Jul 8th 2019
ONLY A HANDFUL of people took to the streets of Khartoum to usher in the new era. Some, sitting on trucks hoisting Sudanese flags, shouted “civilian” —a catchphrase of the peaceful protest movement that in April toppled a dictator, Omar al-Bashir. But there was little euphoria in the Sudanese capital after the announcement of a power-sharing agreement between the junta in charge of Sudan and the protest movement that wants a civilian-led transition to democracy. “It’s a deal,” says Amjed Farid, a protest leader. “It’s a compromise.”
The draft agreement, which is due to be signed this week, sees civilians appointed to six of the 11 seats on a “sovereign council”, which will become the highest decision-making body overseeing the transition to democracy.
The agreement, which was reached after tens of thousands of protesters against the junta came out on the streets on June 30th, is something of a victory for the opposition movement. But only a partial one. Seven months of almost ceaseless protest against military dictatorship have not yet led to the formation of a civilian-led transitional government. Instead, protest leaders have agreed to let the junta appoint one of their own as head of the council for the first 21 months after its formation. A civilian will only be allowed to take charge for the remaining 18 months before elections are held. The protesters have also been forced to relinquish one of the gains they had made in earlier talks with the junta: the right to have civilians take up two-thirds of the seats in a new legislature. The latest agreement postpones the formation of that body. And elections will now take place in three years, not the four that protesters had once demanded, leaving less time for the establishment of institutions to ensure the vote is credible.
Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who leads the Transitional Military Council which has ruled since April, is expected to be the junta’s pick for head of the sovereign council. But real power resides with his deputy, Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo, who commands a paramilitary group of perhaps 30,000 men. His Rapid Support Forces (RSF) was formed out of the Janjaweed, a genocidal militia that terrorised Darfur and has gone on to spread fear in Khartoum. Many blame it for the massacre of June 3rd, when militiamen killed more than 100 people and raped and looted their way across the capital after being set loose on peaceful protesters who had been staging a sit-in outside the army’s headquarters.
The new agreement is meant to provide some justice. The generals agreed to allow an independent investigation into the massacre. And, according to the deal's terms, nobody found guilty of atrocities will be allowed to take part in the government. But this will surely not extend to Mr Dagalo (who is widely known as Hemedti), a former camel-trader who amassed enormous power in Darfur in the early 2000s.
One civilian negotiator says Mr Dagalo tried to prevent the agreement to hold an investigation. “It is unthinkable that Hemedti will leave his seat to anybody else,” says a foreign diplomat. It is also thought that he will try to thwart efforts to put the RSF under civilian control, such as integrating it into the regular army.
Many are unhappy with the deal. Some of the protest leaders say they felt pressured by international mediators, in particular the Americans, to accept it, despite their misgivings. One official in the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which spearheaded the uprising, describes the agreement by sending a text-message showing a picture-character (or emoji) of a person vomiting. To keep pressure on the generals, the SPA has announced plans for further protests including a march on July 13th to mark 40 days since the massacre. “This is an opening for a democratic transition,” says Mr Farid. “But at the same time the Sudanese people have no reason to trust the military.”
The transitional government has its work cut out. It has promised to revive the economy, which shrank by 2.3% in 2018 and has only worsened since then. For this it needs relief for Sudan’s crippling $50bn debt, which will mean first getting the country removed from America’s list of state sponsors of terror. Considering that Sudan has been on the list since 1993, this may take time. “There are a number of conditions that have to be met before, you know, that can even be considered to be lifted,” says Tibor Nagy, America’s most senior diplomat for Africa.
Moreover, the new government will also need to make peace with armed rebel groups in Darfur and the south, some of which say they have been excluded from the current negotiations in Khartoum.
Many reckon the junta will use the time to consolidate its own power, possibly with a view to staying in charge of the supreme council when it is meant to hand over once its 21 months is up. Preventing this will require close international monitoring as well as persistent badgering from the streets. “This is not the finish line,” says Alan Boswell of the International Crisis Group, an NGO. “It’s probably not even the starting line.”
Source: The Economist