On 17 August the historic signing of the Political Agreement and Constitutional Declaration by the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) paved the way for Sudan’s political transition. A joint civilian-military Sovereign Council and a transitional government, led by senior economist and former deputy executive of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), prime minister Abdalla Hamdock, will lead the transition. Transitional authorities are tasked with implementing urgent political and socio-economic reforms and entrusted with the responsibility of ferrying Sudan to a legitimizing national election in three years. A courageous and promising project for responsive state building has just begun, with state actors and civil society striving to forge a common understanding of self-owned democratic governance. Nonetheless, public optimism and genuine political will are weighed down by the daunting challenges that Sudan has to face.
Peace and security
The Political Agreement and Constitutional Declaration signed between the TMC and the FFC enshrines an engineered political settlement, an agreement explicitly negotiated by the Sudanese military and civilian elites and facilitated by external mediation. Power-sharing relations within the state political centre were successfully negotiated and established. However, a durable political settlement will have to accommodate the long lasting centre-periphery tensions between the state and the plethora of rebel armed groups, eventually bringing peace to warring areas in the states of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan. The transitional authorities’ commitment to peace and security is facing the challenge of overcoming Omar al-Bashir’s legacy of political marginalization and suppression of rebel armed groups in southern states. In order to achieve a “just and comprehensive peace” within six months, as foreseen by the Constitutional Declaration, the government cannot refrain from considering rebel groups’ requests for an equitable centre-periphery power distribution, as well as their claims for increased regional autonomy and greater inclusion in the civilian administration of ethnic and non-Islamic minorities.
Peace negotiations between the transitional government and rebel armed groups were launched in Juba on 14 October, under the auspices of South Sudan president Salva Kiir Mayardit and in the presence of regional governments and representatives of international organizations. They aim at reaching a comprehensive peace agreement with the rebel groups within two months. So far, the first round of negotiations has followed two parallel tracks, broadly meeting the parties’ expectations and yielding results. On the one hand, a joint political agenda for peace was agreed upon by the government with the largest and most powerful armed group based in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) led by Abdel Aziz al Hilu. The agenda prioritizes and sequences the main topics to be discussed, namely political issues, humanitarian issues and security arrangements. On the other, a hard-won political declaration on implementing the cessation of hostilities was signed with the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF), an umbrella group consisting of smaller entities from the states of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, which united after the secession of South Sudan in 2011. For the first time in ten years, the agreement enables the safe delivery of both national and international humanitarian assistance to conflict-affected areas, after humanitarian actors were expelled in 2009 in retaliation for Bashir’s indictment by the International Criminal Court for crimes committed in Darfur.
The situation in Darfur is the source of some apprehension in the peace process. The main rebel force in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLA) led by Abdul- Wahid al-Nur, has so far refused to enter negotiations with the transitional government and regularly targets the Sudanese armed forces deployed in the region, as well as the staff of humanitarian organizations. Inter-communal conflict, notably between farmers and pastoralists on access to land and resources, is compounded by a significant number of internally displaced persons and adds to the general instability. It is not by chance that the UN Security Council is holding back the drawdown of AU-UN hybrid operations in Darfur (UNAMID), while proposing a “follow on mechanism” to security authorities, so as to avoid a perilous security vacuum in the region which could undermine the peace process.
Comprehensive and sustainable peace in Sudan is instrumental to economic growth and to ensure the effectiveness of sorely needed economic reforms. The opposition’s 200-day “emergency plan” foresees a reallocation of the budget from the exorbitant security sector, now receiving more than 60% of public expenditures, to the chronically underfunded provision of basic services, notably health and education, which currently stand at a meager 5%. The Finance Ministry should have control of the nascent economic governance, ensuring that public financial resources are efficiently channeled through formal institutions such as the central bank, thereby preventing the diversion of funds to other ministries and assertive business corporations.
