attacks” from its rival Iran.

According to an analysis made by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the prolongation of the impasse in Sudan could lead to the imposition of a new authoritarian regime based on the Egyptian model of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi or even worse, to a civil war provoked by power disputes between Dagalo, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the TMC, and other military factions.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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