Sudan’s Path to Democratization: A Model for Peace or War?
Sudan, formerly Africa’s largest country before the separation of South Sudan in 2011, is a nation with a rich, yet tumultuous history. Known as the kingdoms of Kush and Meroe in ancient times and home to the Nubian civilization, the region entered periods of ethnic conflicts following Turkish and Anglo-Egyptian colonization at the end of the 19th century. In 1956, Sudan finally gained its independence, only to be ruled by a series of dictators, the most recent of which was Omar El-Bashir, who ruled for three decades.
With international economic sanctions squeezing the nation as a result of El-Bashir’s regime, the loss of a tremendous amount of oil revenue following the split of South Sudan, and the government’s squandering of the nation’s natural resources, Sudan’s economic state was in shambles by the end of 2018. Sudanese stood in line for hours to get bread and days to get gas or fuel for cars, and the nation endured tremendous inflation in only a few short months. Beyond economic turmoil, Sudan also faced political turmoil, with the nation on the list of those sponsoring terrorism and El-Bashir’s regime being wanted within Sudan and internationally as a result of blatant human rights abuses over of the years. In December of 2018, all of these factors finally culminated in Sudanese protestors burning down the offices of Bashir’s National Congress Party in the small northern town of Atbara, beginning the revolution.
Re-cap of Protests
Protests quickly spread to the other cities of Sudan, only to be met by gunfire from government forces. Nonetheless, the protests continued for months on end, resulting in a million-man march on April 6th, 2019, the resignation of El-Bashir on April 11th, and a continuous peaceful sit-in in front of the military headquarters calling for civilian rule. However, these efforts were to be violently dispersed on June 3rd by military forces, resulting in the death of hundreds.
Following the dispersal of the sit-in, the protests did not stop, and finally, on August 17th, a power-sharing agreement was signed between a civilian-led government and the transitional military council.
Many have referred to the Sudanese uprising as the beginning of the second Arab Spring, as it was followed by uprisings in nations such as Algeria, Iraq, and Lebanon. The semblances of the Arab Spring, however, are often associated with failure and either a return to dictatorship or descending into civil war, a true fear in Sudan.
Challenges to Achieving Political Stability
Today, the government faces a number of challenges to achieving democracy. To begin, the transitional military council, feared by many civilians, holds a monopoly over the various military factions and militias in the nation. Some are loyal to the former government while others are loyal to single causes in different parts of the nation, and still, others were complicit in the dispersal of the sit-in. The civilian government’s challenge is to unite all of these different groups and ensure that no group is a danger to the overall peace and stability of the nation, all while still allowing each faction to keep hold of its weapons.
Furthermore, the nation also faces international challenges after having faced economic and political sanctions for years on end. Sudan is currently listed on the US terror list as a state supporting terrorism, severely hindering its ability to develop and have a voice on an international stage. Additionally, the previous regime’s commitment of flagrant human rights abuses such as the Darfur genocide cannot go unpunished, and the nation still remains divided on whether to turn in officials to the International Criminal Court (ICC), or to try them in-state.
Challenges to Achieving Economic Stability
Beyond these political and security-based challenges, Sudan also faces the question of how to achieve economic stability. Despite the transition to a new democratic regime, inflation continues to plague the country, with a little over 100 Sudanese pounds equal to 1 US Dollar on the black market. Furthermore, the fuel and bread crisis has only worsened, with resources scant and little cash inflow to the nation. Though Abdalla Hamdok, the new civilian Prime Minister who had previously served as the Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (2011-2018), had developed an immediate economic rescue plan, this had been contingent on loans from the World Bank, an impossible scenario until the country is lifted off the list of nations sponsoring terrorism.
Thus, despite its rich history, the question that lingers for every Sudanese person, current Arab Spring states, and the world is: can Sudan survive on its path to democratization, or is history doomed to repeat itself in the once-powerful African nation?