Tag Archives: sudan

Democratic transition stalls, military influence increases as COVID-19 pandemic threatens revolutionary gains – Sudan Special Report

Executive Summary

Following the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in 2019, the democratic transition in Sudan has largely stalled due to myriad factors, leading to a precarious security, economic, and political situation.

The government negotiations with armed groups remain fractious, with the rebel groups bound together in unwieldy alliances that undercut any progress made in talks. This tension is best exemplified by the fragmentation of the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) coalition and tensions between factions of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North.

Further exacerbating the situation is friction between groups within the Declaration of Freedom and Change (DFC), with composite groups disagreeing on the state of relations with the military. This situation is further complicated by the inability of civilian opposition to protest given restrictions imposed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the volatile political climate is aggravated by the crippled Sudanese economy. While PM Abdallah Hamdok has attempted to get foreign investment, these efforts are stifled by Khartoum’s presence on the US ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’ list, which disallows aid and funding from international financial institutions.

Ultimately, the precarious political and economic situation will suppress the influence of the civilian wing of the government, allowing the military, which retains cash reserves and revenue through various state-owned companies, to increase their political influence.

Travel to Khartoum may continue while adhering to standard security protocols regarding criminal activity, while remaining cognizant of authorities’ instructions regarding restrictions, quarantines, and health procedures due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Introduction

A little more than a year after the toppling of President Omar al-Bashir on April 11, 2019 through military intervention spurred by months of massive nonviolent protests nationwide, the stability of Sudan remains precarious. Despite the appointment of the widely-respected Abdallah Hamdok as PM and the signing of a power-sharing deal, the transitional government of the military and the Declaration of Freedom and Change (DFC) revolutionary council of groups remains fragile. This fragility remains despite the signing of a constitutional declaration on August 4, 2019, which laid out the transitional agenda, including the new institutional arrangements for sustained peace. This agenda also included securing a peace deal with armed groups within the first six months of the transitional period.

This process has stalled, even as it is being implemented in the form of peace talks brokered by South Sudan in Juba starting in October 2019. The peace talks were set up as a platform to create a truce between myriad armed groups in the outlying areas of Sudan in return for the safe participation of rebel leaders in the national political process in Khartoum. However, these talks have become the main forum for political negotiations between the government and the rebel groups, upstaging and undermining the role of institutional transition, which remains an unfulfilled promise as envisioned by the constitutional declaration. The efforts of the government to bring the disparate armed groups into mainstream Sudanese polity is further undermined by the internal fragility of the armed groups and the myriad objectives of the groups engaged in discussions.

Key Actors & Groups

Sovereign Council: The Sovereign Council is the collective body that rules as the head of state. It consists of five civilians chosen by the Declaration of Freedom and Change (DFC), five military representatives, and one civilian chosen by common consent.

Declaration of Freedom and Change (DFC): The DFC is a political coalition of civilian and rebel groups. The DFC consists of members such as the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), unionist groups, and armed groups such as the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF).

Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA): The SPA is an umbrella organization consisting of 17 different trade unions. The group played an integral role in the mass protests that led to the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir in 2019.

Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF): The SRF is an alliance of armed groups from across the country that was formed in 2011 in opposition to al-Bashir. Following the overthrow of Bashir, the SRF has engaged in negotiations with Khartoum over positions in the transitional government.

Current Situation

Negotiations between the Sudanese government led by PM Abdallah Hamdok and the SRF that were supposed to conclude on June 20 with a final peace deal were reportedly extended again.

The breakdown between the government and SRF continued to be on matters of security arrangements, the system of governance, and the wealth and power distribution within the transitional government.

Assessments & Forecast

Eventual fragmentation of SRF likely to open new fronts of negotiations

The stagnation of the peace process is best exemplified by the talks between the government and the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF), a coalition of nine Darfuri groups that have long been at odds with the government under former President al-Bashir. While the government negotiators and SRF leaders have managed to sign provisional agreements over resource sharing in Darfur and the cessation of hostilities by either the government security forces or the armed group, a comprehensive peace agreement remains elusive. The government has made some transitional justice in Darfur a priority and has actively worked to earn the confidence of the populace in Darfur. Steps such as PM Hamdok visiting Darfur in November 2019 and the continued prosecution of al-Bashir for both corruption and atrocities committed in Darfur have been hailed as much needed in building trust between Khartoum and the outlying areas of Sudan. Furthermore, the government has also sought to placate and empower the SRF by allotting four seats on the powerful Sovereign Council to the group.

