The challenges facing Sudan’s transition to democratic rule after three decades of authoritarianism are so formidable they amount to a “political crisis par excellence” that must be resolved if the Afro-Arab nation is to overcome its many problems, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said on Tuesday.
Mr Hamdok announced the general outlines of an initiative to “protect” the transition in a televised address, saying he would be consulting with the political stakeholders to flesh out his proposals before another public announcement.
The proposals deal with transitional justice, dismantling the political legacy of ousted dictator Omar Al Bashir, salvaging the battered economy and negotiating a peaceful end to insurgencies in the west and south of the country, he said.
He also cited the creation of an interim parliament as part of his plan to enable and safeguard Sudan’s journey to democratic rule.
“All these challenges are a manifestation of a deeper crisis, one that I can categorise as a political crisis par excellence,” said the Sudanese leader. “Everything will stay where it is now if we don’t solve this crisis.
“It’s a frightening crisis if we think of its consequences.”
A career UN economist who took office in August 2019, Mr Hamdok said a “historic alliance” and a great deal of flexibility were required to shepherd Sudan’s “complicated” shift to democracy.
He spoke about divisions within the pro-democracy groups that engineered months of street protests against the 29-year rule of Al Bashir, who was removed by his generals in April 2019.
Showing unusual candidness, the Sudanese leader also cited tension between the civilian and military components of the post-Bashir transitional administration and of divisions within the military itself.
“It’s one of the most worrying issues,” he said of inter-military divisions.
He did not go into specifics, citing only the duality of foreign policy decision-making, a possible reference to his government’s past complaints that generals were making foreign policy decisions without consulting with civilian members of the transitional administration.
Sudan, he said, marketed to the world its “unique” partnership between the military and pro-democracy groups after Al Bashir’s downfall.
“But this partnership is not moving in a straight line,” he said.
The prime minister’s comments came one week after he warned of a devastating civil war if pro-democracy groups did not close ranks and work together.
Also last week, he sought to reassure the long-suffering Sudanese that the ambitious but harsh reforms introduced by his government would eventually turn the woeful economy around.
His comments painted an unpolished picture of the gravity of the political, security and economic situation in Sudan more than two years after Al Bashir’s removal.
The challenges include tense relations between civilian and military leaders over the boundaries of authority, a surge in violent crime, shortages of basic items like bread and petrol, and price increases – all of which are feeding popular discontent and giving Sudan the appearance of a nation that is about to come unglued.
Sudan has been beset by almost continuous civil wars since it gained independence in 1956. Those conflicts, which killed and displaced millions, have devastated the economy and resulted in a series of military coups that ousted democratically elected governments and put generals in power.
The wars have proved costly. For example, Sudan’s current bout of economic woes, possibly the worst since independence, are rooted in large part in the 2011 secession of the oil-rich and mainly animist and Christian south of the country after more than two decades of civil war with the north.
“We haven’t succeeded in realising a national project since independence,” he said.
Referring to Sudan’s bouts of democratic rule, he said: “They were short-lived experiments that never had the resources to place Sudan on the right path.
“The 2019 revolution, however, offered a realistic chance for that national project to be realised.”