Undoubtedly, Sudan is, in large measure, Africa’s most hopeful nation today — and not without reasons.
After enduring eight long months of popular protests since December 19, 2018, the country has, at last, broken the mould of tyranny.
Its all-powerful military and protesters agreed on a power-sharing deal that paves the way for civilian rule.
On August 17, a civilian Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, an economic and governance scholar previously heading the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), was appointed to head the transitional government.
But the big question remains: Will Sudan’s power-sharing deal unite and heal the nation and revive the economy?
Conceptually, Sudan’s unfolding revolution neither reflects the ideals of the 1917 Communist Revolution in Russian where peasants and workers revolted against the monarchy, nor the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran that lacked many of the customary causes of revolution (defeat at war, a financial crisis, peasant rebellion, or disgruntled military).
It is a liberal revolution cast in the mould of the American and French Revolutions over 200 years ago, which have accelerated the global spread of liberal democracies.
But Sudan is a delayed revolution, exemplifying Africa’s trapped revolutions where the old authoritarian order is dying but the new democratic order has refused to be born.
Omar al-Bashir endured both the ‘wind of change’ after 1989 and the Arab Spring after 2010, where pro-democracy protests toppled many one-party and military regimes.
A trebling in the price of bread, shortages of fuel and hard currency ignited Sudan’s revolt.
But it quickly morphed into a demand for the end to President Al-Bashir’s 30-year tyrannical rule. Eventually, Bashir was ousted in a coup d’état by the military on April 11.
Bashir fell to Sudan’s budding but beleaguered middle class — mainly teachers, doctors, engineers, pharmacists and entrepreneurs (although as the struggle became protracted, women and students came to the centre-stage of the revolt) organised around the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), later the Alliance for Freedom and Change (AFC).
The Sudan revolutionaries called, not for complete restructuring of Sudanese society, but for a civilian government, freedom, peace and social justice, with their clarion call: “We are all Darfur”, and their Declaration of Freedom and Change echoing earlier liberal revolutions.
They also took to heart the hard but mixed lessons of the Arab Spring.
The protesters were inspired by the removal of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria’s longest-serving head of state, on April 2, 2019.
Borrowing the idea of ‘Tahrir Square’ in Egypt’s 2011 revolution, Sudanese protesters occupied the area around the military headquarters in Khartoum and staged an indefinite sit-in.
But they avoided Egypt’s post-revolution tragedy where, although Hosni Mubarak was deposed, the military remained intact and easily wore a democratic garb and rolled back the gains of the revolution.
In Sudan, “Bashirism without Bashir” posed an existential threat to the revolution. Bashir had left, but his almost invincible military remained.
Protesters demanded that the Transitional Military Council (TMC) that deposed Bashir give way to a civilian-led transitional government.
General Awad Ibn Auf, who headed the new military Council, was forced out.
On July 17, 2019, the TMC signed the Political Agreement with protesters and, a month later, it formally signed a Draft Constitutional Declaration, which dissolved the TMC and replaced it with the Sovereignty Council in a new power-sharing deal.
Sudan’s power-sharing deal creates three governing bodies to rule the country: the Sovereign Council led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (comprising six civilians and five soldiers to govern Sudan for a 39-month transition period, 21 months for the generals and 18 for civilians); a Council of Ministers led by a Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, appointed on 21 August; and a legislative Council (Parliament) and Judiciary. Nemat Abdullah Khair was appointed Chief Justice on 21 August.
The new government has to deliver on developing a new constitution, establishing democratic institutions (including an independent electoral commission), preparing for a general election by mid-2022, and overseeing the judicial investigation of post-coup events, including the Khartoum massacre.
It has also to re-engineer the military to ensure a successful transition to civilian oversight over seven different elements in Sudan’s armed groups.
Sudan’s protesters will be back on the streets unless the government immediately deals with shortages of food, fuel and electricity and revives the economy.
Hamdok, who requires $10 billion (Ksh1 trillion) in foreign funding over the next two years to jump-start the economy, has to convince America to remove Sudan from its list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, to open up the country to foreign investments.
Washington lifted Sudan’s trade embargo in 2017. But Sudan is behind on its interest payments with its debt exceeding $58 billion, making it ineligible for further loans.
Sudan’s power-sharing deal has its discontents. It has been parodied as a Government of “men” that excludes women.
Some fault the deal as a betrayal of the revolution, giving a soft landing to the generals.
Rebel leaders in Darfur, Blue Nile State and South Kordofan have disowned the power-sharing deal as ignoring the problems of people in the margins of the Sudanese society.
A “comprehensive peace process” with peripheral armed movements is scheduled to start on September 1, 2019.
Bashir was brought to court on charges of corruption on August 19, but extremists are demanding “blood for blood”.
Sudan has to avoid the slippery path of retributive justice. Instead, it has to pursue restorative justice that reconciles and heals post-conflict societies.
Gladly, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently a non-issue in Khartoum. Courts can’t end civil wars or heal divided societies.
Political Islam is still a potent threat in post-Bashir Sudan. The brotherhoods are reorganising, possibly to implode the revolution from within and recapture power in the 2022 election.
Professor Peter Kagwanja is a former government adviser and currently the Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute (Kenya). This article is based on notes from Khartoum between August 25-29, 2019.