These developments are threatened by factionalism within the SRF, as various previously antagonistic groups attempt to garner as much influence with the negotiations as possible, while also aiming to consolidate power within the SRF. This was illustrated by the withdrawal of the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Minni Minnawi (SLM-MM) from the SRF on May 18 after consistently being rebuffed in its requests for reforms in the SRF structure that is currently headed by Hadi Idriss of the Sudan Liberation Movement – Transitional Council (SLM-TC). The SLM-MM, whose leader Minni Minnawi was the SRF deputy leader, has consistently criticized the organization of the SRF, while other groups such as the SLM-TC stress the need for progressing in the peace talks with the government and dealing with internal structural issues at a later date.

By withdrawing from the SRF, the SLM-MM is demonstrating its lack of faith in the ability of the group to negotiate with the government on even terms, given the structural instability within the SRF. However, that the SLM-MM has established its own SRF wing, which includes the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM-Dabajo) led by Bakheet Abdelkarim, is illustrative of the SLM-MM aiming to upstage the original SRF movement led by the SLM-TC. FORECAST: The breakaway faction is likely to pressure the government to negotiate with its constituents in the coming weeks and claiming that the new group is more internally stable than the original SRF organization given that it has fewer members.

FORECAST: To that end, the breakaway SRF will claim that any agreements made between Khartoum and the SLM-MM led faction would stand a better chance at actually being implemented. Additionally, the SLM-MM is likely to talk to other rebel groups within the original SRF to get them to secede and join the new faction, thereby escalating tensions between the already antagonistic groups. That said, the smaller size of the new SRF faction means that the government will likely continue negotiations with both groups simultaneously. The government will likely negotiate with both groups as a leveraging tactic and as a strategy to allow for more maneuvering space. This is likely given the entrenched distrust between both groups, and thereby the government will use this animosity to push for quicker resolutions in negotiations. However, given the wide variety of issues that need to be resolved, it remains unclear if such a strategy will succeed.

Progress with SPLM-N factions remains limited, with distrust between the groups remaining persistent

Meanwhile, the government has made some progress with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N) faction led by Malik Agar in terms of integrating the group into the political mainstream. On May 2, the government and the SPLM-N Agar agreed to reintegrate rebel fighters into the Sudanese military, police, security and intelligence, wildlife, customs, and civil defense. The government also granted the SPLM-N Agar areas to establish military camps in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. However, these developments have provoked protests from the rivaling SPLM-N al-Hilu faction, which accused the government of favoring the SPLM-N Agar and stated that the land allotted to established military camps was untenable, given that the Agar faction has a presence in Blue Nile, but does not control any land in South Kordofan or the Nuba Mountains, which remain an al-Hilu stronghold.

In this context, talks between the government and the SPLM-N al-Hilu faction remain volatile, given the group’s initial decision to refuse to negotiate until the government agrees to secularization and self-determination for the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions. However, given that SPLM-N al Hilu faction then agreed to restart negotiations with the government, excluding the points of secularization and self-determination, is indicative of al-Hilu’s cognizance that any government agreement with the Agar faction could lead to Khartoum favoring the rival group.

Ultimately, the renewal of talks with the SPLM-N al Hilu suggests progress, given the group remains one of the major armed factions in Sudan and controls a significant portion of territory. However, the decision of the SPLM-N al-Hilu to resume talks has likely not been made in good faith, given that the group only agreed to discuss issues that preclude the topics of secularization and self-determination. These issues are particularly important to them as a major segment of the population under their control is Christian and Animist, unlike the majority of Sudan. These groups perceive that, without concessions on these issues, they remain vulnerable to attack by Islamist government forces, as was seen by an attack by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in October 2019, which led to a suspension of the talks. In this context, it is likely that the group is only resuming talks to prevent the government from overly favoring the Agar faction. FORECAST: Given these conditions, it is possible that the government may agree to small concessions to the group, however, a larger peace deal will likely remain out of reach as the government contends with various Islamist groups and factions and their interests.

