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Sudan in Transition

Sudan in Transition

Since he came into power last year, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed did not have it easy with regard to the managing the geopolitical situation in the Horn of Africa. Contrary to the level of support and acceptance he gained in the global arena, the 42-years old PM and his regional policy are yet to find their bearing with regard to this restive region; this of course is with the exception of Eritrea where the PM took credit for bringing Eritrea back from the metaphorical “cold”.

This was true until a couple of weeks ago, where PM Abiy and his mediating team were hailed for brokering peace in Khartoum, Sudan.

He was applauded by many Sudanese, who depict Abiy as the main actor who helped broker the agreement (peace) between the Military Council and the opposition, Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC). The Sudanese took the social media by storm, expressing their appreciation to PM Abiy and his administration.

A twitter handle by the name Omer Hadra has applauded Abiy and said, “We thank Abiy Ahmed for what you did for Sudan.”

Abiy went to Khartoum ahead of a high-level delegation consisting of his close political allies: Defense Minister Lemma Megerssa, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gedu Andargatchew as well as Peace Minister, Muferiat Kemal.

Upon his arrival, Abiy received a warm welcome from the Sudanese government.

Sudan Tribune, one of Sudan’s popular media outlets described the way Ethiopia’s leader was welcomed in comparison to the way the Egyptian Prime Minister, who has also attended the signing ceremony, was received by the Sudanese.  

“The Sudanese gave Egyptian Prime Minister a distinctly lukewarm reception during the signing ceremony of the transitional authority on Saturday, in total contrast to the warm welcome given to his Ethiopian counterpart,” said the Tribune.

The historic deal brought about an international praise to Abiy, who is still struggling to hold his country as well as the political party he is chairing together, with the country fragmented along many lines of division.

During the official signing of the agreement between the military council and the opposition force on August 17, 2019 Abiy was applaud by the participants of the historic day by dignitaries, who were there to witness the agreement. A head of the signing ceremony, Abiy met with the members of the FFC who have expressed their appreciation for the role Ethiopia has played in facilitating the agreement.

The role Ethiopia played following the political instability in Sudan is something Ethiopia chooses to do, not just out of generosity but also out of necessity. Unstable Sudan would have contributed to disturbances in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia would have been significantly affected by the political situation in Sudan. The two countries have been close allies politically, economically as well culturally. For instance, economically, Ethiopia uses the Port of Sudan as one of its alternative sea outlets. In addition, Ethiopia imports almost 50 percent of its fuel from Sudan – a few years back the amount stood at 80 percent. In addition, the two share a very wide border.

It can be recalled that following weeks after the protest in Sudan, as of last year, Ethiopia has sent two of its top officials; Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen and its Foreign Minister, Workneh Gebeyehu (PhD). At the time, the visit did not come by accident, where both affirmed their government’s strong stance when it came to the relationship between Ethiopia and Sudan.

Martin Plaut, a well-known researcher on the Horn of Africa, has argued that an unstable Sudan would have an impact on Ethiopia.

“Clearly PM Abiy has been trying to have a good relation with Khartoum, so my guess is that it would be a blow to him - a setback to his plans for regional stability and growth,” Plaut told The Reporter a couple of months ago.

At the time, the situation in Sudan was transitioning from bad to worse following the removal of Al-Bashir on April 11, 2019.

The protest in Sudan, largely led by Sudanese youth, began back in December, 2018.The unprecedented protests which led to the demise of Al-Bashir’s three-decade rule initially emanated from the frustration and anger built up through time, over the escalation of prices of bread and fuel. Later on, the demands took a political angel following different political groups, workers’ associations and civil societies joining the protest and calling for President Omar al-Bashir to step down.

For years, especially following the departure of South Sudan as an independent state, the economy of Sudan was deeply affected. More specifically, Sudan lost its significant revenue from oil and petroleum exports which exacerbated the fall of Sudan’s economy.

Fearing the protests, Al-Bashir, who took power via a coup-d’état back in 1989, promised to come-up with new foreign investments to heal the current economic crises. In addition, the Central Bank of Sudan has also proposed plans to boost the country’s revenue by bringing in more hard currencies and printing more banknotes. However, these promises could not save Al-Bashir from being ousted by his own friends.

Unfortunately, even with Al-Bashir’s ousting, it did not stop the youth from protesting in the streets of Khartoum as well as other parts of Sudan.

It can be recalled that just minutes after the statement by the military, Professional Association of Sudan which was instrumental during the protest against Al-Bashir’s government, said it is against the takeover of power by the military.

“We assert that the people of Sudan will not accept anything less than a civil transitional authority composed of a patriotic group of experts who were not involved with the tyrannical regime,” read the statement.

The association also called for more protests and called for the military to hand-over power to the people of Sudan.

“We are not satisfied with the military because it is a coup over a coup and those who are now within the coup are the same old people,” an unnamed journalist based in Khartoum told The Reporter, a few months ago. “Our demands are that the former regime should go in its entirety; and form a transitional government composed of civilians, not a military force; within a period not more than three months and less than a year. Second is the accountability of all those involved in the crimes of the former regime,” said the journalist who was also actively participating in the protest against the regime.

Following this, many at the time speculated that protests would continue which actually were found out to be true. Many were calling for a civilian transitional government instead of a military. Consequently, many state and non-state actors were involved; pressuring the military council to form a civilian led transitional government.

Following the intense negotiation process, where the AU and IGAD were involved in, the two groups in Sudan agreed to sign a power sharing agreement.

Throughout the negotiation process, Ethiopia was active in bringing the two groups to the table, where Abiy went to Khartoum to speak with the representatives of the two groups in June, 2019. Finally, the two reached an agreement at the beginning of this month.

The agreement outlines for a formation of a three year transitional government followed by an election to be conducted.

The transitional government or sovereign council consists of five civilians and five generals. The council is now chaired by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

Abdalla, who has spent most of his working career for the last decade within many institutions including the UN Economic Commission for Africa, will have to deal with a number of challenges.

Appointing his new cabinet will be the first challenge while managing the economic challenge in Sudan will be his priority.

“To deliver on the goals of Sudan's revolution, he will need all of his skills, a lot of goodwill, and a dose of good luck,” Alex de Waal, Sudan analyst wrote this to the BBC.