A failed coup attempt has unmuted differences between the military and civilians in Sudan, with news from the country saying last week that the Sudanese military had nipped in the bud a coup attempt staged by some 60 officers loyal to the ousted regime of former president Omar Al-Bashir, arrested the perpetrators and restored order.
The next day, Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan, president of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan, vehemently criticised the country’s politicians, accusing them of seeking their own “narrow” interests and neglecting the “slogans” of the December Revolution.
He was fed up with what he called continued attempts to “exclude” the military from the scene in the country, pinpointing an initiative put forward by Abdulla Hamdok, the Sudanese prime minister, which had sidelined the military in favour of the civilian political powers. Al-Burhan said that the military “holds everything” in Sudan and that it remains the “guardian” of the democratic transition in the country post Al-Bashir.
The woes of the president of the Sovereignty Council were echoed by his deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hemetti, commander of the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces. Hemetti slammed the country’s politicians and accused them of standing behind the “coups” that the country had experienced because “they ignored the people and kept themselves busy with conflicts over power.”
The statements of both military leaders have infuriated the civilian partners within the government and the targeted political powers as well. The main opposition power, the Forces of Freedom and Change Alliance, explicitly called for a “divorce” from the military in order to bring this partnership to an end. Khaled Omar Youssef, the Sudanese minister of cabinet affairs, even said that if the military wanted “confrontation,” so be it.
The reality is that these statements and counterstatements do not serve the best interests of post-Al-Bashir Sudan. The only winner from these reciprocal “fiery” statements is Al-Bashir’s “deep state,” which looks to be still active even though its main players have been somewhat curtailed.
Though a government committee has fired hundreds of state employees, including top-ranking officials affiliated with the Al-Bashir regime, and confiscated their property, the facts on the ground, including the recent coup attempt, show that the committee is still lagging behind in reaching its goal of “cleansing” the ousted president’s “old guard.”
Even more alarming is the fact that Eastern Sudan is witnessing disturbances that could risk the fragile stability of the country as a whole. The chief of the Beja people in the east of the country has called for the “cancelling” of the Draft Constitutional Declaration and the dissolution of the government itself, among other requests. His affiliates have blocked access to the air and sea ports of the city of Port Sudan, which are vital to the Sudanese economy and to the transfer of oil from Sudan’s neighbour South Sudan.
They have also shut down the oil pipeline that provides supplies to the capital Khartoum. Given the ailing economic conditions of the country, Sudan cannot bear the implications of these “irrational” acts for long.
The civilian-military partnership in Sudan is in reality one of a kind in the region, particularly in the wake of a popular uprising. Until the end of the transitional period and the holding of free-and-fair elections, all the stakeholders in Sudan need to defuse the tension and work for the betterment of the Sudanese people who have suffered most for decades under military dictatorships, only to end with the ousting of the former regime of Al-Bashir.
The incumbent government in Sudan, under both military and civilian leaders, has accomplished a lot to make the country more prosperous. Sudan has been removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, allowing for the return of foreign investors and the renewed access of the country to the kind of normal business services it had been long deprived of in the past.
Major international powers are competing to “win” Sudan in their favour through economic or military deals. Debts have been written off only because Sudan is on the track of a “democratic” transition. The political space in the country has been opened up, embracing Sudanese of all political stripes. The country is gearing up to restore its leverage both at the regional and the international levels.
All these gains are not coming on a silver platter, however. The Sudanese, both the military and the political powers, may end up facing the music if they do not come to the table together to discuss a successful conclusion to the transitional period. Relative peace in Sudan and the laying down of arms by most of the country’s armed groups, now part of the Peace Agreement signed in Juba in South Sudan, should be a reminder to all the Sudanese parties that dialogue in good faith is the only safeguard against the country’s falling back under the rule of a tyrannical regime.
The Sudanese Armed Forces are entrusted with the protection of the country’s national security, securing its borders and making sure that the territorial integrity of the state remains unharmed. This is a tough task given the circumstances unfolding in a troubled region, particularly as far as the situation in Sudan’s neighbours of South Sudan and Ethiopia is concerned.
But Sudan’s Armed Forces have been assuming their role diligently and effectively since the ousting of the former regime. For the first time, Sudan has exercised sovereignty over the Al-Fashaka territories after decades of Ethiopian occupation thanks to the Sudanese military’s sacrifices in that department.
The country’s civilian partners should not fan the flames and should work on considering the concerns of the military in post-transition Sudan. In plain English, the restructuring of the military and security apparatus is a complicated process that needs to be eased up on, particularly in a highly polarised environment like that in Sudan, where an effective player on the scene, Hemetti, has explicitly rejected the idea of merging the Rapid Support Forces into the Sudanese army.
If this is not done, the whole transition may be at stake, and Sudan may go back to square one. It is time that the Sudanese stakeholders realised that it was their collective effort that toppled Al-Bashir’s regime and that this is still needed to surf the troubled waters since the goal of democracy in Sudan has yet to be accomplished.
The active powers in Sudan should, therefore, learn from the lessons of the past and join forces for a smooth and safe transition in the country.
* The writer is a former press attaché in Ethiopia and an expert on African and international affairs.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly