Sudan: An unending transition

By Simon E. Kulusika 

Opinion

Sudanese protesters (File/Supplied/Nyamilepedia)

January 17th 2019 (Nyamilepedia) – The last three weeks have witnessed wide coverage of Sudan by major global media. The Focus on Sudan has been occasioned by protests in the streets of major cities of Sudan. Some protestors were chanting hostile slogans against rising cost of living, due to scarcity of a number of essential goods, such as, bread, fuel and so forth. Other protestors were demanding change of regime. That is, Omar al-Bashir and his government must go. These protests, regardless of the underlying causes, have, once more, evidenced the fact that Sudan has not transcended its an unending cycle of transition.

From the dawn of Sudanization, the country has been run under provisional constitutions. The military juntas of Abud, Nimeiri and al-Bashir named their respective constitutions as ‘permanent’. But this was merely a label or a symbolic designation, devoid of any nationalistic signification, in terms of being capable to effect socio-economic transformation in the country.

There is mystical relationship between civilian politicians and military elites in Sudan. At certain times this mysticism would appear to transform itself into complicated mythology. Where civilian politicians are under politico-economic pressures, they tend to run, in dramatic ways, to military barracks, seeking support to stay in power. But in most cases, the refuge to the military is in order to urge the military to take over power. Otherwise the country might collapse or disintegrate. This was the pretext that propelled Gen Abud to assume power in Sudan, in 1958. Virtually Gen. Abud was given power on an Umma Party Silver plate.

The military was used by disgruntled civilian politicians to overcome their civilian counterparts who were seen as obstacles to the realization of revolutionary or reformatory agenda. This was the case with the coups of Nimeiri and Bashir respectively.

After the expulsion of the communists from the Constituent Assembly (CA), they went underground. They worked hard to build a cell of leftist officers for their revolutionary designs. The communists, with the assistance of these newly co-opted leftist officers, were able to stage a blood-less coup in 1969.

Nimeiri, as one of the leading leftist leaning officers was chosen as Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). It was a temporary arrangement, to give the communists time to craft certain strategies for governance, and to prevent counter coup. But, as events had revealed, Nimeiri refused to relinquish power until he was forcibly removed by Gen Suwar-al-Dhahab, in 1985.

When the National Islamic Front (NIF, a disguised name for Muslim Brotherhood) quarreled with Umma Party, they resolved to topple the coalition government of the Umma Party and democratic Unionist Party. The government was led by al-Saddik al-Mahdi. NIF found sympathy among military officers with strong Islamist-reformist orientation. They mobilized these officers and effected a coup, in June, 1989. NIF chose al-Baher a caretaker Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation (that came to be known as National Salvation Council). As it is now known to all, al-Bashir defied all attempts to remove him from power. It remains to be seen, if his Mak Nimir way of thwarting dangers will work against the protesters.

The preceding accounts would appear to suggest that in the politics of Sudan, the civilian politicians tend to rely more on the military to cover up their vulnerability and inability to perform or deliver services to the people. They are quick to call on the military elites to salvage their sinking boat whenever faced by immediate defeat in a Legislature. They are known for intrigue and conspiracy in dealing with one another.

Economic problems of Sudan are not new phenomena. All successive national governments, since independence, have failed to adequately deal with them. Sudan has continued to rely on three basic products for generating foreign currency: cotton, gum Arabic and livestock. To these were added sugar and crude oil. The latter shifted attention away from the diversification of agricultural produces and improvement in livestock activities. As a result of petro-dinnar inceasing inflows, prices of petrol and other goods were adjusted downward. Massive subsidies were implemented to the delight of the public. The masses roared in allulations in every corners of streets, accompanied by Allahu Akbar ; Viva Bashir. People, even disregarded the fact that al-Bashir was a protégé of al-Turabi, the late leader of Muslim Brotherhood of Sudan. It is observed that all past solutions to arrest economic melt-down were piecemeal, unsystematic and fragmentary.

Al-Bashir has in his hands two hot sweet potatoes: economic crisis and deepening political discontent, amounting to revolt. He has to handle them in a judicious manner to avert catastrophe in Sudan.

In respect of economic crisis, Bashir has to adopt immediate, short-term and long-term measures.
Immediate measures should involve adjustment of prices of essential goods, including petrol, and ensuring their availability in the market. Lifting of restriction on the circulation of foreign currency, to stimulate export and import. This is likely to calm the protesters and hold down inflation.

Short- and long-term measures should address structural weaknesses in the economy, the attraction of FDI and improvement of balance of payment to enhance Sudan’s international trade. The issue of petrol will remain critical until Sudan finds amicable understanding on the use of pipeline of South Sudan in return for concessionary petroleum price. This will enable Sudan to obtain cheap petrol from South Sudan and make same available for domestic consumption at an affordable price for the public.

On the political front, al-Bashir has three options, all of them require a strong commitment to patriotism and calls for a high degree of statesmanship:

Bashir may declare to the nation his willingness to step-down on certain conditions. Then, he should negotiate those conditions with the Committee of Professional Organizations (CPOs) and the Committee of Political Parties (CPPs), as was done by Gen. Abud, in 1964.
Bashir may act unilaterally by dissolving his government and other existing political structures and replace them with new structures to undertake national reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Such drastic measures may appease protesters, if they were to be accompanied by the holding of free and fair general and presidential elections within specific period.
Bashir to negotiate with CPOs and CPPs for the formation of a Transitional Government of National Redemption (TGNR). This government is to be governed by a State Council (SC) as collective executive presidency, and a Legislative Assembly (LA) as a lower house of legislature. The SC comprises a President (Bashir or someone else), a Deputy President (al-Mahdi or al-Mirghani) and other members (6 – 7). Decision of SC shall be taken by consensus.
Members of LA should be nominated by CPOs and CPPs based on specific formulae.
The Prime Minister (PM) is chosen by LA. He or she acts as executive administrator of Council of Ministers (CM). The PM loses his/her position if he/she loses no confidence vote in LA. Prime Minister shall not be dismissed by SC.

The above three alternatives should be considered by all the parties to the conflict and a choice made. Failure to agree, will generate more protests that will result in violence not in the interests of civilian politicians nor military elites.

The records of civil political parties, in terms of achievements in matters of socio-economic development has been dismal.

One must be bold enough to concede these realities. The civil political parties in modern Sudan have failed to realize the aspirations of the people. The 10 years they have been in power were wasted in political squabbles and bickering within the SC, CM, AS well as in the many CAs that had risen and rapidly fallen.

The author,  Simon E. Kulusika, is an associate Professor  of Zambia Open University (ZAOU).