Sudan Country Report 2022
In 2019, Sudan witnessed the end of 30 years of an authoritarian Islamist regime following months of popular uprisings that spread to various regions of the country. The uprisings, which first broke out because of a dramatic rise in food prices, quickly escalated to call for the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir to end decades of corruption, repression and impoverishment of Sudanese citizens. Following months of intensive negotiations, violence and contestations, a power-sharing deal was reached between the military and civilians that brought a transitional government to power in September 2019. Intended to last for no more than three years, the transitional government’s main agenda was to lead the country toward democratic transformation through elections to be held at the end of the transition period.
The Constitutional Declaration, which was signed in August 2019, established executive, legislative and judicial institutions to rule Sudan during the transition period. Heading these is the Sovereignty Council, composed of five military and six civilian members, led by Lt. Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Under its supervision is the cabinet led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok; a legislative council shall be formed in March 2021. To tackle the severe economic crisis, a Supreme Committee for Economic Emergencies was established in April 2020.
In October 2020, following months of negotiations, the government of Sudan signed a peace agreement in Juba with three Darfuri armed groups, represented by the Revolutionary Front, to end years of armed conflict in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Two major armed groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A, led by Abdul Wahid al-Nur) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA-North, led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu), did not sign the agreement. The agreement established that leaders of the armed groups shall be given seats in the Sovereignty Council, and grants autonomy to South Kordofan and Blue Nile State. The Revolutionary Front shall be merged into the national armed forces.
In December 2020, a Council of Partners for the Transitional Period was formed, including Fattah al-Burhan, Abdalla Hamdok, representatives of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), and parties of the peace process. This council is meant to mobilize the necessary support of all stakeholders involved to ensure the transition period’s success.
Externally, the new political leadership concentrated on ending Sudan’s international isolation. In its quest to deescalate and undo much of the damage caused by the former regime’s foreign policy, Sudan normalized relations with Israel, adopted a balanced relationship with its neighbors and made efforts to be delisted from the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism.
Internally, this period witnessed significant improvements in freedoms, human rights and a decline in state violence. However, civil society still lacks the power to influence decision-making and political decisions remain far from being an outcome of legitimate procedures.
Dismantling the former National Salvation Regime and removing it from power has been a top priority for the transitional government. The notorious National Congress Party (NCP) was dissolved in November 2019. Although a lack of clear vision has generally marked the government’s economic policies, the transitional government removed subsidies and adopted currency devaluation, among other policies, to fix the country’s economic problems, demonstrating a tendency to implement IMF prescriptions.
The transformational progress of Sudan however was heavily tested by the fact that General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), ended up the de facto ruler of the country. Linked to the horrors committed in the Darfur region, the RSF became not only a difficult actor in Sudan’s political and security structure, but also runs a parallel economy that is becoming stronger by the day. Today in control of gold mining and export in Sudan, Dagalo increasingly penetrates the state and society, creating a challenge for the transformation to good governance.
Sudan – the country that until its split in 2011 was the largest on the African continent – has struggled to achieve stable democratic and economic transformation since its independence from British colonial rule in 1956. The political history of Sudan has been caught in a vicious circle of fluctuations between short democratic rule, followed by long military regimes that led to political instability, economic failure and the prevalence of armed conflicts in various regions. The traditional leaders empowered by British rule and their allies, including the educated, merchant and tribal sheikhs, have largely shaped political, social and economic developments in postcolonial Sudan. Their grip of wealth and power has remained unchanged to the present day.
Today’s situation in Sudan was shaped by a long civil war that started in South Sudan as a rebellion against British rule in 1955. From this guerrilla war grew a liberation movement that fought against successive central governments, punctuated by 11 years of peace from 1972 to 1983.
The Inqaz (“Salvation”) regime, which ruled Sudan for three decades between 1989 and 2019, redefined the war as a religious one between Arab Muslims in the north and non-Arab “infidels” in the south and adopted the slogan of Islamic jihad against the southern rebel groups. In 1989, the government established the Popular Defense Forces, a paramilitary force, part of the Sudanese military forces with Islamic jihadi ideology, to fight the rebel groups in South Sudan.
The war, which cost more than four million lives and forced 10 million to flee, ended officially with the signing of the power-sharing Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). Six years later, South Sudanese went into a referendum granted by the CPA and voted for South Sudan’s independence in July 2011.
By the time the conflict in South Sudan was easing, another conflict broke out in the Darfur, Kordofan and Blue Nile regions over claims the central government marginalized these regions. The war in the Darfur region broke out in February 2003 when two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), began to fight the Sudanese government. Disputes over land and water between semi-nomadic sheepherders and non-nomadic farmers have been cited as major root causes of the conflict. The government responded with a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the non-Arab population of Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed and millions displaced. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest verdict against then-President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
The Inqaz regime adopted economic liberalization policies and the state retreated from its role in various sectors, including education, health and subsidies for marginalized groups in society. Distant from the neoliberal development model conditions, privatization policies in Sudan were far from being fair and transparent, and they have been implemented in a market that lacks competition and an independent private sector. Coupled with the negative consequences of listing Sudan on the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism since 1993, the above-mentioned malpractices resulted in market failure and a monopoly of the network of loyalists to the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) dominated by the military businesses. Under these policies, Sudan suffered from arrested economic development, increasing inequality rates and corruption, which created social tension and frustration leading to the 2018/2019 uprisings.
On October 3, 2020, the civilian-led government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) signed the Juba Peace Agreement. The SRF is a large coalition of armed groups including the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the Sudan Liberation Movement/Minnawi (SLM/M) and the Agar faction of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/North (SPLM/N).
Two powerful armed groups did however not sign the agreement. These are the al-Hilu faction of the SPLM/N, which controls large parts of South Kordofan and is connected to South Sudan, and the al-Nur faction of the SLM, which controls parts of Darfur, especially the Jebel Marra mountains, and enjoys broad support, especially in Darfur’s IDPs camps.
The fruits of the political changes that took place in April 2019 have not yet been observed in large areas of Sudan. The state monopoly on the use of force is established only in urban centers but challenged elsewhere. Eastern Sudan, Kordofan and Darfur remain characterized by continuous armed attacks, ethnic clashes and rebellion against the central government. The uncontrolled circulation of weapons in areas with loose security continues to pose a sincere security threat to the civilian population.
The former regime has systematically weakened the military by dismissing thousands of officers who were not considered loyal to the Islamist government and transformed it into an ideological army, rather than a national army that accommodates all the Sudanese people. Instead, it involved the military in internal civil wars. In the 1990s, the Popular Defense Forces, a militia affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, recruited thousands of young people as Mujahideen brigades to fight the Sudan People Liberation Movement in the South (SPLM/S).
In the 2000s, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, were created to fight rebels in Darfur. The RSF came to practically control the security and political situation in Sudan despite being considered unprofessional, undisciplined and not effectively trained. As part of the Sudanese Armed Forces, it continues to commit violations against civilians, despite growing calls for its disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.
The United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) officially ended its mandate on December 31, 2020. Established as peacekeeping mission in 2007, it was replaced by the U.N. Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), which acts primarily at the political level and not to maintain military stability.
Monopoly on the use of force
When the Islamists came to power in Sudan in 1989 through a military coup, they embarked on an Islamization project that aimed to restructure society to their interpretation of what constitutes the Islamic ideal. Non-Arab and non-Muslim groups in western and southern Sudan in particular did not identify with this dominant state identity; discrimination and structural exclusion made them feel like second-class citizens.
Initially, the 2019 revolution presented a moment of inclusiveness. The youth of the dominant Arab tribes along the Nile basin allied themselves with marginalized groups from western and southern Sudan. However, hopes for their acknowledgment quickly faded away: Hamdok’s first cabinet is still dominated by the urban middle class, mainly from northern and central Sudan, and Sudanese returning from abroad, that is, the historically privileged segments of the society. Unless the state recognizes the historical shortcomings of its definition of state identity, shares power and wealth with the rest of the population, and brings justice to those communities affected by the previous regime’s crimes, its legitimacy will remain questionable.
The initial refusal of the armed groups in Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and Darfur to join Hamdok’s first cabinet reveals mistrust in the uprising leaders and their objectives, that to them, are led by historically privileged groups. The alternative vision presented by the marginalized groups is to restructure Sudan such that all ethnic groups are equal and people with African/non-Islamic identity are recognized.
The Juba Peace Agreement includes articles that guarantee respect for religious, ethnic and cultural pluralism in Sudan. The agreement promised to create a state identity that is inclusive of all groups regardless of gender, religious, cultural or ethnic affiliation. The agreement also included articles concerning positive discrimination in areas that suffered from civil war and marginalization, including Darfur, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan.