Factionalism within the DFC likely to further help the military undermine transitional efforts

Following the ouster of al-Bashir, factionalism within the Declaration of Freedom and Change (DFC) has increased over the past year. This is in contrast to the disparate groups within the political opposition working together with the common purpose of the revolution and preventing the military establishment from gaining total control in the aftermath. However, transitional efforts have been slow and patience among the civilian opposition has waned, with groups such as the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which was a major driving force of the revolution, perceiving that the transitional government has been slow to install civilians into positions of power.

This tension is best exemplified by PM Hamdok’s decision on April 18 to postpone the appointment of state governors, allegedly due to the fact that the PM was still holding consultations with the leaders of the SRF. The delays were exacerbated by the SRF insisting that they should have input on how governors are chosen, despite the fact that the group has not signed a comprehensive peace deal with the government. This stance agitated members of the DFC, who agreed that the democratic transition needed to be inclusive of those in the periphery, especially Darfur, but perceived the SRF to be stalling for time in their negotiations with the government. The DFC raised this as a concern that the military wing of the government would use the delays to further entrench themselves in positions of power. FORECAST: In this context, the military will likely use their influence with the current military-appointed state governors to disrupt any attempts to democratize state institutions. This deadlock has led to violent protests in many parts of Sudan, which has, in turn, led to military leaders cracking down on the demonstrations, as they claim these instances of civil unrest to be a threat to national security.

Meanwhile, the effectiveness of the DFC in pressuring the government to hasten the democratization process is undermined by divisions within the political coalition. This can be seen with the divergent approaches of the SPA and the National Ummah Party (NUP) led by former PM Sadiq al-Mahdi. The NUP has consistently aimed to undermine the DFC, despite being part of the coalition, likely in an attempt to gain favor with the military leaders. Even during the process of the negotiations for the constitutional agreement, al-Mahdi publicly stated his acceptance of the military leadership in the country, as opposed to a power-sharing agreement. Most recently, the NUP froze all its activities in the DFC, criticizing what it perceived to be excessive demands by the armed groups during negotiations with the transitional government.

In contrast, the SPA remains highly suspicious of the military and consistently voices its disagreement on occasions where it perceives that the civilian government under PM Hamdok is ceding too much control to the military generals. The SPA has sought to preserve its influence nationwide by keeping neighborhood resistance committees active and occasionally holding protests to pressure the government into adhering to its schedule of democratization, though this approach has been disrupted by COVID-19 restrictions. The SPA has also taken divergent stances in terms of dealing with armed rebel groups, exemplified by the SPA’s support for the SPLM-N al-Hilu demand for a secular state and self-governance of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State. This position is at odds with the DFC position, which has tended to downplay the SPLM-N al-Hilu’s demands, likely perceiving that any acquiescence to secular demands could lead to a loss of support to the government from the various Islamist groups present within the DFC.

FORECAST: The NUP will likely continue to issue statements criticizing the DFC and the government while positioning itself close to the military establishment. Al-Mahdi likely perceives that any possible eventual failure of the transitional government and subsequent increase in military control would allow the former PM to be positioned to be the civilian face of the military-dominated government. However, given that the generals are unlikely to be willing to divest much influence to even nominal supporters such as al-Mahdi, the NUP’s impact in national politics is likely to remain one of complication, rather than of any real influence. More broadly, the military generals are likely to portray the NUP’s support, and the SPA’s public divergences in policy choices, as proof of the DFC’s disorganized nature as a threat to national security, further putting pressure on the government to cede influence to the military.

Fallout from COVID-19 pandemic likely to further cripple government standing, strengthen military control

Sudan recorded its first case of COVID-19 on March 13, with the majority of cases being reported in Khartoum. However, the disease has expanded its reach exponentially, with the number of cases now doubling approximately every 13 days. The authorities remain ill-equipped to deal with the pandemic with contact tracing procedures remaining relatively non-existent. In this context, the medical infrastructure already incapacitated by decades of authoritarian rule under Omar al-Bashir has all but collapsed. The nationwide lockdown prevented doctors from going to work, with some professionals self-isolating due to the severe lack of protective equipment. The resulting staff shortages have led to many hospitals shutting down, with existing doctors noting that the burgeoning infection and mortality rates are likely being caused by the breakdown in healthcare services. While the government has implemented strict curfews and implored the citizenry to follow social distancing protocols, the low public knowledge of the disease has led to many of these instructions being ignored.

