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Sudan has experienced more changes in the past one week than it did in the three decades under President Omar al-Bashir who was deposed in a coup earlier this month following several months of sustained mass protests.
Since seizing power in 1989, Bashir had managed to navigate his way through a permanent state of national crisis. He survived a crippling civil war that resulted in loss of one-third of Sudan’s territory and three-quarters of its oil revenue when South Sudan achieved independence in 2011. He turned more than two decades of international isolation to his political advantage, deflecting blame for his own failures onto his foreign adversaries.
But his day of reckoning dawned on 11th April. For most Sudanese, the most urgent task today is to protect their hard-fought revolution from leaders who they are afraid will do everything in their power to subvert it.
Protesters have tasted some initial success, rejecting the self-appointed Head of the new transitional military council who was considered unacceptably close to the old regime. He stepped down after only one day.
But, even more formidable challenges lie ahead. It is incumbent that the revolutionaries try to engineer a smooth transition from military to civilian rule that will put Sudan on the path to peace, stability, democracy and prosperity. That challenge is compounded by the reality that the movement’s leaders are political novices who confront a daunting task to wrest the country away from the clutches of scheming, duplicitous military men and regime insiders who have no interest in radically altering the existing power system and structure.
Sudan can take a lesson from neighbouring Egypt and several others where military dictatorships were swept away by popular protests in 2011 but without any positive benefit accruing to the common people.
It is essential that the transition is inclusive representing the national complexion of the movement and the leading roles played by the youth, women and professional classes; the urban and rural poor in leading to Bashir’s ouster. Those who led the protests must stay in the centre of the next phase as the masses in the streets will remain a potent leverage over the military council. A truly inclusive transition will necessitate accommodation of some elements of Bashir’s National Congress Party.
Most importantly, the transition must be civilian-led. This is essential to ensure that one military regime is not replaced by another. The biggest threat to stability in the coming days would be a split between different factions which could lead to violence. The change must take place at a brisk but realistic pace. This should include an early end to restrictions on civilian liberties, expansion of political freedoms, drafting of a new constitution and holding of free, fair and credible elections.
In addition to peace and stability, justice must be ensured. The future fate of Bashir who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity will need to be decided fairly and carefully. The existing apparatus of terror must be dismantled. A comprehensive reform of the security structure must be implemented.
The international community including USA, Europe, Japan, India and others needs to play an important role by providing robust political, diplomatic and economic support to Sudan’s civilian leadership. The almost-complete collapse of Sudan’s economy was the spark that ignited this revolution. Sudan’s international partners can help revive it. The promise of bilateral and multilateral debt relief and resumption of aid relationships with leading donors will be important incentives for Sudan’s new leaders.
At this juncture, the revolution is far from secure. A clique of Sudan’s military and security leaders could ultimately succeed in thwarting the protesters’ ambitions. But Sudan’s citizens—through their persistence, bravery and disciplined commitment to peaceful protests—have demonstrated their power so far to shape events. An opportunity to chart a better future for their country beckons them.
Script: Amb. Ashok Sajjanhar, Former Indian Diplomat & President, Institute of Global Studies