The 2019 revolution’s main slogan, “Freedom, Peace, and Justice,” disregarded the strong influence religion had under the Inqaz regime, and in fact, many youths protesting were actually from Islamic families who find Shariah appealing.
However, a significant number of protesters consider a secular system to be the only to accommodate the diversity of Sudanese people. The youth led by the Resistance Committees stated that “they would rather starve before being governed again by the Islamists.” Without a doubt, the debate over the relation between religion and the state will require further deep debate after free and fair elections have been conducted and a parliament established.
Upon assuming office in September 2019, the transitional government embarked on several steps that changed the theocratic nature of the state, such as legal reforms including the abolishment of the Islamic public order law and permission for non-Muslims to drink alcohol, banished in 1984.
The historical Juba peace agreement of October 2020 promises to create a nation-state that is inclusive of all groups without the interference of religious dogmas. However, the difficulty of such developments became obvious in the 2020 “curriculum crisis.” After Omar al-Qarray, known to be affiliated with the Republican Party, with ideological inclinations contrary to the Islamic trend, was appointed to oversee curriculum changes in the Ministry of Education, a fierce debate broke out between those favoring less religion-inspired teaching materials on one side, and politicians, clerics and journalists with Islamist leanings on the other. The controversy intensified after the leak of a new history book proposal for sixth graders, containing Michelangelo’s painting, “The Creation of Adam,” which for many conservatives depicts “the divine self.” After heated debates that also occurred on social media, the prime minister froze the proposed curriculum changes, al-Qarray resigned, and a “national committee” was formed to review the controversial book. Hamdok’s decision was criticized as favoring the Islamists, while compromising the advice of experts in the Ministry of Education.
No interference of religious dogmas
Basic services, such as access to sanitation and improved water sources, were already underdeveloped before the 2019 revolution, at 24% and 56%, respectively, according to World Bank data from 2014 and 2015. Health and education services were largely insufficient, particularly in remote regions.
Since the ouster of the Inqaz regime, Sudan has witnessed further financial collapse. The ability of the state apparatus to provide basic services, even in Khartoum, has been largely destroyed. Instead, Neighborhood Resistance Committees (NRC) now play a central role in the provision of basic services. These informal local networks have shifted from being “soldiers of the revolution” to assuming executive duties. This includes monitoring flour and fuel distribution – tasks which often are not within their competence.
In Khartoum, unreliable internet connectivity and frequent power outages of up to 10 hours a day escalate popular discontent. Mismanagement and incompetence, partly resulting from the dismissal of former regime members, plague the electricity sector, which also lacks the necessary hard currency to purchase fuel for its thermal plants.
Public transportation is largely underdeveloped, expensive and dangerous – overland minibuses drive at high speeds on bad roads. Deadly road accidents have become part of everyday life. Ongoing construction of the new international airport south of Khartoum was indefinitely stopped in 2020 for financial reasons.
Health facilities were overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The government established a designated health center with 103 beds and 23 intermediate and intensive care units (ICU) in Khartoum. Doctors without Borders established another COVID-19 treatment center in Omdurman Hospital with 20 beds. ICU beds in private clinics cost up to $1,000 per day, exclude other medical costs, and are thus only for the wealthiest members of the population. The pandemic has also hampered education and waste management, among other services.
The government received donations to combat the second wave of the pandemic and promised to subsidize medicine. In December 2020, the Ministry of Health announced that Sudan will provide 8.4 million COVID-19 vaccines.
Omar al-Bashir ruled the country for 30 years without free and fair elections. The constitutional declaration signed during the 2019 revolution provides for general elections at the end of the transition period, which, after the 39 month-period starting with the Juba Peace Agreement of October 3, 2020, are now planned for 2024. Before embarking on general elections, legal, political and economic conditions must be first met, including a new electoral law agreed upon by all political forces, a reliable population census in all regions, the establishment of an independent electoral commission, and the creation of political party structures, electoral capacities and logistics.
However, there are important indirect conditions that need to be met as well, before free and fair elections can be conducted, such as comprehensive peace, economic reforms and the return of IDPs to their original areas. The proliferation of arms and the existence of militias and armed groups does not make for a conducive atmosphere for elections. An essential condition is to create an environment that allows political parties and individuals the freedom to communicate, move about and hold election campaigns.
Some political forces, such as the Umma Party, have expressed dissatisfaction with the transitional government and called for early elections. This call was widely criticized, as Sudan is not ready for elections after three decades of dictatorship, the weaknesses described above and the additional hardships from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Free and fair elections
The transitional government – both the Sovereignty Council (SC) and the cabinet – are meant to oversee the 39-month long transition period but lack electoral legitimacy. The SC comprises 11 members, five from the Military Transitional Council and six from the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC). Headed by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the SC appoints the prime minister and approves the appointment of ministers, governors, members of the Transitional Legislative Council, the chief justice, Supreme Court judges, Constitutional Court members and the Attorney General. The cabinet, led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, comprises 25 ministers, including four women, among whom Asma Mohamed Abdalla became Sudan’s first female foreign minister.
The capacity of Sudan to transform to good governance practices is tested severely by the fact that Rapid Support Forces (RSF) leader, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, ended up the de facto ruler of the country. Begun as a militia linked to horrors committed in the Darfur region, the RSF became not only a difficult actor in the political and security equation in Sudan but also runs a parallel economy that is growing stronger by the day.
The Constitutional Declaration stipulated the formation of a Transitional Legislative Council (TLC), meant to enact legislation, monitor the cabinet, approve the state budget and ratify agreements and treaties during the transition period. Although the Constitutional Declaration also stipulated that the TLC shall be formed and assume its duties within 90 days of the date of the signing of the declaration, it has not yet materialized. The last date for announcing the TLC’s formation was January 28, 2021, but this was again postponed, and no further information was provided.
Effective power to govern
The Constitutional Declaration acknowledges association and assembly rights for all people of Sudan. In contrast to the practices of the ousted Inqaz regime, there are few restrictions on assembly and association, with the notable exception of the former ruling National Congress Party and the former Trade Union Association, which both were banned in December 2019 by the committee for dismantling the previous regime.
The general atmosphere is relatively safe for citizens to exercise their assembly and association rights. Many civil society organizations, which had been closed down by the previous regime, reopened after the revolution. However, activists and members of the Neighborhood Resistance Committees continue to face intimidation, harassment, and threats from members of the security forces and the previous regime. The government still uses tear gas as well as lethal ammunition to dissolve demonstrations; at every big demonstration, some protesters are killed.
COVID-19-related lockdowns lasted only for three weeks in April 2020, and by January 2021, all restrictions had been lifted.
Association / assembly rights
During the period under review, there have been major improvements in the freedom of expression in Sudan. The number of newspapers has increased significantly, and no incidents of censorship have been reported. In addition, the content in reporting has improved, which now addresses issues of concern to people in their daily lives. While journalists are no longer subject to harassment, access to information remains nonetheless challenging, given the government’s lack of transparent communication channels. Instead, unconfirmed rumors and conspiracy theories spread on various blogs and websites.
Individuals can express their opinions freely, and government policies are criticized openly. The military, however, is shielded from criticism, even with the new legislation. International researchers examining companies owned by the army have not been allowed to enter the country.
However, given that the formation of the legislative council is delayed, criticism of the government is often simply ignored.
Vocal activists associated with the former Islamist regime, such as Muammar Musa and Mohamed Ali al-Jizouly, have been imprisoned. Members of Resistance Committees, which played a central role in ousting the al-Bashir regime, are often arrested or interrogated, and many, such as 45-year-old Bahaa al-Din Nouri, have been killed by the RSF while held in detention.
The Ministry of Health regularly publishes statistics regarding the number of reported COVID-19 cases, recoveries and deaths. However, there is ambiguity and contradictory information regarding the measures, and miscoordination between the various government circles involved in handling the pandemic.
Freedom of expression
Although the Constitutional Declaration stipulated the creation of a Transitional Legislative Council (TLC) within 90 days of the date of the signing of the declaration, its establishment has been delayed several times. The pandemic was one reason for this delay, but other factors have contributed as well, including the Juba Peace Agreement, which demanded a redistribution of TLC seats to its signatory parties.
The TLC shall consist of 300 members; no less than 40% shall be women. Initially, it was foreseen that 67% of TLC members will come from the FFC and 33% from the other forces that participated in the revolution. Following the signing of the Juba Peace Agreement, the Constitutional Declaration was amended to grant the armed movements that signed the agreement 25% of cabinet posts, three seats on the SC, and 25% of the seats on the TLC. This recalibration meant that 165 seats (55%) would be reserved for FFC, 75 seats (25%) for the armed movements that signed the agreement, and 60 seats (20%) for others in consultation between the FFC and the military. The Sudanese Professional Association, the main component in the FFC, strongly criticized this redistribution.