The ability to raise funds sustainably through effective taxation should be a priority to reinforce Sudanese economic governance. The real enforcement of tax collection, notably vis-à-vis estates and business profits, would increase one of the lowest ratios of public budget revenues to GDP in Africa. A fiscal policy focusing on improving tax collection is not only a prerequisite for improving service delivery, it is essential to fill the socio-political vacuum between Sudanese institutions and civil society, generating firm expectations of accountability. At the same time, taxed revenues will have to benefit from employment generation and increased productivity. Public investment must be targeted to strategic sectors such as agriculture and local industry, in which the scarcity of manufacturing and consumer products fails to boost and diversify weak exports driven by raw materials.
Nevertheless, a quality leap in Sudan’s financial and economic environment will need the complicity of international donors and financial institutions. The removal of Sudan from the US’ States Sponsor of Terrorism (SST) list is adamantly advocated by the international community, including the UN Secretary General who recently called for “immediately removing Sudan's designation as a terrorist-supporting state and lifting all economic sanctions and mobilizing massive financial support for development to make the current political gains durable”. The delisting of Sudan as a SST would make it eligible for public debt relief (now standing at $60bln) and for concessionary funding from international financial institutions – provided that arrears worth $2.6 bln are cleared –, as well as suitable for attracting foreign investment. Notwithstanding sincere appeals for Sudan’s reintegration into international financial markets, bilateral negotiations with the US have yet to be launched and may take up to one year before reaching the desired outcome. The rescission from the SST list will undergo lengthy scrutiny by the US Congress, in order to test Sudanese transitional authorities’ commitment to human rights and civil liberties. In the meantime, the government’s economic endeavors should focus on the mobilization of national resources, both financially (public/private investment deposits, remittances, frozen assets) and economically (agricultural land and natural resources).
Political and judicial governance
The new transitional government, which was sworn in on 8 September, has yet to gain full-fledged national credibility and legitimacy. In order to develop democratic state-society relations, the current challenge of Sudanese political governance on the road to national elections is the establishment of the “operating rules of the political game”. In a developing country with a multiethnic and tribal rural society and abundance of natural resources, operating rules leading to a national election should introduce checks and balances that promote democratic accountability of the political process (i.e. freedom of the press, independence of the judiciary, investment/ tender regulations, anti-corruption law, etc.). The main goal is to reroute institutions and political parties from an electoral competition based on clientelism – fueled by the revenues from resources and state corruption – to a democratic competition based on the offer of public services to voters. As long as the legislative and judicial bodies are not yet in place, political accountability in Sudan should be enforced particularly by civil society and the media through a collective effort to publicize and raise public awareness of government actions. In this regard, the fact that the peace negotiations with armed groups of the Sudanese Revolutionary Front are poised to continue in Khartoum after agreements in Juba is a beneficial and timely decision, as it will allow for greater ownership of and pressure on the negotiations by the media and civil society.
Moreover, as envisaged by the Constitutional Declaration, the transitional government is committed to implement “legal reform and rebuild the human rights and justice system”. If mechanisms for political accountability will have to be in place from the start for the government to win its legitimacy, the rule of law reform will be essential to maintain it throughout the whole transitional period and beyond. A legal regime that no longer tolerates arbitrary abuses of power by the state, demonstrating full commitment to the social contract (monopoly of the use of force vs protection from violence), is needed in Sudan to promote the predictability of state behavior and popular legitimacy.
The transitional government has proved to be well aware of the need to place state agents, notably security forces, under the rule of law, recently establishing an Independent Investigation Committee to probe the incidents of violent repression by the security forces on protesters and violations of citizens’ rights. Acknowledgment of state abuses and pledges for accountability and retribution to the victims are part of the government’s broader efforts to initiate a genuine truth and reconciliation process. Furthermore, a Country Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) will be soon operating in Khartoum, for the purpose of providing technical assistance to the government on protection of human rights, as well as monitoring and reporting on the situation in Sudan.
Absent a democratically elected government, Sudan is patiently attempting to build democratic governance. This suggests that state-building should trigger a parallel process of nation-building. For “Freedom, Peace and Justice” to survive and develop in the long term, Sudan will need to endow itself with an inclusive and peaceful political community, a community that goes beyond national pride and thrives on a virtuous and endemic model of Arab-African unity.