Sudan Political framework agreement: Sudan’s transition to democracy has been marked by difficulties. There was an opportunity for the country to return to civilian rule and democracy, however, due to various factors such a historic chance was lost and since then Sudan has been moving from one political impasse to another. As Sudan now hopes for a new civilian government and return to democracy this year, a new political impasse seems to be looming over the country yet again.
Sudan’s paramilitary leader to be a threat to Sudan’s transition?
The Sudanese military and a coalition of major civilian actors signed a Sudan Political framework agreement on 5 December 2022. The new political deal had raised hopes that Sudan’s long political impasse could be nearing its end. The deal promised to pave the path to a new civilian government more than a year after the military had seized full power in an October 2021 coup.
As per a recent report, the signatories of the political deal have said that a transitional civilian government is expected to be named in April. The signatories to the December 2022 Sudan Political Framework Agreement recently met to discuss the progress toward restoring a civilian-led government in Sudan. Although the hopes are high, however, some groups are against the Sudan Political framework agreement and many Sudanese are sceptical about the military giving up its power. And these fears are not without a valid reason.
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According to a Reuters report, the leader of a powerful paramilitary force in Sudan, has put himself at the forefront of a planned transition toward democracy. It has unsettled fellow military rulers and has also triggered a mobilisation of troops in the capital Khartoum.
General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as Hemedti, is the deputy leader of Sudan’s ruling council, which seized power in a coup more than a year ago.
Now, as Sudan moves closer to a democratic transition, Hemedti’s political ambitions have caused a sense of uncertainty in the country and there are solid reasons for the same.
Hemedti commands tens of thousands of fighters in the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and has also amassed considerable mineral wealth.
Now, this is reminiscent of the events that transpired in October 2021, when the transitional government was itself overthrown, with the military half of the government ousting civilian politicians and taking over.
Uncertainty over Sudan’s democratic transition
Cut to the present, Hemedti as per the report, has pulled away from the military colleagues and found a common ground with a civilian political alliance. These moves of his could potentially establish him as a major figure even after the democratic transition.
Central to Hemedti’s disagreement with the military is his reluctance to set a clear deadline to integrate the RSF into the army, which is a stipulation within the Sudan Political framework agreement that paved the way for a two year civilian-led transition to elections. Hemedti had then pledged to protect the transition and issued a general apology “for the state’s violence and mistakes towards communities throughout (Sudan’s) history”.
However, now he seems to have changed his mind, who knows?
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It has now caused tensions between Hemedti and the ruling council leader Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, as the standoff led Hemedti to bring additional RSF forces in recent weeks to bases in Khartoum from Darfur, the Western region where the group had emerged from the so-called Janjaweed militias accused of atrocities during the early 2000s.
On the other hand, concerned about his intentions, the army under Al-Burhan stationed more soldiers in the capital on a state of alert.
Although Hemedti said that his forces would never fight the army, reasons for the troop movements have not been previously reported.
Hemedti’s underlying differences with the army have still not been resolved and the risk of a confrontation, ahead of a democratic transition, that could bring Sudan into deepening instability, still remains.
The possibility of such a confrontation can’t be denied, if one takes into consideration Hemedti’s ambitions. As per Suliman Baldo, head of the Sudan Transparency and Policy Tracker, an independent think tank, Hemedti is trying to become “a force to be reckoned with in the national power structure.”
Further, many in Sudan’s pro-democracy movement have already grown uneasy about Hemedti’s prominence in the new transition push.
Resistance committees that have led anti-coup demonstrations also blame the RSF for leading the killings of dozens of protesters in June 2019.
Again, as per an international diplomat, any final transition agreement would likely bar Hemedti and Burhan from standing in the first post-deal elections. But, Hemedti who is still in his late 40s, has time on his side. The diplomat said, “he wants to reinvent himself as not a militia leader, but a statesman.”
Keeping in mind all this, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Sudan’s democratic transition process is on a thin ice. Sudan, which already has had an extremely difficult path towards democracy, once again faces similar conditions just ahead of a possible transition. It has been seen earlier, how countries like Burkina Faso had also faced something similar when it witnessed two coups in just eight months.
Now, a lot depends on Hemedti’s ambitions in Sudan as it prepares for a democratic transition. However, if the powerful paramilitary leader decides to oust Al-Burhan or indeed acts on assuming leadership in the country, it will be yet another setback to Sudan’s democratic dream. Only time will tell, if things will go as planned in Sudan or it will be back to where it all started.
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