Asif Haroon Raja
Sudan had remained a colony of the British for 56 years after which it gained independence on January 1, 1956. Located in northeastern Africa, it shares border with Egypt to the north, Libya to the northwest, Eritrea and Chad to the east, Central African Union to the southwest, and Chad to the west. Red Sea is in the southeast. After independence of South Sudan in 2011, that part has also become its 7th neighbor in the south. Sudan has had troubled relations with many of its neighbors. Internal security situation of all the neighbors of Sudan is far from satisfactory.
Sudan is a huge country between Northern and Central Africa which, prior to the independence of South Sudan, was the continent’s largest country. Its position has long drawn the attention of outsiders, and once facilitated the birth of powerful empires and city-states. Since declaring independence from the United Kingdom, Sudan has struggled to manage its expansive territories and ethno-regional divisions. Khartoum, the country’s capital, can be viewed as a relatively isolated city-state that must command the vast spaces and people that surround it. Such a mentality helps explain Khartoum’s disastrous management of the country’s various rebellions and insurrections.
Until recently, the country’s leadership has preferred to adopt a belligerent approach to dealing with the country’s many outstanding conflicts. Since Sudan’s borders do not fully align with its various ethnic groups, its internal ethnic conflicts have fueled regional conflict as well. Ethnic groups in the western Darfur region spill over into neighboring Chad, driving the two countries to wage proxy warfare against each other for years by arming and financing rebels’ intent on revolution.
Sudan’s proximity to the Middle East — as well as application of Sharia by Jafar Numeri and its cultural and religious makeup — allowed it to build ties with powers there. After Osama bin Laden was banished by Saudi Arabia, he had stayed in Sudan under Gen. Omer Al-Bashir before shifting to Afghanistan in early 1991. Thereon Sudan was kept under close watch. Sudan has been viewed by USA and Egypt as extremely important to their interests in Africa and Middle East.
First military rule. The British Parliamentary democracy in Sudan lasted until November 17, 1958, after which a group of army officers, headed by Lt Gen Ibrahim Abid established a military regime and dissolved all political parties. This regime was overthrown in the wake of October 21 Revolution in 1964. The new government reverted to multi-party system, but this arrangement lasted for only five years.
Rule of Jafar Numeri
Once again a group of 9 military officers led by Col Jafar Numeri proclaimed a new revolution on May 25, 1969 and outlawed all political groups. He ended the civil war in South Sudan raging since 1955 after he conceded measure of autonomy to the southern province in 1972. Southern Sudan with its capital at Juba, populated by animists and Christians held a grievance that it was marginalized by North Sudan. Christian Churches and Monks in South Sudan treated the animists as Christians and kept up with their efforts to Christianize them. Once oil was discovered in 1978 in South Sudan, Numeri hastened to redraw provincial boundaries so as to place oilfields under the effective control of Central Government.
Economic heart burnings of the Southerners against Northerners, Sharia laws, abolishing of South Sudan’s autonomy and redrawing of boundaries by Numeri led to second civil war in South Sudan in 1983. Col John Garang belonging to South Sudan and a Christian, led the SPLM insurgency. Neighboring Ethiopia extended support and sanctuaries to SPLA and became a conduit for supply of arms to the rebels wanting to make oil-rich South Sudan independent.
Numeri was deposed in a coup in April 1985 by Defence Minister Gen. Abdul Rahman. He was also C-in-C armed forces and had been appointed by Numeri a month earlier. He went into exile to Egypt and returned in 1999 to take part in 2000 presidential elections but lost. He died on May 30, 2009.
Rule of Gen Omar El-Bashir
Gen Omar Bashir seized power in 1989 after he led a successful coup against Gen Rahman and the elected, but increasingly unpopular, prime minister of the time, Sadiq al-Mahdi. (Mahdi had served as elected PM from 1966 to 1967, and 1986 to 1989). The country ruled by Gen Bashir remained at war in the South for over two decades and also had to contend with foreign supported tribal war in western state of Darfur in 2003 and the two southern states of Kordufan and Blue Nile in 2011.
Division of Sudan
Peace agreement with SPLM ended the civil war in South Sudan in 2005. Autonomy was granted and a pledge for holding referendum on independence in next 6 years was given. John Garang was sworn in as Vice President and a new constitution framed. However, Garang couldn’t enjoy the fruits of power and he died in a plane crash in August 2005. Salva Kiir Mayardi succeeded him. In October that year, an autonomous government was formed in South Sudan with Juba as its capital. In the referendum held in January 2011, the southerners opted for full independence.
With lingering rebellion in the three states, together with Gen Omer al-Bashir getting indicted for war crimes against humanity by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Darfur had left little room for Bashir to obstruct or delay the division of the county in July 2011.
