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Sudan plots path towards democracy

August 6, 2019

Sudan's pro-democracy movement and the military have signed a constitutional declaration. The two sides are aiming to put the country on a course toward democratization, but the path will prove challenging.

Sudan Abkommen - Ahmed Rabie und General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo
Image: AFP/A. Shazly

Leaders of Sudan's pro-democracy movement and the ruling military council have signed a constitutional declaration and announced plans to form a new government. The declaration, initialed on Sunday, sets out the new political power structure and will be formally signed on August 17, paving the way for a transition period that will see key government appointments made within weeks. 

The day after the declaration receives the final signatures, a sovereign council — made up of six civilians and five military figures — will be established to take over control from Sudan's military council and oversee the formation of a new government. On August 20, an interim head of government will be appointed, and eight days later Cabinet members will also be selected.

Both parties behind the deal have voiced their optimism for Sudan's future. General Mohammed Hamdan Daglo, the deputy head of the ruling military council, said the deal represents "a new chapter in the history of Sudan."

"We started these negotiations as partners and have concluded them as a team," he added. According to Daglo, who is considered a military strongman, "The national will has triumphed, this is a win-win situation."

'Peace is the foundation for democracy'

Members of Sudan's pro-democracy movement said they are particularly pleased that their demand for an investigation into the violent unrest over the past two months has been met. Omar al-Dagir, one of the leaders of the protests, said a "fair and transparent" inquiry would be launched.

A protester stands in front of a burning road block
Sudan's pro-democracy movement signed a constitutional declaration with the military after months of protestImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

In early June, 136 protesters were killed during violent clashes with the military. In the days leading up to the constitutional landmark agreement, five protesters were shot. Alluding to the summer's bloodshed, al-Dagir said that "without peace, there will be no democracy."

A criminal investigation into the violence carried out by the military was a key issue during the negotiations. But the matter has now been addressed, said Ebtisam Senhouri, one of the negotiators representing the demonstrators. 

Major challenges lie ahead

Annette Weber, an expert on Sudan with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), said an important factor now facing the country is how the protest movement and the military together agree to address major political challenges ahead.

In an interview with DW, Weber said Sudan's most urgent issues involve the rule of law, security and the economy — but added that as both the opposition and the military have sought solutions, significant disagreements within both camps have become apparent.

Opinions on Sudan's current trajectory, according to Weber, differ markedly and reaching an agreement on unresolved issues is key to helping democratize the country.

Weber herself remains skeptical over whether the two sides can come to an understanding. "It is not yet clear if Sudan will actually democratize and develop into a transparent political system — or if the old networks and few new actors will resume control," she said.

Sudan's autonomy at stake

The negotiations, which commence mid-August, will not only determine the composition of the cabinet. The talks will also have a huge influence on the country's political culture — and, ultimately, its autonomy. Weber said that if existing structures remain in place, Sudan "will remain dependent on foreign money." This money, according to Weber, "stems mainly from Gulf states," but adds that if Sudan "gives itself a genuine economic and political overhaul, these [states] will cease being Khartoum's key partners."

Whether this new Sudan can escape political influence from Gulf depends on two issues, according to Sudanese journalist Osman Mirghani. On the one hand, Sudan's government will have to adopt a clever foreign policy stance. And on the other, said Mirghani to DW, much will depend on whether Sudan and the Gulf states will be guided by political pragmatism.

"If both sides recognize what will benefit their relationship the most, this will find expression in their relationship," said Mirghani, who spent seven weeks behind bars last spring for his reporting.

Kersten Knipp
Kersten Knipp Political editor with a focus on the Middle East