Sudan's finance minister: world will ‘move on’ from army takeover

World will still need to engage with Sudan even though aid to the country has stopped after military took power, Jibril Ibrahim tells 'The National'

The international community and key financial institutions, who have suspended assistance, will again deal with the incoming civilian-led technocratic government of Sudan even if ousted prime minister Abdullah Hamdok does not return to power, the country's finance minister has said.

In an exclusive interview, Jibril Ibrahim — one of the few ministers to have kept their jobs after the military seized power on October 25 — told The National the world “will move on” from the events of October 25, when the army dissolved Cabinet, declared a state of emergency and arrested dozens of politicians and activists, including advisers to Mr Hamdok.

Sudan is a big and vital country with lots of potential and resources,” he said.

“We are heading towards a new government of technocrats and will expand political participation and have an inclusive Parliament that will protect our democracy and hold the government accountable.”

Mr Ibrahim admitted that all bids for new foreign investment have been paused since October 25, posing a serious challenge to the North African country's struggling economy.

The finance minister is one of nine ministers to have retained their posts in line with a quota of portfolios given to representatives of opposition groups in several regions in Sudan. At least one of them, the minister of urban development, resigned in protest at the military intervention.

The military takeover has drawn international criticism, sparked widespread protests in the streets of the capital Khartoum and elsewhere in the country, and proved costly to the country's young entrepreneurs and its emerging business community.

The World Bank has paused economic aid and stopped processing any new operations in the country, while some major multinational companies have backtracked on signing lucrative contracts there.

Western powers have also put economic assistance to Sudan on hold, saying that relief for tens of billions of dollars of foreign debt is at risk unless there is a return to a democratic transition.

Mr Ibrahim said that Mr Hamdok has made unrealistic demands in negotiations to end the current political stalemate, and he blamed what he called the intransigence of the Hamdok camp for hardening attitudes on both sides of the table.

“Preconditions have complicated the negotiations. You should come with your demands and show flexibility and not set conditions before the start of the talks. This muddies the mediation waters,” Mr Ibrahim said, referring to the Forces of Freedom and Change (FCC). The pro-democracy umbrella group led the 2019 uprising against long-time autocrat Omar Al Bashir and forms the base of Mr Hamdok's political support.

An FCC spokesman told The National that accusations of a power monopoly were merely an “excuse” for the army and its supporters to take over, saying that Cabinet portfolios had been distributed fairly before the coup.

Military takeover was ‘not a coup’

Some Sudanese and outside parties have disagreed on the right language to describe what has happened in a country that witnessed repeated coups and failed attempts since it declared independence in 1956.

Mr Ibrahim said terminology matters and that he did not believe “coup” was the right word to describe the events of last month.

“A coup happens when the army seizes everything. This hasn’t happened this time. The army had to intervene to rectify the course of transition to democracy and when it felt that national security was at stake,” he said, echoing comments from military head Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan.

“Some parties in the FFC wanted to negate the army completely. This was wrong as it’s part and parcel of society in Sudan. We need a balance of power without excluding anyone from the political and ethnic mosaic of Sudan.”

The finance minister is the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in Darfur, which played a key role in the conflict that broke out in 2003.

Rebels led by the JEM accused the government of oppressing non-Arabs and favouring Arab groups in the area. The UN estimates 300,000 were killed in the war and nearly 3 million were displaced. The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for crimes against humanity for Al Bashir and several Sudanese military officials.

Last year, the movement — and other rebel groups in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan — signed a peace agreement in the South Sudanese capital to end the conflicts and bring rebel forces and officials into the government.

The peace deal was negotiated by Mr Hamdok's transitional government.

‘Stable governments can’t rely on one man’

In the week before the coup, Mr Ibrahim supported protests and a sit-in outside the presidential palace in Khartoum to demand the sacking of the Hamdok government.

Protesters in the capital shouted, “Down with the government of hunger”, drawing attention to the plight of ordinary Sudanese forced to wait for hours each day to buy bread and fuel, with the local currency having lost much of its value.

Mr Ibrahim acknowledged that Mr Hamdok has unique capabilities — especially as an economist and in his relations with international financial institutions such as the World Bank — but said the task of governing Sudan is more complicated than leading an economic campaign.

Moreover, he said, it was wrong for Sudan's political establishment to be centred on one leader.

“They are many candidates and competitors to Mr Hamdok, whom I highly respect. But we don’t want to have a country that centres on one person, whether from the civilian or the military camps. We want to have a solid state with functioning establishments and are totally against any form of dictatorship.”

He hinted at divisions within the FCC, which has split into two main factions.

His movement, the JEM, has joined forces with another former rebel group in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SPLM), as well as a group of political parties to form a splinter coalition opposed to the main FFC.

“I think that the power of the ruler is linked to those who surround him. If he or she finds a harmonious and coherent team who are conscious of their role, they would be able to lead them. However, if they find a contentious team who hold different and conflicting views and opinions, they will face many hardships,” said Mr Ibrahim.

On the continuing protests against the military takeover, the finance minister said he believes that people in Sudan are not as angry as media coverage would suggest and that future large-scale demonstrations were unlikely.

“I don't foresee demonstrations of millions of people and I don't see an enraged public, but this does not mean that there aren't some people who object to what we are living through. There are some opposition forces who express using different methods such as putting up barricades on the streets. These have diminished to a great extent,” he said.

Pro-democracy groups have launched civil disobedience campaigns since the takeover.

Local resistance committees and the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which were among the prominent entities that led demonstrations in the uprising that toppled Al Bashir, are organising a campaign of protests and barricades to try to reverse the military takeover.

Internet services have been almost completely disrupted since the October 25 coup and phone coverage remains patchy.

Updated: November 10th 2021, 5:10 AM
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