Sudan’s cloudy skies

Haitham Nouri , Thursday 7 Jul 2022

There is no end in sight to the violence and economic failure into which Sudan is slipping.

Sudan s cloudy skies


For months Sudan has been seeing weekly protests against the 25 October 2021 military takeover, often brutally repressed using tear gas and live bullets.

On the third anniversary of the break-up of the sit-in outside the general command headquarters in Khartoum, which took place from 30 June to 3 July and in which hundreds of protesters died, Sudan saw its largest demonstrations since the toppling of Omar Al-Bashir.

According to the Sudanese Doctors Committee, a non-official syndicate, more than 112 people died and hundreds were wounded in protests during the past eight months.

Indeed, the picture in Khartoum is gloomy, with heavy security reinforcements, the closure of bridges connecting the outskirts to the capital, and the shutdown of the Internet following calls by protesters to mobilise the masses.

It appears there is no end in sight for the violence Sudan is slipping into, especially after the Trilateral Mechanism, comprising the United Nations, African Union, and Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an eight-country trade bloc in Africa, decided to put off negotiations between the civilian and military camps. Moreover, the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) have turned down calls for talks with army leadership.

The Trilateral Mechanism had announced in late April that it would kick-start a Sudanese dialogue in the second week of May, later postponing it to 8 June. A few days later it said the talks were put off indefinitely because the FFC refused to take part in the negotiations.

“The FFC refused to participate in the dialogue due to the position of the Resistance Committees that raise the slogan of the Three No’s,” says Othman Al-Bushra, a leader in the Umma Party, one of the country’s largest parties.

The Resistance Committees are unofficial organisations that have become a social and political force since the 25 October tensions. They coordinate weekly protests, raising the slogan “No negotiation, no legitimacy, no partnership.”

“The extremist members of the FFC are to blame. They charged the masses and it became more difficult to lower the ceiling of their expectations,” Al-Bushra continued.

“It is true the masses are being charged, but unbridled repression by the military is the main reason for the civilian opposition becoming more and more hard line,” said Mohamed Al-Asbat, the former spokesperson of the FFC in Europe.

A statement by the FFC said talks with the military were “a fake political solution… that legitimises” the takeover.

Not all FFC members refuse to sit down for talks with the military, however. An announcement by the FFC’s formerly ruling Central Council demanded the abolishment of the state of emergency, releasing political prisoners, and ending the repression of protesters, to set up the mood for dialogue.

Army Commander and head of the Sovereign Council Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan, cancelled the state of emergency in late May, which prompted the release of political detainees who were “arrested under emergency laws that no longer support their detention.”

“This was a political manoeuvre meant to calm the West’s anger and buy time to reach an agreement with the civilian elements guaranteeing their permanent presence in Sudanese politics,” said Al-Asbat.

The FFC responded by saying that abolishing the state of emergency was “not enough”, stressing the need to go back to civilian rule.

In August 2019, Sudan was set to be governed in a transitional period of 53 months by civilian-military rule until general elections were held in early 2024.

Later on several forces joined in the power-sharing deal, including the Juba Declaration Forces, in 2020, and organisations that fought against the rule of Al-Bashir in Darfur, in addition to forces south of the Blue Nile and from the Nuba Mountains, adjacent to South Sudan.

For some time, Sudan was governed by two centres: the Sovereign Council, led by Al-Burhan; and the government, presided over by Abdallah Hamdok.

The consensus between the civilian and military components broke down with the 25 October tensions.

Worse than the political deadlock, however, are the deteriorating economic conditions in Sudan. The Sudanese pound was floated and the middle-class became unable to make ends meet, with a frenzied race to buy foreign currency.

“Many of those who want to buy dollars on the black market are either public sector banks or banks associated with the government,” said Khaled Ismail, a Sudanese professor of economics. “The state wants to buy dollars to acquire fuel and medicine, and to this end it pays exorbitant prices.”

Most likely, the foreign currency in the government’s pockets is not enough to meet the country’s needs of fuel, the prices of which has doubled and may increase to $200 per barrel.

Throughout this year, the prices of fuel, electricity, medicine, and food increased by 300 per cent, although Al-Burhan had vowed to improve the living conditions of the Sudanese.

Sudan has not received the aid the West had promised, which exacerbated the economic conditions. Making matters even worse is the deterioration of the security situation in Darfur after conflicts broke out again.

The Rapid Support Forces, led by Deputy President of the Sovereign Council Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hamedti, whose members belong mainly to Arab herding tribes in west Sudan and whose armed members were called the Janjaweed militias, are accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes against local farmers.

The 15-year-old war resulted in the death of more than 300,000 people, according to the UN, while millions fled their homes to avoid conflicts that left dozens of villages burning at the hands of the Janjaweed.

Hamedti called on his Rapid Support Forces to confront trouble-makers, which many observers interpreted as “a call to resume the ethnic Civil War”.

There is potential for a border war between Sudan and Ethiopia over the fertile Fashqa region, too. Nor this is the only border war Sudan may engage in.

According to colonial agreements, Fashqa is Sudanese territory, though it was controlled by armed farmers of the Ethiopian Amhara ethnicity, but the Sudanese army recaptured the greater part of it recently after the fall of Al-Bashir.

With the war in Ukraine, rising food and energy prices and a deteriorating situation in Sudan and Ethiopia, the two countries are unable to engage in fights or even border clashes.

But there are those who benefit from wars, and they may be in a position to start one.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 July, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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