July 7, 2020
On July 7, the Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient (CARPO) and the EastWest Institute (EWI) hosted their fifth “Brussels MENA Briefing”—a series of after-work briefings on the MENA region—focusing on how to rescue Sudan’s transition process, as well as the role the international community can play in Sudan’s political transition.
Speakers included Yasir Zaidan, lecturer of international affairs and security studies at the National University of Sudan, and Dr. Annette Weber, senior fellow at the Africa and Middle East division of the German Institute for International and Security Studies (SWP) in Berlin. EWI’s Vice President of the MENA program, Kawa Hassan, served as moderator.
What started in Sudan as a demonstration against austerity measures in December 2018, turned into a mass peaceful revolution that led to the ousting of long-ruling president Omar Al-Bashir on April 11, 2019. Military and civilian leaders signed a power-sharing agreement in August 2019, initiating a transition towards a democratic government under the guidance of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Chairman of Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council, Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. The military members are to lead the council for the first 22 months, followed by civilian leadership, with elections scheduled for 2022.
However, as the speakers remarked, to successfully complete the transition in the face of political and economic challenges, Sudan needs the support of the international community. It was pointed out during the briefing that the military still holds much of the economic power and is interfering in civilian portfolios, such as foreign affairs. Due to the dire economic situation and the serious health challenges presented by COVID-19, the transitional government lacks the means for many of its policy initiatives. One speaker noted the lack of resources needed to create institutions that support the democratic process, such as an electoral institution.
In this respect, the speakers pointed out that the Sudan Partnership Conference co-hosted by Germany, the EU, the UN and Sudan offered some solace. The donor conference, held virtually from Berlin on June 25, included the financial support of delegations from 40 countries and 15 international organizations. Although the conference did not reach the financial goals hoped for by the Sudanese transitional government, both speakers stressed that the conference led to several breakthroughs.
One speaker observed that the conference brought international attention to Sudan and the EU’s political support of protesters’ demands was perceived positively by Sudanese civilians. Others highlighted the important steps made by international financial institutions towards debt relief, despite Sudan remaining on the U.S. “State Sponsor of Terrorism” list. Lastly, the discussants noted that the conference acknowledged the measures taken by the Sudanese transitional government towards progress in economic reform, such as setting up anti-corruption commissions and freezing bank accounts linked to the former regime.
Despite these important breakthroughs, the discussants pointed to several areas in need of further attention, both from the international community and within Sudan. As the experts noted, it is important that the transitional government communicates its achievements, such as its positive economic reform policies, to its citizens. Furthermore, there is a need for a broader representation within the transitional process. Another finding drawn from the briefing is that the youth, a driving force in the revolution, need to translate their political movement into political influence.
As for the international community, the speakers concluded that there must be common understanding among external actors—from Gulf countries to the EU—and the Sudanese transitional government on key concepts such as democracy, economic reform and security. This need is urgent, considering the fragility of Sudan’s transition in a region full of unrest.