It seems every week brings signals of the exacerbation of the security problems in the Horn of Africa. The world now seems fixated on the region as almost every country has internal and cross border troubles. The international ruling on the disputed border between Somalia and Kenya, Ethiopia’s internal woes, Eritrea’s implications in Ethiopia’s war in the North, the Sudanese border incursion into Ethiopia, the fragile situation between Sudan and South Sudan are just the main ongoing problems in the region.
The increasingly strained tensions between the civilian and military sections of Sudan’s government have hit new heights this week. The cracks between the two sides have gone deep enough to show that the tectonic plates of the civilian and military wings will soon drift apart. The confrontations between the two sides seem to align the people behind them, splitting the nation into at least two groups.
Since the army overthrew Omar Al-Bashir in 2019, Sudan’s international and local paths seem to have gone divergently. Locally, the civilian alliance called Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) that orchestrated the mass protests has chunks taken out of it. The civilian alliance was instrumental in forging the civilian wing of the civilian-military administration of the transitional government. A splinter group from the civilian alliance, however, organized protests that called for the dissolution of the transitional government and assumption of power by the military. The protests held last Saturday and Sunday claimed that the interim government ‘failed’ both politically and economically. The protesters gathered in front of the Presidential Palace and staged sit-ins there. Media reports about the protests indicate that the protesters clearly called for the military to instigate a coup and take control of the country.
The fact that protesters were allowed to willfully march on the streets and approach the palace gate is considered by some as a sign of the military’s backing of the moves. Media reports indicated that there were hardly any police officers on the streets to ensure the peaceful nature of the protests. Counter-revolutionary forces have also been associated with the protests that called for military toppling of the interim government. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok called the protests the “worst and most dangerous crisis” during the country’s transitional period.
On the other hand, another group of protesters went out to the streets on Thursday to show support to the civilian administration and demand the military hand over power to civilians. The protesters denounced the military for its efforts to thwart the transition to democracy. In addition to the capital Khartoum, the rallies were carried out in major Sudanese cities. Reminiscent of the 2019 protests that led to the ouster of Al-Bashir, protesters were transported from other cities into Khartoum by trains.
Unlike the pro-military protests over the weekend, protesters who marched the streets against military rule had to face security forces that used tear gas to disperse them. Protesters who approached the national palace were also stopped by security forces.
A statement issued by the Sudanese Professionals Association that organized the rally stated: “The objective of these marches is to protect Sudan’s democratic transition and there is no way to achieve that without ending any partnership with the military council.”
With one group calling for the dissolution of the civilian administration and another demanding transition into a fully civilian administration, the road ahead for Sudan is likely going to be bumpier that it has already been. Moves by the political elite to involve the people in their confrontation would also strain the current situation further as the two groups could end up colliding unless such actions are restrained from now on.
Another security concern for Sudan emanates from the power rivalry between two of the military’s top men. The power of President of the Sovereign Council and Command-in-Chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces, Lt Gen Abdulfettah Al Burhan, has increasingly been challenged by Vice-President of the Sovereign Council and the Commander-in-Chief of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Lt Gen Mohammed Dagalo ‘Hemeti’.
The latter’s power has been on the ascent over the transitional period as he presides over one of the most notorious armies in Sudan – the RSF. The RSF were originally the Janjaweed militia that committed war crimes in Darfur region. Hemeti was leader of the militia group in the early 2000s. The man who dropped out of primary school in third grade saw became leader of the RSF when it was established in 2013. The RSF came under the Sudanese forces in 2015. On April 13, 2019, Al-Burhan appointed Hemeti as his deputy. Since then, he has been the face of Sudan’s military and has forged strong relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Most analysts consider him to be the more active than Al-Burhan in Sudan’s politics.
Internationally, Sudan seems to be enjoying a better limelight since the coming to power of the interim government. Sudan has been withdrawn from the US’s list of state sponsors of terrorism and the sanctions have been lifted. That move has been followed by IMF backed economic reforms that entail slashing of fuel subsidies and a managed floating of the Sudanese pound.
These measures have contributed to the soaring inflation in the country and the grim economic realities face by the people. Although IMF’s funding seems like a positive move on the side of the international community, the loan conditions that include harsh economic reforms seem to fuel the already burning social and economic woes of the country.