Until the TLC’s formation, the Sovereignty Council and the Council of Ministers hold joint meetings that allow them to exercise legislative powers and pass legislation. Both entities have been strongly criticized by activists and political forces to the effect that they are not interested in the formation of the TLC and prevent the Resistance Committees from having representation on the TLC, which, it is said, they fear might complicate their exercise of legislative power. The delay in forming the TLC is also believed to be due to waiting for the two armed movements that did not sign the peace agreement, the SLM/A’s al-Nur faction and SPLA-North’s al-Hilu faction, to sign it and subsequently allocate seats to them on the TLC.
The Constitutional Declaration identified the Supreme Judicial Council, the Judicial Authority and the Constitutional Court as national judiciary bodies. The Supreme Judicial Council replaces the former National Judicial Service Commission and selects the president and members of the Constitutional Court and the chief justice and his deputies. According to the Constitutional Declaration, the Judicial Authority shall be independent of the Sovereignty Council, the cabinet and the TLC. The chief justice serves as head of the judicial authority and president of the National Supreme Court and shall be responsible for administering judicial authority before the Supreme Judicial Council. The Constitutional Court is an independent court and separate from the judicial authority. It is competent to oversee the constitutionality of laws and measures, to protect rights and freedoms, and to adjudicate constitutional disputes.
Separation of powers
The Sovereignty Council appointed a chief justice and attorney general in consultation with the FFC in October 2019, following the controversy over which body has the right to make the appointments. The appointments came after pressure from protesters, who demanded the prompt appointments of the chief justice and attorney general in September 2019.
Since the signing of the Constitutional Declaration in August 2019, the debate over the appointment of the chief justice and the public prosecutor has continued between the FFC and the military members of the Sovereignty Council, who objected to the FFC’s candidates.
The controversy surrounding the appointment of the chief justice and the public prosecutor was that the Constitutional Declaration granted the authority to elect these two positions to the Supreme Judicial Council. However, the FFC saw the necessity of appointing a chief justice and public prosecutor temporarily, before the formation of the Supreme Judicial Council and the attorney general, to prevent loyalists of the former regime in the two agencies from controlling the two important positions and to ensure that members of the ousted al-Bashir regime are held accountable. As this controversy intensified, thousands of Sudanese demonstrated in Khartoum in September 2019 to demand the appointment of a chief justice and a public prosecutor.
In October 2019, the controversy over appointing a chief justice and public prosecutor was settled after the Sovereignty Council agreed with the FFC as to the names of the candidates for these positions by appointing Judge Ni’mat Abdalla as chief justice and former Judge Tajalsir al-Hibir as public prosecutor. Ni’mat Abdalla is the first woman to assume this position in the Arab world and the fifth woman in Africa.
The Salvation Regime Dismantlement Committee was formed in November 2019 to dissolve the former ruling National Congress Party. A total of 150 judges believed to have belonged to the former regime have been dismissed by this committee.
The transitional government rests on a power-sharing deal between the military and civilians. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has often described this model as a “smart partnership that will guarantee a smooth transition toward democracy.” However, many Sudanese people express their suspicion toward this “partnership” and consider it rather a coup d’état that undermined the revolution. This impression came as a result of an expansion in the military’s grip on power, while civilians in the government become weaker by the day. Even more disturbing is the fact that military members of the Sovereignty Council are believed to have been involved in the planning and implementation of the Khartoum massacre that dispersed a sit-in on June 3, 2019, and resulted in more than 128 deaths, many injuries, and others protesters missing. Although a committee was established to investigate this massacre and bring justice to those affected, the perpetrators who sit on the Sovereignty Council have not been held accountable by legal prosecution, as they enjoy immunity. The slow performance and delayed progress of this committee made many who await justice believe that the rule of law is undermined as long as those involved in the massacre are in power.
The military has also penetrated the economic sector outside the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Finance. The Sudanese army has a significant share in various economic areas, such as industry groups, manufacturing companies, large factories, and finance and insurance companies. The army is also active in the fields of agriculture and livestock production, construction, and medical services and hospitals. These companies provide the Sudanese army with its own resources that, however, consume a significant amount of the general budget. Corruption is not investigated at all.
Real reforms and prosecution of those responsible for the most serious violations are still required. The government has affirmed its commitment to holding violators accountable, including cooperation with the International Criminal Court, which has issued arrest warrants for former President al-Bashir and four others for committing atrocities in Darfur. However, progress in this regard has been very slow.
Since his removal from the presidency on April 11, 2019, al-Bashir has been imprisoned in Kober Central Prison. In July 2020, a trial of the former president and 27 others accused of financial corruption and acquiring illicit wealth, as well as plotting the June 1989 military coup and undermining constitutional order began. The judge responsible, Essam Eldin Mohamed Ebrahim, stepped down in December 2020 after nine sessions for health reasons. In January 2021, the trial resumed under Judge Ali Ahmed Ali. The defense has requested that the criminal case be dropped. The trial was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prosecution of office abuse
Civil rights are codified in the Constitutional Declaration. However, in practice, fundamental rights are violated. There are attacks on civilians in many parts of Sudan, including in Darfur, where the conflict continues. Mechanisms and institutions for prosecuting, punishing and redressing violations of civil rights are largely ineffective.
Three opposition activists, Mohamed Ali al-Jizouly, Muammar Musa and Michael Boutros, have been detained since July 2020. After vocally criticizing the transitional government, they face serious charges that include spreading false information, terrorism and crimes against the state. The government has faced criticism for keeping them in detention without trial; there are allegations that they have been subject to torture in detention. In December 2020, anger arose over the death of 45-year-old Baha al-din Nuri after he was tortured to death during an “investigation” in Rapid Support Forces’ detention. Baha, who was a member of the Resistance Committee in the Kalakla area, South Khartoum, had been abducted by RSF personnel; five days later, his body, showing signs of torture, was found in the mortuary of Omdurman Hospital. The RSF announced that all individuals who participated in the arrest of Baha were in custody and an investigation had been initiated.
Women continue to face various forms of gender discrimination. Violence against women is on the rise. Many cases of domestic violence against women and harassment in public and private spheres have surfaced. The government’s response is lacking. In July 2020, however, the Ministry of Justice announced a new law that criminalizes female genital mutilation (FGM), which according to U.N. estimates, 87% of Sudanese women have undergone. Irrespective of its criminalization, it is likely that FGM practice will persist as it is deeply rooted in the cultural norms of various Sudanese communities. There is a high probability that the practice will continue illegally under bad conditions that increase health risks to girls. Thus, in addition to the law, the government, civil society organizations and women’s activists need to intensify their efforts to raise people’s awareness of the physical and psychological damage resulting from this harmful practice.
While the Constitutional Declaration provides the means for organizing a differentiated democratic system, all the currently existing transitional institutions lack democratic legitimacy. This includes the Sovereignty Council and the cabinet. The Transitional Legislative Council (TLC) is yet to be established. The Sovereignty Council and the Council of Ministers jointly exercise legislative functions and pass legislation. Given the post-revolutionary moment, combined with the economic hardships and challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the performance of these institutions is limited. This includes the judiciary and administrative units at the local level.
Performance of democratic institutions
While the signatory parties to the Constitutional Declaration and the Juba Peace Agreement have officially endorsed Sudan’s transformation to a democracy, the actual commitment to democratic institutions is only rhetorical for most parties, and the establishment of democratic institutions remains among the least critical of the government’s priorities. This has become apparent in the repeated postponement of the establishment of TLC: the Sovereignty Council and the Council of Ministers are both suspected of delaying its establishment to prevent external control of their own proceedings. Other relevant actors, such as political parties, associations, interest groups and civic organizations are highly critical of the repeated postponement of the creation of the TLC.
The establishment of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) in June 2020 by the U.N. Security Council has been officially welcomed by Sudan’s political representatives, but actual cooperation so far is limited. The UNITAMS mandate is expressis verbis support for Sudan’s political and economic transformation, including the establishment of democratic institutions. However, the UNITAMS only started delivering on its objectives in January 2021 after UNAMID, the joint U.N./African Union Mission in Darfur, was formally closed on December 31, 2020.
Commitment to democratic institutions
During the Sudanese protests in 2018 – 2019, a coalition of political parties, rebel groups and civil society organizations signed the Declaration of Freedom and Change, which called for regime change and created the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) that led the revolution until President Omar al-Bashir’s removal in April 2019. Some political parties that joined the FFC include the Sudanese Communist Party, the Arab Socialist Ba’th Party, the National Unionist Party, the Arab Democratic Nasserist Party, the Umma Party, the Sudanese Congress Party, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement, the Justice and Equality Movement, the Republican Brotherhood, and others. Internal fragmentation in the FFC, as well as in Sudan’s overall party system, is high.