Sudan’s economy. It became weaker after Omer al-Bashir ascended to power. The economy became increasingly turbulent following the secession of South Sudan in 2011, which, up until then, had represented an important source of foreign currency, because of its oil output. The devaluation of the Sudanese pound in October 2018 led to wildly fluctuating exchange rates and a shortage of cash in circulation. Removal of wheat and electricity subsidies at the behest of IMF hit the lower classes badly. Long queues for basic goods such as petrol, bread, as well as cash from ATMs became a common sight. Sudan has around 70% inflation, second only to Venezuela.
Downfall of Gen. Omer al-Bashir
On 19 December 2018, a series of demonstrations broke out in several Sudanese cities, due in part to rising costs of living and deterioration of economic conditions at all levels of society. The protests quickly turned from demands for urgent economic reforms into demands for President Gen. Omer al-Bashir to step down.
In January 2018, large protests started on the streets of Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, in opposition to the rising prices of the basic goods including bread. The protests grew quickly and found support from different opposition parties. Youth and women’s movements also joined the protests.
In August 2018, the National Congress Party (NCP) backed Gen. Bashir’s 2020 presidential run, despite his increasing unpopularity and his previous declaration that he would not run in the upcoming elections. These measures led to rising opposition from within the party calling for respect of the constitution, which prevented Gen. Bashir from being reelected. Sudanese activists reacted on social media and called for a campaign against his nomination.
On 22 February 2019, Gen. Bashir declared a yearlong state of national emergency and dissolved the national and regional governments, replacing the latter with military and intelligence-service officers. The next day he appointed his chosen successor, Mohamed Tahir Ayala, as Prime Minister and former intelligence chief and Defence Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf as first Vice President.
Amid Sudan’s ongoing economic crisis, President Bashir reshuffled the government twice and the ruling NCP endorsed him to run for another term in 2020. Sudan made no meaningful measures to provide accountability for past or current abuses in conflict zones or other serious human rights violations. It didn’t cooperate with biased ICC which had levied charges against the president and four other men, of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur.
The protests reached a climax on 6 April, when demonstrators occupied the square in front of the military’s headquarters to demand that the army force the president out.
On the weekend of 6–7 April, there were massive protests for the first time since the declaration of the state of emergency. On 10 April, soldiers were seen shielding protesters from security forces, and on 11 April, the military removed Gen. Bashir from power in a coup d’état after his 30 years rule.
Takeover by Transitional Military Council (TMC)
Following Gen. Bashir’s removal from power, and takeover by a seven-member TMC led by Lt Gen Awad Ibn Auf on 11 April, 2019, street protests organized by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) and democratic opposition groups continued, calling on the ruling TMC to “immediately and unconditionally” step aside in favor of a civilian-led transitional government, and urging other reforms in Sudan. Negotiations between the TMC and the civilian opposition to form a joint transition government took place during late April and in May, but stopped when the dreaded Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and other TMC security forces carried out a massacre in capital city of Khartoum on 3 June. Unrest in Northern Sudan engulfed almost the whole of the country in turmoil.
Chain of events after April 11, 2019
On the evening of 12 April, 2019, Auf announced his resignation following intense protests. He handed over his seat to Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, the army’s inspector-general, to succeed him. The protesters were “jubilant” upon hearing this announcement as he was one of the generals who reached out to the protestors during the sit-in.
On 13 April, talks between the military and the protestors officially started. This came following announcements that the curfew imposed by Auf was lifted, that an order was issued to complete the release of those who were jailed under emergency laws issued by al-Bashir. It was also announced that National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) Chief Salah Gosh had resigned. Amnesty International asked the military coalition to investigate his role in protesters’ deaths.
On 14 April it was announced that TMC had agreed to have the protestors nominate a civilian Prime Minister and have civilians run every Government ministry outside the Defense and Interior Ministries. Another announcement was made that Auf had been removed as Defense Minister and that Lt. Gen. Abu Bakr Mustafa had succeeded Gosh as chief of NISS.
On 15 April, TMC announced that “The former ruling NCP will not participate in any transitional government,” despite not being barred from future elections.
It was also announced that the TMC was undergoing restructuring, which began with the appointments of Col. Gen. Hashem Abdel Muttalib Ahmed as army chief of staff and Col. Gen. Othman al-Hussein as deputy chief of staff.
On 16 April, the TMC announced that in response to the demands of the protestors, the nation’s three top prosecutors had been sacked.
On 17 April, ousted president Gen. Bashir was transferred from house arrest in the Presidential Palace to solitary confinement at Kobar prison in Khartoum, a prison notorious for holding political prisoners during Gen. Bashir’s time in power. Two of Gen. Bashir’s brothers, Abdullah and Al Abbas, were also arrested.