That said, while the military has precluded the treatment of COVID-19 patients in its hospitals, military leaders have used the pandemic to jostle for more influence while improving their image among the public. This is best exemplified by the fact that the leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Mohammed Hamdan “Hemetti”, took advantage of the cracks within the DFC to rise to head the Emergency Economic Committee, a powerful ad hoc panel which decides matters of national importance such as economic reforms and the national response to COVID-19. Hemetti further attempted to burnish his image by pledging to deposit 200 million USD of his own money into the Central Bank to tackle the economic and COVID crisis.

Amid this play for power by Hemetti, he remains cognizant of his negative reputation among the population and international community given the RSF’s violent repression in Darfur during the al-Bashir era. Given this wariness, Hemetti has sought to allow PM Hamdok deputy positions in government committees, including the Emergency Economic Committee. The PM has not been the driving force for the democratic transition, instead seeking consensus from a fractured DFC, the military establishment, or in many cases both parties. However, such consensus has been difficult to achieve, given the parties involved are at odds with each other. Hamdok has also lost trust within the DFC after he rejected the nomination of DFC figures as state governors. The DFC perceives the PM as being too willing to acquiesce to the demands of the military establishment, with this perception being further bolstered by Hamdok’s statement that he viewed his relationship with the generals as a “partnership which is working,” despite the PM’s power being gradually stripped away.

PM Hamdok’s weakened position, COVID-19 effects likely to impact economic recovery

Exacerbating the situation is the continued downward spiral of the Sudanese economy, with PM Hamdok’s attempts to liberalize the economy being disrupted by the DFC, who have consistently sought to block the implementation of policies that would allow for investment from the “Friends of Sudan” group of foreign donors, which includes the USA, France, Germany, Britain, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypt. One of the major demands of foreign investors is the removal of a crippling system of subsidies on fuel and wheat. While the removal of subsidies is a way to halt the repeated monetized deficits and currency collapses in the medium term, it will likely lead to a further rise in prices of these essential goods in the short term, which greatly affects members of the DFC, of which unions play an important part. Furthermore, inflation continues to near 100 percent, with experts estimating that the COVID-19 pandemic will cause the economy to contract by seven percent. On the street, there remains considerable discontent over the inability of the government to control the rising prices of goods and services.

Since taking office in 2018, PM Hamdok has sought to solve Sudan’s economic woes by attempting to garner financial support and pledges of aid from various Western governments, most notably the US. In December 2019, Hamdok arrived in Washington, DC, becoming the first Sudanese leader to officially visit the country since 1985 as a result of President al-Bashir’s decision in the 1990s to provide havens for various jihadist leaders such as Osama bin Laden. These policies led Sudan to be placed onto the US ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’ list. While on this list, the US government is mandated to veto any debt relief for Sudan from international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

While being on the ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’ list does not place Sudan under formal sanctions, the designation acts as a deterrent to foreign investment and debt relief efforts. Khartoum has gone to significant lengths to prove its commitment to reform, including agreeing to pay damages for its role in the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. While the exact amount of damages has not been made public, the depressed state of the Sudanese economy will make it hard for any damages to be paid, which may further delay any US assistance.

FORECAST: Furthermore, given that US President Donald Trump has decided against fast-tracking Sudan’s removal from the list, this means that the case will likely be caught between the various committees of the State Department, national security agencies, and the US Congress. Ultimately, while the government is likely to continue pleading with the US to take Sudan off the list, Khartoum will likely remain low on the list of priorities for Washington, thereby further delaying any prospect of economic recovery through international investment.

In this context, while the government has traditionally been unable to borrow money from international donors and institutions, Khartoum has received relatively regular aid from China and the Gulf states. The Arab governments, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, have generally been significant donors, though much of this aid has been directed toward the military generals with an aim to control the levers of power within government and aid the Gulf states in their strategic aims. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to historically low oil prices, denting the economies of the Gulf countries, leading to pay freezes and layoffs. Another source of foreign exchange that has been affected by the pandemic layoffs is the remittances sent home by Sudanese workers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, as both countries have implemented the prioritization of nationals in the workforce. Recent estimates are that remittances are expected to drop by approximately 20 percent given the layoffs, meaning that this money, which is often the sole source of income for families in Sudan, will diminish, thereby heightening insecurity and strife among the populace.