In April 2020, the Umma Party suspended its activities with the FFC, citing poor performance by the transitional government, and called for a radical reform of the transition. In November 2020, the Communist Party withdrew from the FFC, objecting to the government’s policies in support of economic liberalization.
In November 2019, the authorities banned the activities of the former regime’s National Congress Party, confiscated its properties and arrested its leaders, accusing them of creating chaos, organizing vandalism, looting and burning properties. Through social media, NCP members had called on the Sudanese people to oust the transitional government, citing the deterioration of economic conditions, and called on the military to take power and lead the transition period.
Citing deteriorated economic and political conditions, the Popular Congress Party (PCP), which was established by the Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi in 1999, also called in October 2020 for the dissolution of the transitional government. It however demands the replacement of the FFC-dominated cabinet with a government of national competencies, to accommodate all of Sudan’s parties, prepare for elections and leave national issues, such as the constitution and state identity, to an elected parliament.
Reform Now is a movement that defected from the former ruling National Congress Party, founded by the Islamist leader Ghazi Salah al-Din in 2013. With an Islamist orientation, it supported the revolution that ousted the al-Bashir government. However, Reform Now opposed the transitional government’s peace agreement with Israel, considering this not to be part of the mission of the transitional government nor of the Sovereignty Council.
Political parties in Sudan have a difficult history. The Inqaz regime systematically demonized them during its three decades in power. In consequence, Sudanese have lost their faith in the ability of current political parties to bring about change. In a 2018 Arab Barometer poll, only 15% of Sudanese indicated they trusted political parties. The youth, who are largely unsatisfied with the established political parties, are encouraged to establish new parties that represent their interests.
The 2019 revolution and the preceding months of mass protests were a moment during which interest groups succeeded in cooperating and uniting under the leadership of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which is an umbrella of various Sudanese trade unions (the Doctors Union, Teachers Union, University Lecturers Union, Engineers Union, Veterinarians Union, Layers Democratic Alliance, Sudanese Journalist Network, Sudanese Engineers Association, and the Pharmacist Committee). Together with the FFC, the SPA led the uprisings in various regions of Sudan. The SPA was widely celebrated, and accumulated trust during the protests. Internal conflicts within SPA surfaced in 2020, and trust in the organization’s capacity to support the democratic transformation of Sudan has diminished. In June 2020, divisions within SPA escalated as various components of the coalition protested the election of the new secretariat, citing a deformed election process. This division reflects the political cleavages between the revolutionary currents that call for the continuation of the revolution and those that call for compromise and support the current partnership between civilians and the military.
The Campaign to Protect the Right to Life is among the active groups with a visible impact. Established by activists and a dozen civil society organizations in August 2020, the campaign is a response to continuous violence that results in killings and wounding of hundreds in several regions of Sudan. The campaign that includes Resistance Committees, the December Revolution Martyrs’ Families Organization and the Darfur Lawyers’ Association demands protection of the right to life as a non-negotiable right, an immediate cease-fire, and the non-use of violence against civilians in all its forms, whether murder, rape, intimidation or looting. It calls on the Sudanese army to protect civilians in conflict areas and along the border, and on the government to achieve immediate accountability for war victims. The campaign stresses the need for the transitional government to disclose information about murders and aggression against unarmed civilians, while publishing the names of the victims, explaining the circumstances of the crime and holding the perpetrators accountable decisively to prevent impunity. The campaign’s activities include local events organized in collaboration with Resistance Committees, as well as seminars on themes related to the protection of life, violence against women and the fight against hate speech in society.
While the popular protests against the Inqaz regime in 2018/2019 can be read as a widespread longing for democratic governance across the country, data tell a different story. An Arab Barometer report with findings from representative polls conducted in fall 2018 – shortly before the protests started – showed that only 42% find democracy “always preferable to any other form of governance.” Support rates were higher among the young and those with higher education.
Data from the Afrobarometer, collected in July and August 2018, paint a more positive picture however: “Sudanese were widely supportive of democracy and the rule of law” – 62% saw democracy as preferable to any other form of government.
Approval of democracy
When the Inqaz regime adopted economic liberalization and free-market policies, austerity measures were introduced and government spending significantly reduced. These policies left many people vulnerable to poverty and economic hardship. Several social self-organizations were created to bridge some of the gaps caused by neoliberal policies. Various youth initiatives were established to respond to needs and crises, such as Nafeer, which was established to provide aid to those affected by flood disasters. Shari’ al-Hawadith is another youth initiative that provides humanitarian aid to help patients in need of medicine, financial support or blood transfusion.
What is common among most of these self-help groups is that they are led by youth on a voluntary basis, and they utilize social media and crowdfunding to collect donations. In rural areas, people came together to build social services according to community needs. These include schools, health centers, water provision, mosques, electricity and paved roads. Most of these community projects were funded by remittances from Sudanese living abroad.
The sit-in between April 11 and June 3, 2019 was a moment in the contemporary history of Sudan, during which solidarity and trust were felt and lived among citizens. Before their violent dispersal, protesters not only shared the objective of making the revolution successful, but also shared food, shelter and medical supplies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has positively affected Sudanese sense of solidarity and trust and the self-organizational capacities of civil society, as many initiatives were established to provide medical supplies. In general, the middle class in Khartoum is closely interconnected through uncountable weddings and funerals every year.
Since independence in 1956, Sudan has endured long civil wars that had tremendous costs on the human development of the country. Besides the millions who lost their lives, many had to flee their regions to seek refuge in major cities. Internal displacement has many socioeconomic consequences, including poverty and inequality. The wars have left entire communities living for decades in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) or on the margin of cities, excluded from society due to discrimination and a lack of the economic opportunities. Economic improvement and participation in the formal economy require a certain level of qualifications unavailable to people from conflict areas, which limits their opportunities to find decent employment. The vulnerability of IDPs is aggravated by structural exclusion, racism and discrimination that the previous government intensified by its discriminatory policies against people from western and southern Sudan, who are treated as second-class citizens.
The Inqaz regime adopted policies to empower loyalists from the Islamist movement and excluded the rest of the population from opportunities to accumulate wealth. Uneven development has been characteristic in postcolonial Sudan. The Inqaz regime intensified inequality between the different regions through marginalization and adopted policies to invest in development in central and northern Sudan, while excluding the rest of the nation.
According to the World Bank, Sudan’s poverty rate rose from 40.5% in 2009 to 44.0% in 2014. The cutting of government subsidies left a significant segment of the population vulnerable to poverty. Sudan is ranked among the lowest countries in the world in terms of gender equality, scoring a meager 0.545 on the 2019 Gender Inequality Index. Inequality hinders women’s presence in the public sphere and their contribution to it. With standards of living deteriorating, UNDP’s 2020 Human Development Index ranked Sudan among the countries with only a low level of human development (170th out of 189 countries, with a score of 0.510). Sudan’s inequality-adjusted HDI value shows an overall 34.7% loss due to inequality in 2018. Inequality in income distribution between different groups in society is aggravated by differential access to foreign currency in comparison to people who are stuck with the Sudanese Pound (SDG). The SDG went from ca. 50 to the euro to 400 to the euro on the black market during the reporting period.
The COVID-19 pandemic intensified poverty and inequality, especially during the lockdown. The majority of the population that are part of the informal sector found themselves in crisis. Food became scarce, and the government failed to support them.
As part and parcel of a fragile economy that has always served the political elite, the Sudanese market is characterized by structural problems, including the absence of economic policies, general price chaos and weak foreign investment. The 2019 revolution and the subsequent removal of Sudan from the U.S. blacklist of states that sponsor terrorism in December 2020 have created the opportunity for urgently needed corrective measures.
UNDP estimates that informal sector activities account for more than 60% of Sudan’s GDP. Otherwise, Sudan’s economy is dominated by large conglomerates such as Haggar, Malik, DAL and CDC. In January 2021, the Ministry of Trade completed a consultation with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to pass the Trade Regulation Law. This new law aims to regulate free competition in the country by controlling the market and fixing the prices of essential goods and services. The law seeks to open markets, reduce technical barriers, and encourage the free flow of goods. According to World Bank data, starting a business took 10 procedures and 34.5 days in 2019 with costs amounting to 17.8% of per capita gross national income.
In November 2019, the Ministry of Commerce issued a law prohibiting foreigners from conducting business in the local market and limiting their activities to investment laws or special government agreements. Some read this decision as a positive step toward limiting manipulations in crop export markets. Often, foreign traders use the names of Sudanese businesses and engage in buying and exporting large quantities without reporting the profits to the treasury in the Bank of Sudan.
