The ongoing transition towards democracy in Sudan has proved to be a painstaking exercise. Soon after a successful coup de’ tat that toppled the authoritarian Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019, the crisis-prone State at the horn of Africa has been gearing towards fostering a culture of democracy, constitutionalism, and rule of law. The whole of Africa is eager to embrace a Sudan that is free from military violence and the evils of warfare. Sudan has not known peace and tranquility for a very long period.
The whole universe has been closely following the transition towards democracy with hopeful eyes and optimistic criticism. However, before even clocking half of the proposed transitional window, massive protests have been taking place in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. The people of Sudan have found everything amiss with the approach that is being implemented by the coalition administration. It is prudent therefore that, we take a closer look at how the road towards democracy has been in Sudan and whether there lie any positive prospects towards the achievement of the same by 2024.
The Sudan Political Agreement
The Sudan Political Agreement was a concerted effort by the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) with a view to reconfiguring Sudan into a democratic State after decades of Al-Bashir’s hostile rule. This agreement was made under the auspices of the Sovereignty Council. It included law reforms, paving way for the abolition of most of the once legal, but harmful cultural practices such as genital mutilation, marital rape, apostasy, and guardianship laws.
The legal reforms saw the sprucing up of the gender gap that was akin to the Sudanese socio-political environment. Laws were put in place to severe draconian penal laws that often facilitated human rights violations during the tenure of Al-Bashir. Religious tolerance and the banning of toxic secularism created a more liberal Sudan in which the diverse religious establishments could be able to thrive. Multi-ethnicity and multi-culture emphasis formed the top brass of the political questions to be answered in paving way for democracy and equality. Given the recent civilian protests at the Prime Minister’s Palace which are presumed to have been fanned by the military wing of the Council, the agreement has however proved to be a marriage of convenience rather than a voyage of democratic transition.
Towards a civilian democracy?
The people of Sudan have for long, been yearning for a civilian democracy. This is one where the needs of the general populace are best governed and addressed by the Sudan citizens themselves. The citizens coined this as “Sudan for the Sudanese”. Civilian democracy is centered on the basic tenets of public participation and pro-people policies with an aim to alleviate poverty and political elitism. However, such has not been wholly the case in Sudan. The transition towards democracy in Sudan has not been without negative backlash. The transitional leadership has been accused of fanning gender discrimination, inequality, and exclusion of youths in the transitional governance. Allegations of a political centralization of power and non-inclusivity have been mounted upon the current administration.
The blame has been cast on the civilian leadership. Even before the civilian representative part of the coalition, the FFC has taken over Chairmanship from the military part of the Council as per the agreement; incessant protests and calls for the “fall of the coalition” have been gaining traction, creating chilly warnings on the temporary government that the people are far from being impressed. It was noted that the Sovereignty Council has been too patriarchal, comprising only two women out of an eleven-member panel. Bread and butter issues in light of the Covid-19 pandemic have worsened the already deteriorating political situation. Attempts at unity between the civilians and the military have been fruitless, with either side blaming the other for the civil unrests that are ensuing. The suspicion between the two camps has created a comfortable room for instability to gather. However, it appears the military has either hook or crook, wooed the backing of the populace who are understood to be aggrieved by the way the civilian government has eroded their revolutionary optimism.
The tipping point?
Circumstances surrounding the protests in Sudan can be viewed as signs of possible future instability and a probable anti-clockwise reversal of the Sudanese revolutionary clock. Political analysts suspect that the protests taking place, if not well-handled, can transmogrify into a violent political wave pitting the military council and the civilian council. Concerns have also revolved around prospects of history repeating itself as events like these are not known at the horn of Africa. Egypt and Libya are examples of the African territories where power-brokering initiatives led to chaos and political disorder. The Sudan citizens have for long failed to reap the fruits of their revolution against the Al-Bashir tyranny. While the coalition government is acknowledged for making frantic efforts towards democracy and strengthening institutions in order to pave way for democracy, hunger has angered the masses into distrusting the coalition-led process.
The military wing of the Council views this pandemonium as an opportunity to regain influence and control the politics of the day. However, this is only feasible where the civilian opposition or at least a part of it puts in their weight towards such cause. Thus, the military council acknowledges the importance of the civilian body and the unrest that can result if they elbow this body polity out of the political circle. Further, the civilian rule is also backed by a considerable populace who in the past weeks, also called for total civilian rule minus military influence. It is also suggested that the military bussed protesters with a view to waive and derail their commitment to hand over the Chairmanship of the Council to the civilian leadership.
Thus, there is polarization and factional crisis that can threaten the peace that Africa has been yearning to see at the heart of Sudan. Protracted demonstrations and calls to order from various political elements are proof that the turmoil in Sudan, if not addressed imminently, can blow out of proportion. Reforming the current setup through inclusive and honest dialogue can go a long way in alleviating a potential resurgence under the guise of a ‘new revolution’.
Not yet democratic?
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok commands a huge public sympathy for institutional reforms and a somewhat positive diplomatic outlook. His leadership saw Sudan re-aligning itself into the global environment and the slashing of economic sanctions that were imposed upon her during the Al-Bashir regime. While democracy forms a key aspect in the transitional phase, bread and butter issues often take center stage. There is more to tackling domestic woes than international re-engagement. Given the covid-19 induced economic meltdown, Hamdok can be viewed as politically unfortunate. The widening poverty and unemployment have stirred rage within the disgruntled masses.
The civilian rule is thus, put to task providing the basic necessities, failure to which, fundamentalists and divisive elements amass followership. Hence, the woes in Sudan are multi-faceted and deeply rooted to the extent that, the journey towards democracy is bound to be bumpy. Those toddler steps made thus far have the potential to reform the State into a Sudan that the Sudanese envision. Power squabbles within the Council should, therefore, be addressed by way of dialogue as opposed to military or hostile confrontation lest the country will plunge back into chaotic disorder and a breeding platform for humanitarian concerns. The wind of change in Sudan requires every patriotic Sudanese to cherish the revolution and ensure that peace prevails after all. The road to democracy after a rotten regime is always a strenuous process.