Endris Mekonnen Faris
Understanding the political quagmire in Sudan
The December deal, another promising door for peace
Over two years now Sudanese internal politics continues in a crippling deadlock after unsuccessful attempts to install a functioning civilian government that has the broader support of various local and foreign actors. The unified force that bundled civilians with the military that worked together in removing Omar Al-Bashir failed to maintain momentous unity in the process of transiting the country to the next phase of its political life. The process suffers from a significant loss of the compacted force that created the indispensable energy behind the popular revolt against the now-jailed former president. The struggle, nevertheless, continues resulting recently in what many refer to as the December deal.
On December 5 2022 a framework deal has been signed between a constellation of the civilian forces and the military under the direct coordination of The Trilateral Mechanism consisting of the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU), and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Broadly speaking the accord promises all political parties, among other key things, a two-year civilian-led transition in addition to the power to appoint a civilian prime minister. If implemented the December deal marks a great deal of opportunity to help Sudan succeed in the lengthy process of achieving a genuine political transition. Many would agree that the process still continues promising but argue that it remains vulnerable because of some factors contributed by both involving local and foreign actors.
Local and foreign actors complicating Sudan’s transition
Sudan’s political crisis is no exception to see several local and foreign actors mingle. While local actors that represent interacting forces could simply be divided as civilians and the military, foreign actors are largely a set of states from the West and the Middle East, and North Africa (MENA).
The civilian bloc is not a monolith. Rivals ranging from organized political forces that are predominantly in and around Khartoum to the rebels and highly influential leaders in regions far from the capital constitute the civilian camp. The forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition, the resistance committees, and tribal groups are worth mentioning. The bloc shows a significant yet fragile convergence around the bigger agenda that calls for installing a civilian government. Analysts observe that within the civilian political forces, there appears a growing issue around the fair representativeness of the civilian powers in the ongoing political process which include the signing of the latest December deal.
The Sudanese armed force is not a monolith either as far as the post-Bashir political process is taken into account. The two men-in-uniform always feature side by side on many political events representing the army including during the signing of the December deal. While General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, currently the ruler of the country, represents the Sudanese, Army General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (aka Hamedti) is the Head of the Sudanese Paramilitary Force called Rapid Support Forces (RSF) which is not an integral part of the Sudanese Army. Defending the legitimacy of RSF the pro-Moscow paramilitary leader General Hamedti wants the recent deal considers seriously the inclusiveness of the planned reforms that involve the security and the military.
On the other side of the category that continues to play an insider role in Sudan’s current internal politics are state actors from MENA and the broader West. What the external forces share in common is an interest in political influence over the upcoming government and securing economic gains. But they differ in forming alliances to pursue their interest in Sudan. Egypt, Russia, and the UAE appeared as front runners overtly favoring the active presence of the army in politics either by directly supporting the military or political factions close to the army. While they apparently try to show neutrality despite public knowledge of a sided position that favors the military, the US and the EU’s bold presence has been made understood that they need a swift move towards forming a civilian government.
The direct involvement of several role players in Sudan’s continued political process for a successful transition gave rise to a number of factors that present challenges to the promising peace process.
Factors that challenge the promising peace process
Lack of Trust
Lack of trust between civilians and the armed force from time to time affects the ongoing process negatively. The civilian developed a legitimate deep distrust of the military and worsen particularly following the abrupt dissolution of the transition government in 2021. The civil mass argues that the armed forces remain the decisive actors in heavily influencing and attempting to shape the transition process at times with no consideration of the other political mass. They believe the men-in-uniform are obstructing the political process that aims to hand over the military’s control to an elected government.
The military for its part engages in overt security-loaded activities that many interpret as a significant manifestation of distrust of the armed force of the civilian actors. The army men on several occasions express their frustration that the civilian camp could be inefficient to lead the political transition without the strong presence and pro-active role of the military.
A significant measure of trust among the engaging local actors is paramount for the political process to achieve its envisaged and shared goals. This could be achieved by introducing a trust-building package and consensual implementing mechanism to the transition process as a core element that both the civilians and the men-in-uniform accept and practice.
Lack of deserved massive support both from inside and abroad
Post-Bashir political process that mainly aims to establish a widely-accepted civilian rule has not yet been enjoying the massive consensual support it deserves both from inside and abroad. The fact that fast erosion of the unprecedented public unity seen in toppling Omer Al-Bashir and the ensuing fragile spirit explains the real absence of support of all kinds. Public pressure remains consistent but not enough to force the main political actors to apply the give-and-take principle to bring about a fast and lasting solution from the negotiating table.
From abroad unwavering support and close cooperation the political transition has been receiving from the UN, AU, and IGAD are commendable and indispensable. On the contrary, there has been no concerted effort that flows into one stream that prioritizes healing Sudan’s recent political pains it faces. This is hardly seen convincingly with no exception be it from the European powers, the US, or important actors from MENA. Independent and conditional support of different forms coming from the aforementioned actors has not been understood enough to bring about a substantial change the political process desperately needs.
Hard-to-balance external forces interest
The political process looks implicitly coerced to find balance in responding to the interests of several external powers in its very internal affairs. As such foreign actors' interest in Sudan’s internal affairs impacted the process. The way each group of foreign actors allied themselves and engage the process and local actors constrained the process. For example, the US and KSA along with the UAE and the UK, on one hand, host a discussion bringing together the main FFC bloc and the military leaving behind a set of key rebels, organized oppositions, and the resistance committees. This was meant to help speed up the political process but practically served another purpose and has caused to widen the cleavage and the existing distrust among key local stakeholders. On the other hand, it is a well-felt occurrence across the country that Egypt, on its part, has an interest in the military to keep its strong presence within the political sphere.