In 2009, the Council of Ministers approved the Competition and Monopoly Prevention Law to prevent monopolistic structures and to ensure competition in all economic activities. A Council for Competition and Monopolistic Practices Prevention was established in 2013 and has been active in raising awareness of the importance of competition and of the prevention of monopolies in various regions of Sudan.
Despite these measures, monopolies are widespread in Sudan. The adoption of economic liberalization policy in the 1990s encouraged a lack of competition, which resulted in the existence of companies and establishments that seek to achieve high profits at the expense of consumers.
The challenges that the Council for Competition and Monopolistic Practices Prevention faces in achieving its goals of implementing these policies include logistical problems, lack of qualified human resources and lack of adequate funding. The council is unable to conduct market studies or document the market’s developments and irregularities.
The Sudanese market is currently witnessing price chaos due to inactivation of anti-monopoly laws, which increases the vulnerability of consumers with limited income. The state has not been controlling and regulating markets or implementing the laws to reduce prices, which has led to a significant rise in prices.
Sudan’s economy faces serious structural and institutional deficiencies. Poor governance, a weak rule of law and an inefficient regulatory regime create trade barriers; the simple average of the “most favored nation” applied tariff was 21.5% in 2017. Despite the removal of Sudan from the U.S.’s list of state sponsors of terrorism in December 2020, investors are hesitant to invest in Sudan due to the country’s overall disadvantageous economic conditions.
China is Sudan’s second-largest trading partner following the UAE: oil is flowing eastwards, while cheap everyday products are coming to the Nile. According to the Central Bank of Sudan (CBoS), Sudan recorded a trade deficit of $555.5 million in the month of September 2020 alone. Foreign trade is largely failing due to the lack of a viable strategy for encouraging investment in productivity and a failure to build sustainable levels of hard currency. The dominance of security expenditures in the budget creates difficult conditions for foreign trade liberalization. Conflicts in Darfur and the states of Kordofan and Blue Nile hinder the establishment of adequate infrastructure.
Sudan’s production of gum arabic – never included on the U.S. sanctions list since it is used in the production of cola drinks – accounts for 80% of global production, officially rated at 100,000 tons per year, which is less than 15% of its potential capacity. The actual production of gum arabic in Sudan is however estimated at about 200,000 tons per year, with half of this amount being smuggled by brokers and resold on the global market through neighboring countries, causing great losses of the real product, undermining Sudan’s monopoly and control, and costing the public treasury huge hard currency revenues. Gum arabic production is negatively affected by illegal cutting operations. The government is implementing measures to increase the country’s revenues from gum arabic by increasing current production. Those measures including effective marketing policies, providing incentives to producers, a plan to gradually reduce exports of raw products and a gradual shift toward exporting finished products.
Liberalization of foreign trade
Besides the negative effects of the former U.S. sanctions, Sudan’s banking sector suffers from the pervasive corruption of the previous regime. A group of influential individuals controlled the banking system through networks of loyalists and performed shadow banking activities. These included manipulations of the exchange markets, foreign trade financing, medicine imports, millions of dollars in loans to companies and individuals without control, and illegal transactions in bank shares. The CBoS was politicized to serve these self-enriching purposes. Some of those who were involved in suspicious banking activities were prosecuted. However, the settlements paid under the former regime were far from equaling the size of the offenses committed.
Since 1984, Islamic banking has been the only available business model. Sudan’s largest banks include Bank of Khartoum, Sudanese Agricultural Bank, Nileen Bank, Abu Dhabi Bank, Sudanese French Bank, Faisal Islamic Bank, Omdurman National Bank and Financial Investment Bank.
The banking sector of Sudan is highly unregulated. Since it has been excluded from global banking, many local banks were founded without any sustainable business model or international practices. There is a shortage of hard currency in the official banking sector. Most banking functions are performed on the black market. The government expects that many banks will have to close during Sudan’s reintegration into the international banking sector.
Sudan suffers from one of the highest inflation rates worldwide. According to Sudan’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the annual inflation rate was 304.33% in January 2021. The high inflation rate is attributed to the budget deficit, high costs of commodities and a swelling parallel U.S. dollar market.
The official exchange rate for foreign currencies is fixed. In January 2021, the illicit market rate for the U.S. dollar was 700% higher than the official rate (SDG 400 compared to SDG 55). Daily escalation and depreciation of the local currency confuses the markets and causes prices to double, halting sales operations in many shops and factories.
The IMF and many international donors have conditioned future support to Sudan on floating the currency. The Sudanese Ministry of Finance estimates that only 85% of transactions in the country are connected to the official exchange rate. These are mostly transactions connected to ODA (official development assistance) flows into Sudan.
Since the independence of South Sudan in 2011, a federal budget deficit has occurred repeatedly because government expenses exceed revenues. The government has always relied on the CBoS to cover the deficit and finance it monetarily instead of finding actual resources to finance the budget deficit. This policy not only led to further devaluations of the local currency, but also put political pressure on the CBoS as a result of frequent interferences from the Ministry of Finance and frequent dismissal of CBoS governors.
The cabinet of Prime Minister Hamdok follows a strict fiscal policy with the goal of debt relief under the HIPC process (initiated by the IMF and the World Bank in 1996 for “heavily indebted poor countries”). In October 2020, the government announced it would end fuel subsidies as part of revised budgetary measures. The subsidized water and energy prices were raised by 500% in early 2021.
In 2019, the current account balance was -$5.215 billion, public debt reached 201.6% of GDP and government consumption was estimated to be 3.6% of GDP. A long-standing burden on the Sudanese economy has been external debt, which was estimated to be around $22.3 billion in 2019, while debt service was $195.8 million. There are no figures available on net lending/borrowing, nor on total reserves.
Sudan is one of only three countries still qualified for the HIPC process. The U.S. and the UK have announced their support by providing bridging credits to clear Sudan’s arrears with the African Development Bank and the World Bank. These credits however are conditional on reform of the foreign currency exchange rate. The same condition applies to the Family Support Program financed by the World Bank and implemented by the U.N.’s World Food Program. It should provide 80% of Sudanese with $5 per month to compensate for the removal of subsidies and hyperinflation. The international community promised at the Berlin partnership conference in 2020 that it would support this program with $800 million.
Property rights and regulations for the acquisition, benefits, use and sale of land are defined formally in law, but not implemented or enforced consistently, nor safeguarded adequately by the law against arbitrary state intervention or illegal infringement.
During recent years, there have been many cases of conflict between the state and citizens over lands in Khartoum State over which both parties assert their right to ownership. In the case of south Omdurman, confrontations over land between police and citizens resulted in a number of deaths. Selling land to investors has become an essential resource for the government. There have been incidents in which the government confiscated land located in certain locations without consent from or compensation to the owners.
Private companies in Sudan suffered from the impact of three decades of U.S. sanctions and marginalization by army-owned state companies that, for years, have dominated economic activities. Despite the contribution of the private sector to the economy, it has been unable to present itself to successive governments as an economic entity with a unified vision and influential voice. During the revolution, private companies were accused of not playing their part in the state and society.
In December 2020, Sudan was removed from the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism on which list it had been since 1993. This decision was highly celebrated as the end of the country’s three-decade-long isolation and raises hopes for improvement in private sector conditions and investment and cooperation.
The clientelistic politics of the previous regime entailed a failure to enforce laws to control the economy. The regime implemented privatization without transparency, and unqualified members of the ruling National Congress Party dominated sectors such as telecommunications, transportation, energy and finances. The December revolution that ousted the Inqaz regime in April 2019 hopefully put an end to the three-decade-long monopoly on private business by the formerly ruling Islamist loyalists and will give rise to a market characterized by free competition and transparency.
A Salvation Regime Dismantlement Committee was established in November 2020 to seize the formerly ruling National Congress Party’s assets. The committee makes regular pronouncements in press conferences regarding the confiscation of companies and real estate and recovered shares and funds from al-Bashir loyalists transferred to government ownership.
Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commander of the Rapid Support Forces and member of the Sudanese Sovereign Council, runs a parallel economy by controlling Sudan’s gold industry. Dagalo not only controls various gold mines in Darfur and South Kordofan, but also owns the private mining and trading company, al-Junaid. Gold constitutes one of Sudan’s largest exports (mostly to the UAE) and has multiplied Dagalo’s wealth dramatically, making him one the richest men in Sudan.
In December 2020, the U.S. Senate approved the Accountability, Financial and Transparency Act to control army companies and investments in Sudan. It is estimated that more than 200 companies in vital sectors belong to the security and military sectors, and thus remain outside the national audit system. The new law stipulates that these companies return to the national financial system, which will strengthen civilians’ authority.