On 18 April, crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands demonstrated to demand civilian rule. The demonstration was the largest since Gen. Bashir was deposed. Protest leaders also announced plans to name their own transitional council in two days’ time if the military junta refused to step aside.
On 20 April, it was reported that officials had found suitcases full of Euros, US dollars, and Sudanese Pounds in Gen. Bashir’s home (totaling around $6.7 million). Parliament Speaker Ibrahim Ahmed Omar was placed under house arrest. The secretary general of the Islamic movement Al-Zubair Ahmed Hassan and former parliament speaker Ahmed Ibrahim al-Taher were also among those arrested in relation to these suitcases.
On 21 April, head of TMC promised to hand over power to the people. Nevertheless, protest leaders broke off talks with the military authorities the same day—saying that the military junta was not serious about transferring power to civilians and that the junta was composed of remnants of al-Bashir’s Islamist regime—and vowed to intensify demonstrations.
Meanwhile, as a result of strikes at oil companies in Port Sudan, landlocked South Sudan‘s oil exports were paralyzed.
On 27 April, an agreement was reached to form a transitional council made up jointly of civilians and military, though the exact details of the power-sharing arrangement were not yet agreed upon, as both sides wanted to have a majority. The military also announced the resignation of the three TMC members Lt. Gen. Omar Zain al-Abideen, Lt. Gen. Jalal al-Deen al-Sheikh and Lt. Gen. Al-Tayeb Babakr Ali Fadeel, who had submitted their resignations on 24 April.
On 7 May 2019, 21 former officials who served in al-Bashir’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in South Darfur were arrested after attempting to flee the country.
The military and protesters agreed on 15 May to a three-year transition period to civilian rule. The protest movement insisted a transition period of at least three years was needed to wash away the effects of Bashir’s rule and to ensure free and fair elections.
The two sides also agreed on the structure of a new government – including a sovereign council, a cabinet and a legislative body. But soon after, TMC scrapped all of these agreements on 3 June and said fresh elections would be held within nine months.
The TMC’s head said they had decided to “stop negotiating with the ‘Alliance for Freedom and Change’ (AFC) and to cancel what had been agreed on”.
Negotiations collapsed when a military crackdown on 3 June left dozens of protesters dead. 118 people were killed, 70 were raped and hundreds were injured in the Khartoum massacre as a result of Sudanese armed forces storming a camp and opening fire on protesters. Security forces also opened fire on protesters inside medical facilities. Security forces dumped bodies of some of the killed protesters in the river Nile. Much of the country was then shut down by an open-ended strike called by the opposition.
On 8 June, the SPA warned of a wide campaign by the TMC of arresting and disappearing political activists or threatening to kill them. The SPA called for activists to strictly follow the methods of nonviolent resistance in their campaign of civil disobedience and workplace strikes.
A 3-day general strike and nationwide civil disobedience campaign was carried out from 9–11 June. The SPA estimated 60–95% pupils’ and teachers’ absences from primary and high schools; 67–99% closure of municipal and national bus transport; 84–99% blocking of flights; 98–100% blocking of rail transport; 64–72% bank closures; 86% closure of retail markets; 60–94% closure of electricity, heating, oil and gas stations; 57–100% non-publication of newspaper publishing; 47–90% of medical services were closed, but free emergency medical care was provided; 90–100% of private and state legal services were shut down. Internet was shut down. Women were at the forefront of the demonstrations and one named Kandaka, meaning Nubian queen, led the chants.
On 12 June, the TMC agreed to release political prisoners and the FCA agreed to suspend the general strike. The two sides also agreed “to resume talks soon” about forming a civilian government. The FCA prepared a list of eight civilian members for a 15-member transitional governmental council, including three women.
On 13 June, TMC spokesperson stated that “some” security force members had been arrested over the 3 June massacre and that eighteen persons belonging to two different groups planning coups against the TMC, had also been arrested.
On 29 June, TMC security forces raided the headquarters of the SPA.
On 30 June, the 30th anniversary of Gen. Bashir’s coup d’état, twenty thousand people protested in Khartoum and elsewhere around Sudan to call for civilian rule and justice for the 3 June massacre. Ten people were killed during the demonstrations and 181 people injured among which 27 suffered gunshot wounds. Tear gas, live ammunition and stun grenades were used against protestors in Khartoum. 10 security personnel were also wounded. Military seemed reluctant to hand over power to civilians.
On July 01, three bloodstained bodies were found in Omdurman.
The violence of the government’s reaction to peaceful demonstrations sparked international concern.
Most African and western countries backed the protesters.
The governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE pledged $3 billion in aid to the military authorities, which was not welcomed by the protestors. Former urged discussions between the two sides, but not directly condemned military violence. Along with UAE and Egypt, Riyadh perhaps feared the protests could inspire similar events to take place on home turf.