FORECAST: The government and PM Hamdok will continue to seek international assistance and investment, mainly garnered through donor conferences such as the ‘Friends of Sudan’ conference slated to be held in Berlin in June 2021. However, given that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a global economic downturn, with many of the wealthy foreign nations facing slowing growth or recessions, it remains highly uncertain whether these countries will be willing to pledge the large sums of money required to resuscitate the Sudanese economy. In this context, the military establishment will use its control of state-owned companies to keep patronage networks functioning, thereby further undermining the government.

FORECAST: In this context, the shortage of funds for the government is likely to further bolster the standing of the military. The military is unlikely to be affected by a lack of funds as it owns approximately 100 state-run companies, including establishments that sell lucrative commodities such as gold, gum arabic, oil, water, and weaponry. The military also has deep connections with the banks, telecommunications, and real estate, which means that the generals will likely remain liquid financially, money which they can lend to the government or use to gain control of government committees such as the Emergency Economic Committee. While the government has approved a plan to liquidate and privatize many government companies that do not pay taxes and are connected to the military elites, it remains to be seen how well this plan can be implemented. Given that many of the business elites in Sudan are allied to the military leaders, this means that any bidding process for these companies will also likely be compromised. Given these conditions, the government will likely struggle to raise funds for essential services. These entrenched issues mean that the political transition in Sudan will remain highly volatile in the coming months.

Recommendations

Travel to Khartoum may continue while adhering to standard security protocols regarding criminal activity, while remaining cognizant of authorities’ instructions regarding restrictions, quarantines, and health procedures due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Immediately consult a doctor if you are concerned that you have potentially contracted the disease. Only procedure medication and medical advice from vetted professional institutions and remain cognizant of any fake or counterfeit medication.

Those operating or residing in Khartoum, as well as other urban centers across Sudan, are advised to avoid the vicinity of all gatherings and protests given the associated risks of violence.

We advise against all travel to the Darfur region as well as South Kordofan and Blue Nile states given the volatile security situation.

For any further questions or consultation, please contact us at [email protected] or +44 203 540 0434.

Transitional government attempts to revive economy, while challenges remain over opposition cohesion, military consolidation – Sudan Analysis

Executive Summary

The transitional government is likely to focus on reviving the crippled Sudanese economy, with PM Abdullah Hamdok likely looking to realign the budget, rerouting funds from military expenditure towards social welfare programs. However, these military budget cuts retain the potential for increased tensions between the security establishment and the civilian authority in the government.

Another major challenge for PM Hamdok will be the ability to keep the political opposition united given the disparate groups that form the Declaration of Freedom and Change (DFC). The military is likely to focus on the divisions between the various groups within the DFC in an attempt to break the coalition and thereby consolidate power in the coming months.

That said, there will remain latent tensions within the military establishment over relations between General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) leader Mohammed Hamdan “Hemetti” especially over the latter’s control of lucrative gold mines in the outlying regions, which leave the RSF in a better position to fund and pay its troops in coming months.

Current Situation

An eleven-member Sovereign Council was formed on August 20, to be led by General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan for the next 21 months. On September 8, an 18-member cabinet led by PM Abdalla Hamdok was sworn in.

On September 9, the Sovereign Council and the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) agreed to start peace talks in October with a final peace agreement slated to be signed by the end of the year.  Meanwhile, Abdel Wahid al-Nur, leader of (SPLM-N) stated that he did not recognize the transitional government, and withdrew from ongoing negotiations with Khartoum on September 10.

Severe bread and fuel shortages were reported in various parts of the country on September 14, resulting in repeated protests in Kassala, South Darfur, and Khartoum states over the subsequent days and weeks.

On September 14, the acting governor of South Kordofan ordered an immediate stop to all gold mining activities in the state as reported on September 14 following multiple protests against Rapid Support Forces (RSF) owned mines over chemical polluting the local environment.

In the first joint meeting of the Sovereign Council and the cabinet, the two bodies amended Transitional Constitutional Document that allows the appointment of the Attorney General and the Chief Justice on October 2.

The US Assistant Secretary of State said on October 2 that Sudan’s removal from the State Sponsors of Terror list is “a process, not an event”. Following this, the Sudanese pound’s exchange rate hit a new low against foreign currencies.

PM Hamdok continued to warn of disastrous consequences for Sudan if the world did not negotiate in getting the country removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 3. In connection, the World Bank on October 4 stated that Sudan needed to meet minimum criteria before it could be given foreign debt relief.