Social safety nets are nearly nonexistent and only available to a very limited number of individuals employed in the private sector. The rest of the population is left to face the capitalist economy without any form of compensation in the event of unemployment or handicap. Hyperinflation has diminished the welfare of the vast majority of the Sudanese population which works in the local currency.
In September 2020, the government launched a Family Support Program known as Thamarat (“Fruits”), mainly funded by the World Bank and the World Food Program. It will support families in need with direct cash transfers to alleviate economic difficulties. The program is implemented in partnership with the Ministries of Finance, Economic Planning and the Interior, the Central Bank of Sudan, the Telecommunications and Post Regulatory Authority, Sudanese telecom companies and local banks. While the pilot phase of the program includes support to nearly half a million people in 11 states (Sennar, North Kordofan, Red Sea, West Kordofan, North, Kassala, Blue Nile, North Darfur, South Darfur, South Kordofan and Khartoum), the program will be gradually expanded to cover about seven million people across the country.
In October 2020, the government lifted fuel and commodity subsidies to reduce the burden to the budget. The government has promised to direct cash support to the needy, but this policy had not been implemented at the time of writing. The transitional government is working on tax reform to lift the economy from high burdens to end the privileges many companies enjoy.
Family and kinship structures provide viable compensation for risk on a broad scale, especially through remittances from relatives who live abroad.
Social safety nets
Sudan has a long history of racism and discrimination. Since independence, the political elite from the north has dominated access to power and resources. This resulted in unbalanced development between the various regions of Sudan and a sense of marginalization among those without access to power and resources. The state has adopted Arab and Islamic identities, which exclude many groups that do not identify with this imposed vision. For many years, belonging to a non-Arab, non-Muslim identity translated into denial of access to education and job opportunities. In resistance to the status quo, some groups chose to adopt violent means and fought the central government with the objective of bringing justice and equality to all citizens in Sudan.
The Juba peace agreement of October 2020 included clauses to ensure equal opportunities for the citizens of Sudan, regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender. Before this, in July 2020, the Sudanese Congress Party, one of the leading parties in the FFC, proposed and drafted a law to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. The Ministry of Justice has received this draft and promised to study it.
However, laws and agreements are far from being enough. For peace and justice to be realized, tremendous effort at the societal level is needed to undo much of the harm caused by decades-long racism, colorism and discrimination practices. Privileged groups are still in denial of the existence of racism and discrimination; thus, they are not ready to sacrifice their privileges.
In 2018, the literacy rate in Sudan was estimated to be 60.7%: 65.4% among males and 56.1% among females. The 2020 Gender Parity Index (GPI) showed that girls at the primary level are less enrolled in school than boys (a ratio of 0.9, compared to 1.0 at both the secondary and tertiary levels). The gross enrollment ratio is 76.8% at the primary level, 46.6% at the secondary level, and 16.9% at the tertiary level. In 2019, the female labor force represented 30.6% of Sudan’s total labor force.
The transitional government promised to ensure women’s participation in its various structures such that at least 40% of government positions would be occupied by women. However, in practice, women have been sidelined.
The new government of Prime Minister Hamdok was not able to stop the economic decline that became especially aggravated after the independence of South Sudan in 2011 and the subsequent loss of approx. 80% of Sudan’s oil reserves. The government constantly blames the previous regime for having controlled the economy and put breaks on the economic transformation by creating commodities scarcity. The military and the RSF run a parallel economy. Much economic activity happens in shadow areas.
According to the World Bank’s 2019 World Development Indicators, GDP per capita (PPP) in Sudan is $4,123, shrinking by 4.9%, while the total GDP reached $30.5 billion. The inflation rate was 51%, while unemployment was 17.7%. Foreign direct investment reached 2.7% of GDP in 2019, and the current account balance was $5.2 billion. Public debt reached 201.6% of GDP in 2019, with gross capita formation at 8.3% of GDP.
There are various environmental concerns in Sudan including resource mismanagement, soil erosion, forest degradation and loss of biodiversity. Sudan is a signatory to many regional and international environmental agreements, and national institutions have been established to implement these agreements, such as the Higher Council for Environment and Natural Resources (HCENR). However, the real impact of those agreements is minimal.
There is no special ministry responsible for environmental matters, which are jointly handled in several ministries. While environmental concerns received little attention under the previous regime, the transitional government established HCENR in April 2020.
From early September 2020, Sudan witnessed heavy rainfalls that led to a record rises in water levels in the River Nile, resulting in devastating floods in 16 Sudanese states. It is estimated that more than 730,000 people were affected, and at least 146,000 houses were damaged. The government stated that 101 people died.
Over the years, education in Sudan has deteriorated from bad to worse. Historically, Sudan had a decent education system. Sudanese graduates had a good reputation internationally. However, the previous regime adopted policies that reduced the quality of education, including the “education revolution,” which expanded the number of educational institutions while decreasing spending on them. The 2019 U.N. Education Index assigned a meager 0.345 to Sudan, which however is justified, given the low public expenditure on education (2.2%, 2009) and catastrophically low literacy rate of 60.7% (2018).
With the decline in the quality of public schools, private education expanded and transformed into a lucrative business, but the quality of education did not improve much. Further, education curricula do not correspond to national development needs, which results in many graduates who are not employable in the local job market. This also leads to brain drain, as Sudan became an exporter of professionals to neighboring Gulf countries.
Research has been at the bottom of the priorities of successive regimes. Despite promises of funding research from the state, this has never been achieved. Most research conducted in Sudan is achieved through partnerships with foreign researchers and funders determining the research agenda. In the long run, the results produced do not correspond to national needs; rather, they serve foreign research interests.
In January 2020, the Ministry of Education organized an international conference on education reform in Khartoum in collaboration with international donor organizations. The conference recommendations stressed the need for implementing policies to address school dropout by ending armed conflicts, solving economic issues, increasing the number of teachers, making school books available and improving school environments.
The government dismissed dozens of university chancellors and vice chancellors in October 2019 in an attempt to free those institutes of higher education from old regime members. This notwithstanding, the educational process has been devastated since the revolution by political instability, ideological battles, the economic crisis, flooding of many schools and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Education / R&D policy
The performance of the transitional government that assumed office in September 2019 is constrained by various structural limitations including an economy distorted by parallel activities, armed conflicts, militias, unequal development among regions, poor infrastructure and low-quality education. The army and members of the former regime still control large segments of the economy and many resources are smuggled. Besides the economic crisis, in 2020, there have been record floods and the severe effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Federal Ministry of Health, COVID-19 infections reached 27,273 cases as of January 31, 2021, with 21,504 recovered and 1,812 deaths. The pandemic has largely overwhelmed the already fragile and poorly funded health system. Hospitals suffered a serious shortage of medical equipment and supplies. Medical staff have been at high risk of infection because of insufficient protective equipment. As a result, a considerable number of medical staff died from COVID-19 themselves, which reduced the already low number of well-trained medical staff. Sudan’s limited number of ICUs could not meet the number of patients in critical condition, and most of them are concentrated in the capital, Khartoum – along with testing centers and laboratories. Therefore, there is a belief that the number of infections reported officially is not even close to the actual number due to limitations in Sudan’s testing capacity. Patients and test kits from other regions must be transferred to Khartoum which puts them at high risk. Stories of hospitals rejecting new patients abound. Affected also was treatment of long-term, non-COVID-19 diseases, such as cancer and kidney failure. Sudan received medical aid from various countries including China, the EU and Arab countries to support its battle against COVID-19, but this aid is far from sufficient. Besides, there was no transparency as to whether the aid was distributed equitably.
Sudan has long traditions of civil society. However, in recent years, civil society experienced an increasing NGOization, such that non-governmental organizations dominated civil society, replacing public and civic engagement.
The peaceful protests that erupted in December 2018 in several cities marked a certain “rebirth” of civic engagement. Gradually, the revolution took on several forms, including civil disobedience, strikes, street demonstrations and sit-ins on public squares. Security forces including the RSF responded with excessive violence and mass arrests, resulting in hundreds of deaths and injuries among protesters and thousands of detainees. The protesters persisted, however.
The Sudanese Professional Association (SPA), an umbrella association of various Sudanese trade unions established in 2012, played a key role in the organization, coordination and call for protests. The SPA asked the Sudanese people to continue demonstrating, despite the state of emergency and gross state repression. Hundreds of Sudanese living abroad responded to SPA calls and organized protests abroad, demanding the international community to put pressure on Bashir to step down.
The turning point during the revolution was the demonstrations of April 6, 2019, when hundreds of thousands of protesters marched toward the military headquarters in Khartoum and held an open sit-in demanding Bashir step down and regime change. Participating protesters described this sit-in, which lasted until its violent dispersal on June 3, 2019 (known as “the Khartoum massacre”), as a life-changing experience where Sudanese women and men from various walks of life came together to protect their revolution and call for freedom, peace and justice. Protesters from Khartoum and other northern regions also showed sympathy with the people of Darfur in their struggle against the al-Bashir regime.
