In the early hours of Friday morning, 5 July, Sudanese leaders representing both the military and the civilian-led protesters reached an agreement on the structure of a new transitional government whose primary task will be to facilitate democratic elections in approximately three years. The deal calls for the creation of an eleven-member Sovereign Council made up of six civilians and five military leaders appointed to oversee this task, as well as a new independent body to investigate recent violence against pro-democracy protesters in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital city.
While pro-democracy demonstrators welcomed the deal as a positive step towards democracy in Sudan, many remain fearful that prospects remain bleak for a successful transition to civilian-led democracy, leading many to embrace a “cautiously optimistic” view of the new agreement. Tarek Abdel Meguid, a leader representing the Sudanese protesters, characterized the new agreement as “not fully satisfying but a step forward.” In order for optimism to be warranted without caution, there are several key developments that must take place before pro-democracy protesters will be fully satisfied.
Here are 5 key metrics to watch for measuring the progress for Sudan’s transition to democracy:
1. A restriction on power held by Lt. Gen. Dagalo
Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known by the nickname “Hemeti”, rose to infamy as the leader of the brutal Janjaweed militia that carried out genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region. His paramilitary militia, also known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), has been accused of killing hundreds of civilian protesters since the Sudanese military assumed power over the country following President Omar al-Bashir’s ousting in April this year. Now, Hemeti is the deputy head of the Transitional Military Council (TMC), the same military group currently controlling Sudan. Many Sudanese fear that Hemeti will seek a seat on the newly created Sovereign Council, a group of leaders created under the agreement reached this morning. So far, Hemeti has given no indication that he is in favor of a transition to democracy, leading many to believe that giving him a seat on the Sovereign Council will significantly impede Sudan’s ability to transition successfully to civilian-led democratic rule. Military leaders will already have an advantage within the governing body, given that pro-military Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan will shortly assume the council’s first presidency. It is important, therefore, that Hemeti’s influence remains in check, otherwise, the Sovereign Council will be much less likely to follow through on its promise of democracy in three years.
2. The ability of the independent technocratic government to investigate recent violence
One important aspect of the transitional agreement reached yesterday in Sudan is the creation of an independent, technocratic body tasked with investigating recent violence against protesters since President al-Bashir’s departure from office in April. Two days in particular, 3 June and 30 June, saw pro-democracy protesters killed by what many believe was Hemeti’s RSF militia. If an independent investigation reveals that it was, indeed, Hemeti and the RSF behind these killings, it could cause the military to hinder the transition process and to seize control from the Sovereign Council. The true test of this investigation as a benchmark for Sudan’s success will be whether or not the military interferes in the investigation. In order for Sudan to transition to democracy successfully, it is therefore crucial that this independent body be allowed to carry out its investigation fairly.
3. The end of the nationwide internet blackout
Since the Transitional Military Council (TMC) took control of post-Bashir Sudan in April, the group has placed several restrictions on internet access nationwide. This has severely hindered the public’s ability to communicate effectively and to express itself freely. The TMC has made clear its intention to censor information, as made particularly evident by the recent expulsion of Qatari news organization Al Jazeera from Sudan. Internet blackouts across Sudan remain widespread, meaning that there are still many Sudanese people who have not yet heard about the new agreement reached yesterday morning. Those who have heard about the deal likely heard the news through word-of-mouth sources or from military-controlled news outlets. This arrangement will be problematic for Sudan if allowed to persist in the long-term, especially if it prevents the Sudanese public from voicing its opinion as the country makes its transition to civilian-led democracy. Without open access to uncensored information, it is unlikely that Sudan will be able to make a successful transition to democracy.
4. The resolution of state-level disputes
Another aspect of the situation in Sudan that needs to be considered is the set of state-level issues that continue to divide Sudanese society. Although pro-democracy protesters have welcomed the new agreement reached this morning, many of them worry that civil war is likely to break out if disputes in the Darfur, South Kordofan, and Nuba Mountains regions of Sudan are left unresolved. Recalling the role that Hemeti has played in perpetrating genocide in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, it’s highly unlikely that Darfurians and other targeted groups would accept as legitimate a government in which Hemeti is given a leadership role. Continued unrest in relatively unstable regions like Darfur would hinder a new government’s ability to govern the nation effectively, thereby complicating the transition to democracy. In order to unify Sudan under one democratic government and to ensure that all of its citizens are represented adequately, it is first necessary to resolve state-level unrest that continues to exacerbate instability nationwide.
5. An agreement on the creation of a democratically-elected legislature
One of the conspicuously absent aspects of the new agreement reached yesterday morning was a plan to establish a civilian-led, democratically-elected legislative body for Sudan. Despite thousands of Sudanese taking to the streets chanting “Civilian! Civilian! Civilian!” after hearing the news, there was no aspect of the agreement that put forth a clear plan for a civilian-elected legislative body. In order for Sudan to become a truly representative democracy, it is important that this aspect of the transition be resolved quickly and properly.
Pro-democracy protestors are right to welcome yesterday’s agreement that brings Sudan one step closer to civilian-led rule. However, they are also correct to approach the deal in its current form with a sense of skepticism. The situation in Sudan reminds complicated and far from resolved, and unless the five goals mentioned above are achieved, it is unlikely that Sudan will be able to transition successfully to civilian-led democratic rule.