The TMC’s Vice President, Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, flew to Saudi Arabia last month to meet the crown prince Mohamed Bin Salman, promising to stand with the kingdom against threats and continue sending Sudanese troops to help the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
The African Union (AU) suspended Sudan from its membership until a civilian led transitional authority was established.
The UN started removing all non-essential staff from Sudan but China and Russia blocked moves to impose sanctions.
The US National Security Advisor, John Bolton, condemned the Khartoum violence, calling it “abhorrent”.
Ethiopian PM Abiy and AU made an effort to mediate a truce by suggesting 5-member civil majority government for a 3-year transition period. Finally, mediation of Ethiopia and AU succeeded in brokering a deal on July 5.
On July 5, a landmark deal was signed between ruling TMC and the protest leaders to put an end to months of political unrest that had cost 136 lives since June 3, and had paralyzed life in the capital city. After two days of negotiations, the power sharing deal was brokered by the mediating Ethiopia and AU. The two sides agreed to establish a sovereign council with a rotating military and civil presidency for a period of 3 years and 3 months. Final draft will be inked on 8 July. The ruling body would include six civilians including five members from the protest group, and five from the military. During the transition period, the first 21 months will be presided by the military and the next 18 months by the civilians. The deal sparked celebrations and the people took to the streets to rejoice the deal. The deal has been welcomed by UAE.
Other troubled areas
Civil war in South Sudan
Just two years after gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan got engulfed in power struggle which claimed lives of tens of thousands of the population. According to the UNHCR, over 2.3 million got displaced. It has become Africa’s biggest refugee crisis. It accounts for 14 percent of the total number of displaced persons, second only to Syria which accounts for 40 percent.
The conflict began as a feud between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and to then-Vice President Riek Machar. It soon spiraled into fighting among several factions, engulfing the country in ethnic violence and eventually producing a devastating humanitarian crisis.
Hunger and disease racked the country and millions fled to neighboring countries. Human rights abuses, mass rape and potential war crimes have been documented on both sides of the conflict.
An estimated 383,000 people have died as a result of five years of civil war in the world’s youngest country. The death toll was highest in 2016 and 2017 after a power-sharing agreement brokered in 2015 fell apart. Another peace agreement was signed in September 2018, but South Sudan is still the most dangerous country where aid workers dread to step in. The conflict has damaged the country’s economy, contributing to soaring inflation and there is risk of famine.
Conflict in Darfur
The War in Sudan’s western region Darfur, is a major armed conflict that began in February 2003 when the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel groups began fighting the government of Sudan. A decade after the disastrous war, there is no end in sight. The intensity of the conflict has diminished since its early years, but most of Darfur is still extremely dangerous. There are 2.5 million displaced persons in camps and 2 million affected by the conflict, all dependent upon international humanitarian assistance.
Since early 2003, Sudanese government forces and militias called “Janjaweed” have been engaged in an armed conflict with rebel groups SLM and JEM. Sudanese government forces and the Janjaweed militias have waged a systematic campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against civilians who are members of the same ethnic groups as the rebels. Hundreds of villages have been burnt and destroyed, causing tens of thousands of civilian deaths, displacing millions of people, and raping and assaulting tens of hundreds of women and girls.
Sudanese forces blocked UN-AU Hybrid Operation in Darfur, UNAMID, peacekeepers and aid groups’ access to displaced people and conflict-affected areas on several occasions.
For more than two years, the government and JEM and SLM declared a unilateral cessation of hostilities in Darfur mediated by AU. However, after the beginning of the nationwide protests against the Gen. Bashir’s regime, they declined to engage with the government and voiced their support for the popular uprising. In a meeting facilitated by Chadian President Idris Deby, the TMC and two armed groups agreed to uphold a ceasefire in Darfur.
Conflict in Kordofan and Blue Nile States
War erupted in the two southern states in 2011 soon after the independence of South Sudan. Fight is going on between RSF and Nuba mountains based rebels of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) that are better armed and adept in fighting. There are little prospects of peace. The conflict has displaced 230,000 people to relief camps and caused heavy casualties.
Over seven years into the armed conflict in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, the government and armed opposition have failed to agree on modalities for supplying life-saving aid to civilians in need.
Sudan hosts refugees and migrants from the region and received nearly 200,000 more refugees from South Sudan, bringing the total over 770,000. Authorities have deported Eritreans, often without giving them an opportunity to apply for asylum. Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees from Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile live in camps in Chad, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
The writer is retired Brig, war veteran, defence analyst, columnist and author of 5 books. He served as Defence Attaché Egypt and Sudan from 1986 to 1989 and also was Dean of the Corps of Military attaches’ in Cairo. [email protected]