On June 30, 2019, Khartoum and other cities witnessed the largest protests since the sit-in was dispersed, when thousands of protesters took to the street to put pressure on the Transitional Military Council (TMC) to hand over power to civilian representatives and to prosecute those involved in the Khartoum massacre. After long negotiations, a historical power-sharing deal between the TMC and the FFC was reached. The Constitutional Declaration was signed in August 2019. Civil society succeeded in its lengthy battle against the former authoritarian regime.
Civil society traditions
Social, ethnic and religious conflicts have become characteristic of post-independent Sudan. When Sudan was about to become independent in the mid-1950s, South Sudanese groups rebelled against the central government and fought one of the longest civil wars on earth that ended with the independence of South Sudan in 2011. In the western province of Darfur, another war broke out in 2003 as a result of resource conflicts and feelings of marginalization. In recent years, armed clashes and ethnic tensions have broken out in Eastern Sudan and Kordofan as well. These conflicts remain unresolved, and their intensity resembles the overall confrontational nature of politics in Sudan.
The level of polarization of and split in society was evident during and after the 2018 – 2019 revolution. The issues of the identity of the state and the relationship between religion and politics are dividing the population. While many consider the revolution to be against the religious state, others have rejected secularism altogether. The use of violence to advance political aims is a common practice in Sudan. The Khartoum massacre that took place on June 3, 2019, in which more than 100 lives were lost and many went missing, is a testament to the spread of violence in Sudan. Extrajudicial killing and fatal torture in prisons are widespread practices.
When the transitional government assumed power in September 2019, it promised to advance the revolution by working on several issues codified in the Constitutional Declaration, such as establishing a legislative council and preparing for elections, reviving the collapsed economy, realizing a peace agreement with all armed combatants, bringing about justice, and resuming international relations.
Beyond these solemn declarations, the transitional government seems to lack vision for the day-to-day policies. Its ability to adopt a long-term perspective is almost absent. With the pandemic and the economic crisis, it has been a tough year even for a stable government, but the transitional government has proven deficient in prioritizing and organizing its policy measures.
With the signing of the Juba peace agreement in October 2020 and the removal in December 2020 of Sudan from the U.S. government’s list of states that sponsor terrorism, the transitional government reached two important milestones. It took several steps that changed the theocratic nature of the state, including legal reforms, an expansion of freedoms and engaging in negotiations to establish peace. It also removed state subsidies and adopted several economic and monetary policies, including currency devaluation, in an effort to improve the country’s economic problems and demonstrate its willingness to target IMF conditions.
Apart from this, the transitional government has demonstrated only a weak ability to implement policies. For example, though stipulated in the constitutional declaration, the transitional government has yet to establish a transitional legislative council.
In response to popular demands for a government that is free of party politics, the government promised to apply the principle of meritocracy in its appointment of cabinet members. However, this promise has been ignored in practice as ensuring the representation of political parties in the cabinet has been prioritized.
Another disappointing example is the inclusion of women in government. The government had promised to fill at least 40% of all government positions with women. In fact, only four women have been appointed as ministers to Hamdok’s cabinet, and two women included in the Sovereignty Council.
The transitional government tries to distance itself from old regime members and its policies but seems to lack innovation in policymaking. Due to a lack of effective monitoring and evaluation, the government has not learned from past experiences. It seems to repeat the same mistakes of former transition periods. Although it demonstrates an interest in international cooperation, best practices at the domestic level are seldom prioritized.
The government’s daily navigation through politics and consultation with academic experts are lost. As but one example, the government has stopped communicating important reforms in advance. Fixed prices for water and electricity went up by 500% with an announcement on the same day. In the absence of institutionalized mechanisms that facilitate innovation and flexibility, policies that have proven to fail are not replaced with innovative ones.
The failure of the government to learn became increasingly visible during the pandemic, with its total failure to handle the crisis effectively.
The transitional government carried out several steps that reveal a lack of efficiency in dealing with human, financial and organizational resources. Some errors include arbitrary dismissal of staff under the pretext of the dismantling of the former regime and a lack of transparency in the process of filling those vacant positions. Government positions have not been advertised openly to create free and fair competition, which raises questions about whether those appointed are the most qualified candidates.
The transitional government’s state budget has not differed from that of the former regime. The process of budget planning and implementation lacked transparency. Military spending still dominates. A characteristic of the transitional government is the absence of an economic vision and political will to achieve an economic program that improves life for the masses. The removal of subsidies of basic commodities and liberalization of the exchange rate caused the population to suffer to obtain the basic necessities of life.
Without serious reforms, the public administration system will continue to lack effective management and professional logic. Decision-making will remain centrally administered.
Efficient use of assets
The transitional government has not been entirely successful in coordinating conflicting objectives into coherent policy, which affects public trust in the government.
Its incoherent economic policy is a vivid example of the government’s failure to coordinate between conflicting objectives and competing political interests.
A lack of coordination also arose during the dismissal of the former Minister of Health, Akram Ali Altoum. This incident took place in May 2020 when the Sovereignty Council issued a statement that Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok should take the necessary constitutional steps to remove him. The government and the Forces of Freedom and Change subsequently denied, in two separate statements, any agreement or recommendation to dismiss the minister. The Sovereignty Council reissued its previous statement about removing Altoum, which sparked controversy among the public around his dismissal or lack thereof. This incident is a clear example of the lack of coordination among the three parties governing in the transition period.
Another controversy emerged in July 2020 when the Forces of Freedom and Change, the civilian partner in power, was reportedly not consulted about the formation of a new cabinet.
According to the Constitutional Declaration that governs the current transitional government, an Anti-Corruption Commission is to be established. The Ministry of Justice is drafting a law that grants the Anti-Corruption Commission broad powers that include removing immunity from anyone under investigation. The independence of the commission from the executive body is emphasized. It reports to the Legislative Council.
The draft law grants the commission the power to investigate aspects of financial and administrative corruption in any transactions involving state agencies.
There are more than 200 companies owned by the military in vital fields, such as trade in flour, meat and shoes, which operate beyond the control of the Ministry of Finance, without contributing to the state treasury. The civilian government demanded these companies be restored to the Ministry of Finance, which caused controversy and tension between the military and the civilian government. The military tried to sit out the issue, insisting that the companies it runs are part of the public sector, committed to benefiting the national economy and subject to public review. The military denies that the army’s control of the companies contributes to exacerbating the economic crisis.
The transitional government was formed as a result of power-sharing between the military and civilians. The current political leadership has presented this partnership as a “unique model” that guarantees a peaceful transition. However, various social groups fear that the military has no intention of establishing democracy in the country. The anti-democratic tendencies among the military members of the Sovereignty Council are observable in their statements to the press and in their negative attitude toward the civilian members of the government, which undermines the transition. The fact that military members of the government have been involved in violating civilians’ rights only fuels the fear that these individuals seek to frustrate democratic transformation in order to avoid being held accountable. The weakness of the civilians in the government makes the coalition fragile. Thus, democracy is not accepted as a strategic, long-term goal of the transformation by all major political actors, especially those who will be disadvantaged by the reform.
The major political actors agree on the market economy as a strategic, long-term goal of transformation. However, the Communist Party, a key player in the revolution, withdrew from the FFC in November 2020 over its dissatisfaction with FFC bargaining with the military, which compromised maintaining civilian rule. Beyond the distorted political agreement that enabled the military to dominate the transition period, the Communist Party disagreed with the government’s economic program, which it found far from manifesting the objectives of the revolution and to follow the path of the former regime. The Resistance Committees share the same opinion as the Communist Party, disapproving the government’s policies and its handling of the economy.
Consensus on goals
Two years after the revolution, democracy advocates within the government have still not managed to subdue or exclude anti-democratic actors, such as the military. Military members in the Sovereignty Council take every chance presented to them to criticize the civilian government and blame it for the failure of the transition. The military members not only exempt themselves from any failings, but also demonstrate tyrannical attitudes. For instance, Lieutenant General Shams al-Deen al-Kabashi, a member of the Sovereignty Council, refused to appear before the committee investigating the Khartoum massacre. Al-Kabashi had stated earlier that he was involved in the planning of the operation on June 3, 2019 to disperse the sit-in in front of the military headquarters. His refusal to appear before the investigating committee was a clear sign that he does not recognize its authority. Another example of the anti-democratic attitude of military members of the Sovereignty Council is their lack of recognition of civilian governors during state visits; typically, generals visit states without first informing the civilian state governor and proceed with their activities as if there were no governor. At the same time, civilian state governors find it difficult to reach military members of the government when they need to contact them.
