Will a Democratically-Led Sudan Ever Succeed?

On April 11 2019, Sudan’s President, Omar al-Bashir, was forced from power after nearly thirty years as ruler.

Al-Bashir’s government was an oppressive, surveillance state. His predecessor, Gaafar Nimeiry, acceded power in 1969, after a coup. Nimeiry remained in power until 1985, when al-Bashir led a successful, but bloodless, coup. Al-Bashir inherited a dictatorship that kept its power through “violent crackdowns and mass extinction of opponents.”

Two years before he was dethroned, to gain the support of Muslim extremists, Nimeiry imposed Sharia Law as the leading law in his country. Al-Bashir continued Nimeiry’s legacy through genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Protesting a totalitarian regime

Peaceful demonstrations against al-Bashir’s “totalitarian regime” began on 19 December 2018, as civilians protested against the economic crisis.

By May 2019, the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the civilian movement, the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) began to collide over who would rule the nation in al-Bashir’s absence.

In June 2019, while the FFC and the Transitional Military Council were in talks about a new democratic rule, the military, led by TMC leader, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, killed about 60 people in one of Sudan’s main protest camps in Khartoum.

Despite this, the constitutional declaration was created on August 4 2019, giving military leaders and protest leaders combined leadership for thirty-nine months. It was officially signed on the 24th of August, guaranteeing a democratic election under civilian rule after thirty-nine months.

Many critics have warned that the TMC will not give up power over to democratic rule, as was the goal of protesters. Instead, they believe that the military will begin a new totalitarian regime, by gradually changing the constitution to consolidate political power away from the people.

The reforging of a nation

Sudan is a nation with a troubling political history of war, torture, murder, massacre and rebellion.

“Countries are forged, not born, and making a nation takes more than unfurling a flag,” journalist Peter Martell wrote in his book, titled First Raise a Flag: How South Sudan Won the Longest War But Lost the Peace.

Sudan’s civilian rebellion is not the making of a nation, however, but the reforging of a nation. Winston Churchill wrote in 1899 that Sudan (or Soudan, at the time) was under the boot of a “tyrannical government”.

The River War: An Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan describes Egypt’s rule of Sudan between 1819 and 1883 as exploitative, miserable, unjust, burdensome and corrupt. In an anglocentric portrait of Sub-Saharan Sudan’s link to North African Egypt, Churchill argued that: “the qualities of mongrels are rarely admirable, and the mixture of the Arab and negro types has produced a debased and cruel breed, more shocking because they are more intelligent than the primitive savages.

“The stronger race soon began to prey upon the simple aboriginals. The dominant race of Arab invaders was unceasingly spreading its blood, religion customs, and language among the black aboriginal population, and at the same time it harried and enslaved them.”

Sudan would later be reconquered and led by an Anglo-Egyptian force under the command of Sir Herbert Kitchener.

While civil wars and economic strife are central factors in Sudan’s revolution, constitutional freedom from religious law plays a key part the rebellion. On 1 January 2019, opposition groups signed The Declaration of Freedom and Change. The declaration highlighted the opposition’s “peaceful struggle” for “an independent judicial system… based on a constitution, protection of human rights and the rule of law.”

The Declaration of Freedom and Change asked the Sudanese army “to take the side of the people and refrain from supporting Al Bashir by participating in the brutalizing and killing of unarmed civilians.”

Sudan’s civilians demanded democracy, yet democracy seems to be slipping from their hands.

The treath of the military

In the weeks following the creation of a constitutional declaration, walls painted with murals during the protests were whitewashed following military orders.

“The signals we are getting tell us that there is no real change, no real freedom,” graffiti artist Lotfy Abdel Fattah told AFP.

“We see this as an ugly act and a pathetic attempt to suppress the beauty, the letter and the spirit of the revolution,” The Alliance for Freedom and Change wrote in a statement released recently.

Furthermore, the Sudan Revolutionary Front – which brings together rebel groups from marginalised Sudanese regions – has rejected the constitutional declaration. Members of the SRF have not been represented in the new government. They, in turn, demand more peace talks.

Rebel leaders have a self-allotted thirty-nine months to revolutionise a country with a deep history of dictatorships, dissent and civil war. If it is to survive as a democratic nation, Sudan must be backed by its democratic neighbours in Sub-Saharan Africa.