Assessments & Forecast

Transitional government likely to focus heavily on reviving economy, though attempts to realign budget likely to face military pushback

On September 28, new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok urged the US to remove Sudan from its list of “state sponsors of terrorism”, framing it as punishing Sudan for the acts of the former government. Hamdok’s focus on getting Sudan removed from that list is indicative of the crippling effects that the sanctions, which makes the country ineligible for much-needed debt relief and funding from international institutions, as well as limits potential foreign investment. In this context, there remains considerable doubt over the new Sudanese government’s ability to revive its stagnant economy, a priority given that protests against the former President Omar al-Bashir’s government started in December 2018 over the rise in prices of essential commodities amid skyrocketing inflation.

That said, in the short term the government will likely look to prioritize fiscal reforms, as well as measures to contain inflationary pressures and boost productivity in critical sectors. In this endeavor, the transitional government will likely look to leverage the legitimacy and trust gained from the successful implementation of the first stage of the power-sharing agreement to reform the budget and cut spending. Previous budgets have focused on the security apparatus, state transfers, and subsidies, which together make up 70 percent of the official budget. FORECAST: To better highlight its credentials as a civilian government, the PM will likely look to realign the budget to give greater priority to health, education, and social welfare, which together are currently allocated less than 10 percent of budgetary expenses. In this context, in the near term, there remains a heightened possibility that anti-government protests will begin recurring in the coming months if the government does not take immediate steps to reduce high of bread, while also alleviating chronic fuel shortages. Given the security forces disposition towards forcibly suppressing protests, makes it likely that any renewed protests will likely be met with force.

Additionally, given that security sector wages account for approximately 60 percent of all government salaries, reducing military personnel and costs will likely prove to be a politically sensitive and difficult process requiring support from the armed forces and its leaders in the transitional administration. In this context, realigning the budget will likely prove to be a major flashpoint and source of tensions between the PM and the Sovereign Council, which is led by senior military figures such as General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) leader Mohammed Hamdan ‘Hemetti’. The military establishment will likely not countenance any cuts to the budgets, which could lead to a reduction in salaries for the armed forces, especially given their long-established practice of keeping the security forces well stocked and thereby relatively reliable even in times of nationwide upheaval as witnessed during the most recent nationwide protests. FORECAST: In this scenario, any attempts by the government to trim the security budget is likely to lead to consternation by the security establishment, as they will likely perceive the move to be the civilian authority under PM Hamdok attempting to curb the military’s influence on crucial revenue streams, thereby heightening the potential for civil-military unrest in the coming months, however this unrest is remains unlikely to devolve into large-scale violence at this time.

Furthermore, over the coming months, the biggest obstacles to the government in reforming the economy will be to dismantle the entrenched patronage networks that continue to hold control all institutions and key sectors of the economy. One of the sectors where this reform is most crucial is the gold mining industry, a sector which has taken on additional significance following the loss of nearly 70 percent of oil production after South Sudan seceded in 2011. Sudan is Africa’s third-largest producer of gold, with production in 2018 officially stated to be 93 tons which is equivalent to approximately 4 billion USD, with gold also now being Sudan’s main source of hard currency. That said, the al-Bashir government used the gold sector for patronage and to secure loyalties, often leading to huge inefficiencies and leaving companies tied to political interests and the security services. Such practices are best exemplified in South Kordofan where multiple gold mines are controlled by the RSF and Hemetti, who often uses the revenue from the mines to enrich himself and to assure the loyalty of his forces. FORECAST: In this context, any efforts to open up the mining sector to private investment will likely directly lead to tensions with elements of the security establishment, who may perceive that privatization of hitherto public assets would lead to them losing control of a major revenue stream.

PM Hamdok faces challenge of balancing competing factions within DFC, delivering on expectations of justice

One of the major defining traits of the protests that forced the military coup that finally toppled al-Bashir and then eventually led to the signing of a power-sharing agreement between the TMC and the Declaration of Freedom and Change (DFC) was the cohesiveness of the political opposition. The SPA’s role in circulating information about resistance activities meant that the movement was able to sustain its momentum and regularly stage demonstrations. The cohesiveness of the protest movement also proved vital in the talks concerning the transitional rule too, as it helped the military and the mediators identify counterparts within the DFC that, while not directly representing various opposition groups, enjoyed a relative degree of credibility as representatives of the political opposition.