Despite the transitional government’s efforts to negotiate peace with armed groups, new cleavage-based conflicts emerged in various regions of Sudan. The transitional government’s ability to prevent cleavage-based conflicts from escalating is very limited.
Yet, the Juba peace agreement signed by the government of Sudan and the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) on October 3, 2020, is indeed a historical milestone. On the side of the SRF, major Darfuri rebel groups signed, including the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement, as well as the Sudan People’ Liberation Movement-North, which fought the government in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile.
The agreement calls for a reorganization and reconfiguration of the security forces, including integration of members of the armed movements into government forces, and a comprehensive application of transitional justice, including compensation and reparation for victims of former injustice. Other sections of the agreement call for a solution to the issue of the internally displaced persons and refugees, settlement of land disputes, and improved representation of rebel groups in the Sovereignty Council during the transition period.
Cleavage / conflict management
After three decades under an authoritarian regime, civil society now has the opportunity to operate with fewer restrictions and without crackdowns by security forces. Sudanese civil society organizations include charitable and humanitarian organizations, clubs, federations, tribal and traditional groups, as well as non-governmental organizations. The former regime maintained a systematic campaign against civil society organizations, portraying them as representing foreign agendas, which affected their reputations. However, during the protests, with deteriorating confidence in the government, civil society has regained the public’s trust.
The transitional government however neglects civil society participation. It frequently ignores civil society actors and formulates its policy autonomously.
Civil society participation
Following the December 2018 revolution, justice and reconciliation are considered important in order to ensure the transformation from an authoritarian regime to a democratic one. Social peacebuilding requires justice instead of human rights violations, anti-corruption policies and the prevalence of the rule of law.
To achieve justice, there is a need to return displaced persons and all those affected by the war to their original regions and to reinstate their lands and settlements. Besides receiving compensation as victims, the returnees need security and livelihood provisions. Individual and collective apologies to the victims and their families are required. Thus far, the transitional government has not addressed historical acts of injustice and has not initiated a process of reconciliation.
The committee investigating the Khartoum massacre that was established in August 2019 has lost the public’s trust, especially that of families of the victims, for procrastinating and failure to conclude its investigation.
Since July 2020, former President Omar al-Bashir has been on trial for orchestrating the 1989 coup that overthrew the government of Sadiq al-Mahdi.
The political leadership’s attitudes toward international cooperation seem positive. Prior to assuming office as interim prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok had a career in various international organizations, including the World Bank. This makes him well-versed in establishing partnerships with international actors. However, his critics question whether he prioritizes foreign over national interests. In February 2020, Hamdok asked the U.N. to send a mission to contribute to achieving peace and promoting democratic transformation in Sudan, based on Chapter VI of the United Nations Charter. He justified this move by the requirements of the Constitutional Declaration to end wars and conflicts and build peace. For Hamdok, deteriorating economic, political, developmental and human conditions inherited from the former regime made the country unable to achieve lasting peace without support from the international community. Despite the negative reaction from Islamists, this move demonstrated the prime minister’s ability to learn from international knowhow, adapt external advice to domestic realities and integrate international assistance into a consistent, long-term strategy of development. The resulting UNITAMS (United Nations Integrated Transitional Assistance Mission in Sudan) was approved in summer 2020 and started its work in January 2021, after the existing UNAMID peacekeeping mission ended on December 31, 2020.
The Sudan Partnership Conference, held virtually in June 2020 and sponsored by Germany, the EU and the U.N., brokered pledges of about $2 billion in aid, including $356.2 million from the U.S., €312 million from the EU, €150 million from Germany and €100 million from France. Britain pledged £150 million and the UAE $300 million.
In September 2020, Sudan launched a Family Support Program known as Thamarat (“fruits”), funded with international support, mainly from the World Bank and the World Food Program. Thamarat will provide direct cash transfers to Sudanese families experience economic hardships.
Effective use of support
In contrast to the former regime, the transitional government has achieved some degree of confidence among the international community. This is evident from the support the international community has provided to civilian members of the government both politically and financially. However, the credibility of the transitional government with the international community is threatened by its partnership with the military. The transitional government is attempting to increase its credibility among the international community and undo wrongdoings committed by the former regime.
For instance, the government made a serious effort to be removed from the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism, a designation it had had since 1993, which included making concessions. Sudan paid dearly for being on this list. It undermined the country’s credibility for several decades. However, the government’s cooperation with the international community has been strongly criticized by local actors, who consider it an agent of promoting foreign interests.
In response to an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for Omar al-Bashir and four other suspects (one of them, Ali Kushayb, having already surrendered to the ICC), the government announced in February 2020 that it would hand the suspects over to appear before the ICC. An ICC delegation visited Sudan in October 2020 for further talks, but no additional steps have been undertaken since then.
The transitional government inherited a heavy legacy of tense external relations from the former regime. Thus, the restoration of Sudan’s external relations has become a priority, aiming to end international isolation and secure the necessary support for the transition process.
The transitional government’s foreign policy has been characterized by considerations of national interest and a decline in the ideological influences that defined the former regime’s choice of regional allies. The transitional government has adopted a balanced-relations logic and supported regional stability. In October 2020, the government of Sudan signed a normalization agreement with Israel.
The relationship with neighboring countries is influenced by Sudan’s economic, political and security interests. For example, Sudan is heavily affected by crises in Gulf states and often forced to pick a side. The legacy of the former Islamist regime has also affected its relationships with countries such as Qatar, Turkey and Egypt. For years, Sudan has been stuck between Egypt and Ethiopia’s rivalry over Nile water regulations, intensified by tensions caused by the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Both Egypt’s and Ethiopia’s cooperation with Sudan was affected by border disputes that escalated into a military confrontation in the case of the country’s borders with Ethiopia, and a frozen conflict over the Halayeb triangle with Egypt. Sudan now hosts thousands of Tigrayan refugees who have fled their homes as a result of attacks by the Ethiopian government since 2020.
In November 2019, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was selected for a one-year term as the president of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Overall, the ability of Sudan’s political leadership to establish cooperative relationships that serve the national interests of Sudan is heavily affected by economic bankruptcy and a fragile government, which makes the country vulnerable to the influence of external actors that regionally determine the nature of cooperation.
The 2018 – 2019 revolution presented a historic opportunity for Sudan to develop into a democratic developmental nation-state. This unique opportunity should not be lost at any cost. More than ever, Sudan needs to construct functioning state institutions that produce policies through interactions among internal actors and represent the national interests of the Sudanese people.
Over the past three decades, Sudan has experienced various forms of external intervention according to which the policymaking process was produced by interactions between external actors and internal agents that prioritized external interests over national ones. Consequently, the country became vulnerable to often-conflicting external interests and national interests became secondary. This vulnerability has been both a cause and effect of state weakness. This needs to be addressed by implementing leadership that puts Sudan first and removing self-serving figures from the government.
Two years after the revolution, power is still concentrated in the hands of a minority. Most of the population is not represented among those who exercise power. There are still armed groups that have not signed peace agreements, and potentially more groups can take up arms against the central government. A thorough reform of the security sector is mandatory, including integration of former militia members into the armed forces, especially the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which have become a “state in their own.” Politically, there is a need to establish an independent legislative council that represents the majority of the population and caters to minority groups’ rights. The government needs to manage the differences among various actors in a viable manner.
“Freedom, Peace and Justice” was the slogan of the December 2018 revolution. The Sudanese people revolted against the Inqaz regime, which attempted to restructure society according to a single ideology, regardless of its diversity. The transitional government must work to grant freedoms and ensure that policymaking includes the entire population and enables it to practice diverse beliefs and pursue diverse aspirations. To achieve this end, economic reform is a key factor, including anticorruption measures and the removal of parallel economy enablers.
Achieving justice and holding those who committed atrocities accountable are key to Sudan’s transformation. The previous regime committed many atrocities, and the demand for justice to be served was the protesters’ top priority before, during and after the revolution. Injustice affected many, including prisoners the former security agents tortured, committing crimes against humanity in Darfur since 2003, and recently, the hundreds killed by security forces during the uprisings, including the Khartoum massacre on June 3, 2019.
Perhaps the Sudanese people understand that the transitional government has inherited a heavy burden of failure with regards to the economy and peace. Perhaps the Sudanese people understand that reforming the civil service, reforming laws and the issue of secularization requires additional time. However, the authorities’ reluctance to achieve a minimum level of progress in terms of meting out justice and to hold the figures of the former regime accountable raises suspicions and causes frustration. Justice is linked to accountability for crimes involving public money that led to the deterioration of the economy and the failure of Sudan’s major national projects.