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Is Sudan heading closer to full democracy?

  • 19 Aug 2019

The country's military and civilian opposition leaders signed a power-sharing agreement on Saturday, putting an end to months of uncertainty after the previous president was deposed in a coup.

A Sudanese woman waves their national flag and flashes a victory sign during celebrations of the signing of the Sudan's power sharing deal, that paves the way for a transitional government, and eventually elections, following the overthrow of long-time leader Omar al Bashir in Khartoum, Sudan, August 17, 2019. ( Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / Reuters )

Sudan’s military and the country’s pro-democracy movement signed a power-sharing agreement at a ceremony in the capital on Saturday.

The Khartoum deal is a transitional document paving the way to civilian rule after months of protests that followed the ousting of President Omar al Bashir in April.

The power-sharing agreement establishes a joint military and civilian council to govern Sudan for about three years until democratic elections can be held. It would also work towards the creation of a cabinet appointed by activists and a legislative body.

Sudan’s rocky path to democracy

Sudan was a British colony in the 19th Century, until the colonisers signed an agreement that granted Sudan the right to self-govern in 1953. In 1956, the first Prime Minister Ismail al Azhari took over his duties and established the first cabinet.

Yet that was not a smooth ride as the south demanded autonomy from the north in the form of a federal government and was refused. A civil war broke out, from 1955 to 1972.

Secular socialist leader Colonel Gaafar Muhammed Nimeiri came into power in 1969 and was sympathetic to the plight of the south. He signed into policy an agreement that granted autonomy to the south in 1972. However this was not a popular decision, and the additional discovery of oil added to the Islamists’ pressure proved too much for Nimeiri, who reversed his decision in 1983.

Nimeiri was deposed via a coup in 1985, but the transitional government put in place failed to establish peace between the north, which wanted Islamic law for the whole country, and the south, which did not want to be subject to Islamic law.

South Sudan, following the civil war, eventually seceded from the north in 2011, which is now called the Republic of the Sudan (or simply Sudan).

Sudan’s deposed leader Omar al Bashir came into power in 1989 via a coup. He is now being tried for corruption. Bashir was told by the prosecutor’s office on Monday morning that he faced charges of “possessing foreign currency, corruption and receiving gifts illegally”.

The new governing council of Sudan

The power-sharing agreement signed on Saturday is significant in that it ushers in a new governing council that features both members of the military and the public. The governing council is expected to lead the way towards democratic elections and civilian rule.
Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, known as Hemeti, is the Interim Vice President of Sudan and holds real power in a country mired in chaos since the ousting of his mentor and Sudan’s long-standing ruler, Bashir. He has agreed to honour the terms of the agreement.

Ever since Bashir was ousted in April, there have been pro-democracy protests in Sudan that were met with military power.

There have been previous meetings between the military and civilian leaders, but they were not able to come to an agreement until Saturday.

The power sharing agreement was signed by Ahmed al Rabie, representing the Alliance for Freedom and Change (the umbrella group for the opposition), and Hemeti and Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, representing the military council.

Also in attendance at the ceremony were the South Sudanese president Salva Kiir and the prime ministers of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed and Egypt Moustafa Madbouly.

Sudanese civilians ride on the train to join in the celebrations of the signing of the Sudan's power sharing deal in Khartoum, Sudan, August 17, 2019.(Reuters)

Why did the agreement talks fail previously, how can the agreement succeed now?

The African Union-backed talks began after the ousting of Bashir. There were protests by civilians against his rule and after he was deposed talks between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) alliance began.

However, the talks did not go smoothly and the two sides did not come to an agreement right away. This was partly due to military suppression of civilian protests and the use of violence against demonstrators.

The political accord signed by the TMC and the FFC will create a joint-ruling body with 11 members called the Sovereign Council. The council will be a joint-ruling body between the military and civilians and it would govern for just over three years until elections can be held.

Five of the 11 members will be military personnel while five will be FFC-selected civilians. The eleventh member will be a member that both sides agree on.

The Sovereign Council is to be led by a general during the first 21 months of the transition, after which a civilian will take over for 18 months.

While the military personnel in the body will appoint the interior and defence ministers for the cabinet, the remaining 18 ministers will be determined by the prime minister who will be nominated by the umbrella protest movement.

The earlier signed agreement of July 17 was met with disappointment in some rebel opposition quarters, who had reservations over the so-called ‘Political Declaration’.

According to Al Jazeera, the three rebel groups unhappy with the deal had been fighting government forces for years in the regions of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

Al Jazeera reported that the three groups have said the July 17 deal was "unacceptable" to them, insisting it did not talk of bringing peace to Sudan's warzones or addressing the needs of those affected by the conflicts.

Another reason the agreement was delayed was the issue of ‘absolute immunity’ the TMC demanded from prosecution. The military figures joining the new governing body were supposed to be immune from prosecution for their past deeds, which didn’t sit well with other groups within the opposition coalition. Protest leaders offered ‘temporary immunity’ instead, in place while the military members are in service.

The reason some military members are seeking a blanket immunity clause is because of a deadly protest crackdown against protesters on June 3 in which at least 128 civilians were killed (according to doctors) or 61, according to official figures.

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