The DFC also consists of parties such as the umbrella group of Darfuri armed groups known as the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), who have consistently petitioned for positions within the transitional government. However, following the signing of the power-sharing deal, the SRF currently holds no position in the Sovereign Council, which is likely suggestive of the DFC’s reticence in allowing the SRF back into the mainstream political space. In this context, the SRF continues to lobby for amendments to the Constitutional Declaration drafted and signed by the DFC and TMC. The SRF contends that they represent marginalized areas in the country, such as Darfur. That said, in the unlikely event of the government acquiescing to the SRF demands, it is notable that the SRF body is composed of myriad armed groups who have often clashed with each other during the long conflict against the government. This means that while the SRF appears to be united in the short term, any government rapprochement towards the group is likely to heighten internal tensions with the SRF, as the various leaders of the armed groups jostle for superiority and the chance to be presented with a lucrative cabinet position in Khartoum. FORECAST: Ultimately, the government is likely to continue negotiating with the SRF, to maintain the appearance of the administration wanting to facilitate pan-Sudan representation within the government while continuing to block the entrance of such volatile entities into the already delicate power-sharing agreement between the opposition and the military.

FORECAST: In this context, the SRF demands for constitutional amendments would inevitably slow down the process of establishing independent institutions in Sudan including a free judiciary along with the Legislative Council, whose vote is necessary to even initiate any legal action against Sovereign Council members such as Hemetti and other military leaders who the vast majority of the political opposition hold responsible for atrocities against protesters during the revolution to depose al-Bashir. In the event that the government ceded to the SRF demands of amendments to the constitutional agreement, the decision would then raise tensions within the political opposition, including the SPA, who using their neighborhood committees have already held mass protests in Khartoum and other urban centers reiterating the demand that governmental reforms be sped up. These protests were then dispersed by the security forces who likely considered the gatherings as a threat to national security.

While PM Hamdok has consistently stated the need for Sudan to build truly independent institutions including the judiciary, there remains a tension between the kind of justice that friction between the armed rebel movements and the DFC leadership, caused by diverging priorities concerning the emerging political order in Sudan. While the protesters led by the SPA strive to establish a civil rights-based rule, the parts of the DFC from the outlying areas of Sudan prioritize achieving peace and security and ending regional marginalization. The SRF initially rejected the Constitutional Declaration on the basis that it inadequately addresses the question of peace in conflict areas such as Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan. FORECAST: Following the signing of the peace agreement, Darfur has witnessed a relative increase in violence against civilians by paramilitary forces including the RSF. This development and local actors’ disappointment at the way the Constitutional Declaration addresses the conflict situations puts the armed groups at odds with the emerging regime. While the agreement over the peace roadmap is a promising sign, frustration at the lack of progress in the peace processes will heighten the potential for increased violence in the outlying areas of Sudan over the coming months.

Military likely to seek to exploit opposition fragmentation in bid to consolidate power, though threat of internal split remains

Despite the positive development of power-sharing agreement between the military and the political opposition, security establishment backlash and consolidation of the military rule remains a real possibility. Sudan has a history of authoritarian backsliding, following similar successful non-violent uprisings in 1964 and 1985. Both movements were followed by a military takeover after a few years of tenuous and unstable multi-party rule. In this sense, the deep roots of military autocratic rule in Sudan are unlikely to dissipate easily. Generals such as Burhan and Hemetti are accustomed to exercising power and likely view themselves as cornerstones and essential elements for political and security stability. In this context, a full transition to civilian rule would likely lead to weakening in their powers, which would then expose them to possible legal retribution for alleged crimes against the population over the past two decades.

In contrast, the leadership in the DFC remains relatively inexperienced in ruling the state, as even PM Hamdok while a respected figure has resided and worked for much of his life outside of Sudan. However, given the protesters, relative success in indirectly leading to the deposition of al-Bashir, and forcing the TMC into agreeing to sign a power-sharing agreement with a commitment to eventually transitioning to a civilian government raises expectations to a high level. FORECAST: In this context, the military will likely aim to exploit differences within the DFC by negotiating deals with parties such as the SRF and the National Ummah Party (NUP), which have criticized the constitutional agreement for its failure to appoint SRF or NUP leaders to positions of influence within the cabinet. Furthermore, the military is likely to use the differences within the DFC to deepen existing fissures within the DFC, all the while using opposition disunity to consolidate power.

