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Sudan’s fragile transition to democracy will not succeed unless the military submits to civilian command and integrates rival security forces into its ranks, but generals refuse to relinquish power, analysts and activists say.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok brought up the topic after the military foiled a coup by deviant officers September 21. Abdel Fatah al-Burhan, chief of the military and chairman of the Sovereign Council leading the transition, replied that civilian leaders ungrateful for the military’s role in protecting the road to democracy.
On September 26, Burhan tried to prove that the army was indispensable by his… withdraw troops against protecting the headquarters of a commission charged with recovering billions of dollars in stolen assets and dismantling the former regime’s networks. The military too removed the personal protection by committee leader Mohamed al-Faki Sulieman.
Two days later, an Islamic State terrorist cell killed five counter-terrorism officers, an incident that confirmed Burhan’s view that the democratic transition needs the protection of the military.
Jonas Horner, an expert on Sudan and senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, told Al-Monitor that the military must be part of a transition because the coup and the terrorist attack have shown that there are actors in Sudan’s transition. want to spoil. He noted, however, that the military has not yet shown a willingness to eventually be subject to civilian command and control, either during the transition or after the 2024 elections.
“The military has played a pretty good game, but they haven’t done anything material to distract them from power,” he said.
The military could save itself by putting its commercial businesses under civilian control, because it… promised to do in March. The military currently controls a number of sectors, including Sudan’s two most lucrative exports: sesame and Arabic gom – neither of which are taxed by the state.
Bringing these companies under civilian control could accelerate Sudan’s economic recovery by encouraging investment, said Patrick Heinisch, an economist focusing on Sudan for Helaba, a German commercial banking company.
“Sudan is still seen as a high-risk destination for investment. The most recent coup attempt may have contributed to this uncertainty. In addition, the lack of transparency of military-owned companies also deters investor interest,” he told Al-Monitor.
Defense spending is also increasing 12% of Sudan’s budget and is expected to tax the economy after the military absorbs thousands of rebel fighters Which signed a peace agreement with the Sovereign Council in October 2020 in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.
Burhan’s grip on the economy has left activists fearing the military’s quest to return to power. A number of resistance committees – networks of pro-democracy activists who mobilized against former dictator Omar al-Bashir – have protested the military’s rhetoric and actions in recent days.
Samar Tagalsir is one of them. She told Al-Monitor that the economy will never improve as long as key sectors remain in the hands of the military. She said she does not blame civilian politicians for the obstacles they face, but believes they should turn their street support into political pressure.
“The citizens [in government] could urge us to get the military to share or cooperate with files related to the economy,” she noted.
Suliman Baldo, an expert on Sudan and senior advisor to The Sentry, a policy team that tracks black money across Africa, told Al-Monitor that the civilian coalition known as the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) is divided. . He said the military is pressuring the FFC to accommodate new players who feel left out of the transition in an effort to reduce civilian power.
“The military doesn’t want civilians to play a role in security sector reform, and they see the people in charge of the FFC as hardliners,” Baldo said.
The only reform Hamdok and Burhan do agree on is the need to integrate a powerful paramilitary known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) into the military. However, RSF openly leads Mohamad Hamdan Dagalo rejected the merger in June.
The RSF evolved from the brutal war in the western province of Darfur, which claimed more than 350,000 lives between 2003 and 2008. At the time, the military armed and trained local herders and camel herders to crush rebel groups demanding an end to political and economic marginalization.
In 2013, Bashir repackaged Darfur’s pro-government militia leaders in the RSF, which is now an independent force with a web of shady commercial activity and offshore accounts. Bringing the RSF into the military would reduce the financial and political autonomy, a concession Dagalo views as an existential threat to his power.
Citizens’ calls for security sector reform have thus brought Dagalo and Burhan closer together, with both men blaming citizens for the struggling economy since the coup attempt.
Despite the marriage of convenience, Burhan and Dagalo could soon be at odds again, Baldo said. One source of tension is that the RSF allegedly pays significantly higher salaries than the military, although the exact disparity is unknown. Baldo noted that many mid-ranking army officers don’t like seeing their top military commanders salute Dagalo, whom they view as an undeserved warlord who never went to military school.
“The situation has aroused a lot of resentment among the lower and middle class” [army] commanders who fear that the army could become a secondary force in Sudan,” Baldo concluded. “That is why there is pressure on top military commanders from within the military to integrate the RSF.”
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