A year of struggle for freedom in Sudan
It has been more than a year, since long-time Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir was removed and put under house arrest on April 11, 2019. How is the transition going during a worsening economic crisis and a global pandemic?
After the president and his fellow leaders were arrested in April 2019, the military refused the civilians to take over, and the coup was followed by a military junta. This period was marked by long months of often deadly protests and sit-ins. Finally, a Constitutional Declaration was agreed upon in August, according to which a Sovereignty Council is running the country for 39 months. The Council is composed of both military and civilian personnel. On August 21, the new Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, was sworn in. Hamdok is an economist, who worked at the African Development Bank, and most lately at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
Removing Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism
One of the priorities of the new government, as the new PM said, is “to remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and to stop punishing the people of Sudan for crimes committed by the former regime.” This would mean lifting US sanctions, which have been damaging the country’s economy. While this is a slow process, the Sudanese government has already taken numerous steps in this regard. New laws guarantee a significantly greater degree of religious freedom, and they aim to protect women better. Relations with western countries, such as Germany and the US are also being re-established.
In what many describe as a historic moment, Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan (the transitional head of state) met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last February. As Al-Burhan said: “In our meeting (…) we stressed the role Israel needs to play in relation to Sudan’s listing as a state sponsor of terrorism.” As a result, the Israeli air force has been allowed to use Sudan’s airspace. Other developments helping the removal of Sudan from the state sponsors of terrorism include Bashir being sentenced to 2 years for corruption charges and an agreement to extradite him to the International Criminal Court. Khartoum has managed to compensate the victims of the USS Cole bombings, closing the related ongoing case at a US court, and keeps on negotiating with other victims of terrorism.
Rebuilding the economy
The reason Sudan needs the US sanctions to be lifted is its dire need for financial investment and international aid. Sudan has an ever-rising inflation rate, with only Venezuela and Zimbabwe in a worse situation in this regard. In February, the CPI (Consumer Price Index) reached 71% according to Sudan’s Central Bureau of Statistics. In its recently published World Economic Outlook, the IMF corrected its 2020 projections for the inflation rate from 66,4% to 81,3% and 91,1% for 2021. They further forecast -7,2% real GDP growth (-2,5% in 2019) in their analysis, already considering the effects of the COVID-19. Although Saudi-Arabia and the UAE earlier pledged a joint $3 billion aid to Sudan, this has been suspended after delivering one billion dollars’ worth assistance.
It was estimated at the end of the previous year, that in 2020 almost one in every four Sudanese will need humanitarian assistance. This is mostly due to food insecurity. Even though there are subsidies on fuel and bread, there is a serious shortage of bread all over the country. An increasing number of people have to wait for hours, not only at bakeries but at petrol stations, too. Most recently, electricity outages are also becoming common. According to the Finance Minister, commodity subsidies make up 36% of the state’s 2020 budget. A month ago, the IMF suggested lifting fuel subsidies, something the transitional government also promised before but hasn’t delivered on yet. Removing the subsidies would mean a sharp increase in prices, making life even harder for ordinary citizens. One of the latest steps of the government was raising minimum wages by 700% for civil servants.
Impact of coronavirus in Sudan
As in all developing countries, the novel coronavirus will have serious implications in Sudan, too. The virus can also hinder the government’s efforts to gain more financial support, as the international community, including Europe and the US, is focused on fighting the disease, while it is also suffering a recession.
As of April 18, Sudan only had 66 confirmed cases of COVID-19. However, the first locally transmitted case was a doctor. He got the infection from the sixth case, who returned from the UAE. After a partial lockdown could not stop a gathering of a small number of protesters, 9 further cases were found during one day in Khartoum, with the capital imposing a full lockdown starting on April 18, Saturday.
A failed assassination attempt, protests
It is however not only the economy that needs to be fixed. Dismantling the “deep-state”, the connections of the previous regime takes a lot of effort. The “Forces for Freedom and Change” (FFC) is the main opposition movement that spearheaded the protests. The notion that it was simply the FFC and the spontaneous uprising of the people that achieved the success of the revolution is now being questioned, as leaders of the movement admitted that they met and talked with Salah Abdullah and were helped by him. This raises serious questions about last year’s events, as Abdullah was the leader of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), responsible for numerous atrocities.
In January, gunfire erupted on the streets of Khartoum, after the NISS was disbanded and some of its officers revolted. Early March, Hamdok became the target of an assassination attempt, while heading to his office. Thankfully, he survived and did not get injured. At the same time, Radio Dabanga reports that the government is firing hundreds of government employees, associated with the former regime. As some are losing their jobs and the economic situation is poor, there is not only insecurity but a growing sense of tension in the society. This impatience and dissatisfaction were also seen, as Islamist groups staged 3 protests with a few hundred people in April, even in spite of the partial lockdown.
Peace process and state-level transition
As per the Constitutional Agreement, it was requested that the government reaches a peace agreement with various armed groups in the country. Negotiations were being held in Juba, South Sudan until they were suspended due to the death of the Sudanese Defence Minister. After several extensions, the last date to finalize the power-sharing is May 9. Earlier, the consensus was to appoint new state governors, only when a peace deal has been achieved. However, it looks now that the new governors might be appointed before a peace agreement is accepted.
Even after that, there is still a lot to do to achieve true peace and freedom in Sudan. What really might become of Sudan, we will probably only see when the transition period is over.
The author of this article is Aron Lovas, International Business Economics (BSc) student at Budapest Business School. Aron is an Associate at International Diplomatic Student Association and Editor at IDSA Foreign Affairs Newsletter.