The transitional government in Sudan must overcome several obstacles to fulfill the demands of the revolution and lead the way into a democratic and prosperous Sudan. The challenges for the new government abound. It is under attack from former military cadres, who do not want to give up their power and privileges. The economic situation in Sudan has not improved, and new challenges, like the spread of Covid-19, and the conflict with Ethiopia, further worsen the situation.
The question lingers: Will Sudan achieve lasting peace? Or will this heterogeneous country break apart into civil war, not being able to overcome its bloody history? In the following text, the most pressing challenges and underlying dynamics will be analyzed.
The marginalization of the peripheries
As pointed out numerous times, the most comprehensive account in the black book, the political system in Sudan was and still is coined by discrimination towards “Non-Arab” people, Clientelism, and Marginalization of the peripheries. 47 to 70% of all cabinet positions since the independence were occupied by members of three Arab tribes in the Nile valley north of Khartoum, which only account for about 5% of Sudan´s population. A lack of political inclusion and the marginalization of the “Non-Arab” population, accompanied by conflicts about land ownership, were among the most important factors that lie at the bottom of many civil wars in Sudan.
In October 2020, the government reached a peace agreement with rebel groups from several conflict hotspots. The Juba Peace Agreement covers multiple topics like power and wealth sharing, land reform, transitional justice, security arrangements, and the return of displaced persons. It also includes economic aid with a fund of 750m $ each year for the conflict-stricken areas and the inclusion of rebel fighters in the military. However, the government must prevent the security services to become so bloated that they deplete state funds or make it more difficult for the civilian cabinet to enact necessary reforms. Unfortunately, the Juba Agreement did not include all rebel groups. The two most powerful rebel groups, the SPLA/M-N faction led by Abdel Aziz al-Hilu, and the SLA/M faction led by Abdel Wahid al-Nur did not sign the agreement, which undermines the peace efforts.
The economic challenge
The economic situation in Sudan is dire. Foreign debt has risen above 60 billion $, and inflation has recently crossed 300%. To attract foreign investment, the government, earlier this year, has devalued the Sudanese Pound and aligned it with the black-market exchange rate. This move has created further difficulties for the Sudanese people with commodity prices soaring up.
After the secession of the South, Sudan stepped up its market share in the export from artisanal gold. Sudan is currently Africa’s second-largest gold producer. However, the lion´s share of the gold does not go through official channels but is sold on the black market or smuggled out of the country. General Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti) took control over the most important gold mine in Sudan, Jbel Amir, in 2017, thus becoming Sudan´s biggest gold trader.
Last October, Hemedti´s Al-Junaid company handed the control of the Jbel Amir goldmine over to the government. However, it remains unclear to what extent he still controls the mine through the cooperation of his company with the government.
The government must improve the financial situation of its population while also cutting down wasteful government spending. It has suspended fuel subsidies, which took up to 40 % of the annual budget. However, the government will have to find solutions to cushion the blow for the poor who suffer the hardest by increasing fuel prices. To help the suffering population, the government has introduced – in cooperation with the World Bank – a cash transfer program to help the poorest families make ends meet. Its funding, however, has been cut down and the Sudanese government will need international donors to step in and finance it in the future.
The challenge from the military
After the enactment of the Power Sharing Agreement, people were worried that the military actors would continue their strong grasp on power. One part of the civilian part of the government, the Forces of Freedom and Chance, (FFC) accused the military of violating the Power Sharing Agreement and overstretching its mandate, by leading the peace talks or making major economic decisions. An example of this is the normalization process with Israel, which was worked out by an informal meeting between Lieutenant-General Al Burhan and Benjamin Netanjahu, exposing the rest of the government and undermining its legitimacy.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt are supporting the military wing of the government. However, while the UAE support Hemedti and the RSF, Egypt favors General Burhan, who represents the regular army. This endangers the prospects of the transitional government because the various international donors have competing policy interests in Sudan and might urge their clients to act on them, thus possibly breaking apart the fragile ruling coalition.
Sudan and Ethiopia
The ongoing conflict with Ethiopia concerning the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Gerd) and the military clashes between Sudanese and Ethiopian military forces might further destabilize the situation. Sudan and Egypt see the unrestricted filling of the Gerd, which would regulate the flow of the Blue Nile, as an existential problem and demand a legally binding agreement with Ethiopia that stipulates the amount of water retained and a clear timetable of the filling of the dam. So far these demands have not been met by Ethiopia.
In the Al-Fashaga region, which is under competing claims, from Sudan and Ethiopia, tensions are mounting. Despite an official agreement between Ethiopia and Sudan in 2008, Sudan moved troops into the territory in the last year, taking advantage of the war in Tigray. If these issues are not resolved swiftly and peacefully, a destabilization of the whole region might occur.
What can be done?
International Donors should support the transitional government financially if they do not want Sudan to stumble back into instability. It is crucially important to improve the economic situation to guarantee a peaceful transition. Furthermore, the government needs international assistance to make good on its promise to invest in the peripheries. International actors should also bankroll demobilization to prevent the security sector from bloating uncontrollably and counter the militarization of Sudan.
International actors should stop meddling in Sudanese politics to push their interests. Especially Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt should divert their funds back from the military to the transitional government.
Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia should strive to solve the conflict over the filling of the Gerd, through a legally binding document. Sudan and Ethiopia should also negotiate a compromise concerning the disputed Al-Fashaga region. The international community should further try to mediate between the conflict parties.
About the Author
Simon Dippold pursued a Bachelor´s degree in Political Science and Islamic Studies at the Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg and the Al-Azhar University of Cairo. He is currently enrolled in the Global Studies Master, International Politics and law at the Karl-Franzens University Graz, with a focus on peacebuilding and human rights, especially in the MENA- Region.