FORECAST: While the military is likely to use divisions within the DFC as a method to consolidate control of the country, there remains an underlying yet persistent possibility of splits within the security establishment itself. While General Burhan of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Hemetti are both parts of the Sovereign Council as President and Vice President, there have been persistent tensions between the two groups over control of assets and resources. That said, the constitutional declaration shows an effort to simultaneously control the military by placing the RSF under the authority of the SAF, there remains doubt over whether this hierarchy can be maintained.

The position of the RSF is particularly precarious position with regard to the transition, as its involvement in the transitional bodies is unpopular as the force is perceived to be responsible for the June 3 crackdown on protesters in Khartoum, which is thought to have killed over 100 people. However, Hemetti’s position as Vice President of the Sovereign Council makes it exceedingly difficult for the political opposition to exclude the group. FORECAST: While Burhan and Hemetti have thus far resolved to work together within the transitional government framework, fragmentation within the DFC could lead to both leaders jostling to consolidate power within the government, which could then further exacerbate existing tensions between the two generals. Ultimately, the political and security environment in Sudan is expected to remains tense for the foreseeable future.

Recommendations

Those operating or residing in Khartoum, as well as other urban centers across Sudan, are advised to avoid the vicinity of all gatherings and protests given the continued risks of violence.

We advise against all travel to the Darfur region as well as South Kordofan and Blue Nile states given the volatile security situation caused by ongoing violence between the government and armed rebel groups as well as inter-communal clashes.

Those in Sudan are advised to maintain contingency and evacuation plans due to the continued risks of operating in the country during the political transition.

For any further questions or consultation, please contact us at [email protected] or +44 203 540 0434.

Car Ramming Attack on Parliament Illustrates the Continuing Impact of Declining Islamic State’s Ideology on Disenchanted Migrants – London Alert

Please be advised

At 07:37 (local time) on August 14, an individual drove a vehicle at speed towards a security barrier outside Parliament, Westminster, London. Three people were lightly injured and security forces immediately arrested the individual without further violence. The area was closed to the public for several hours while security forces determined that the vehicle posed no further risk and no weapons were inside.

The Met Police stated later on August 14 that the incident was being considered a militant attack and that the suspect was refusing to cooperate with investigations.

Reports from the morning of August 15 state that the individual is 29-years-old, originally from Sudan, living in Birmingham. Footage from the area reportedly shows the vehicle used in the attack circling Parliament several times before the incident took place.

Security forces reportedly carried out raids on residences in the central UK cities of Birmingham and Nottingham as part of the investigation into a supposed militant attack in London on August 14.

Location of militant incident in London on August 14

Click here to see Map Legend 

Assessments

The suspect’s lack of resistance to being arrested and absence of weapons inside the car differentiate the incident from recent Islamist militant attacks. Therefore, while he may have been inspired by previous vehicular attacks, it remains unlikely that he had direct links with an Islamist group, such as Islamic State (IS). As with previous similar incidents, it is possible that the attacker was suffering from a psychological disorder, which played a role in motivating the attack.

With that, the raids in Birmingham and Nottingham may have been precautionary and do not necessarily indicate the assailants links to an established or well-coordinated militant cell. However, there is a possibility that the individual was part of a small locally radicalized cell of untrained individuals who subscribe to the ideology of IS.

Given the details released about the suspect, the incident reiterates the risk of incitement to commit attacks among migrant populations who perceive themselves to be disenfranchised. This risk is amplified among young males, who are generally far more susceptible to feelings of frustration over such sentiments and are also more likely to become self-radicalized. Furthermore, the incident underscores that, even with the decline of the Islamic State, the aftereffects of their ideology and modus operandi on the collective consciousness of the West, particularly among disenchanted migrants, continues to inspire attacks.

The incident also reflects the popularity of the vehicular method for those intending to carry out indiscriminate attacks, regardless of ideology. The popularity of the method stems from the ease with which attacks can be carried out and the difficulty for security forces to be warned before the incident

Despite the unlikelihood of the suspect being directly linked to an organized group, militant organizations, like IS, may attempt to claim responsibility or connection to the incident in order to increase perceptions of their threat in the UK and Europe in general.

Recommendations

Travel to London may continue while maintaining vigilance for possible militant related activity.

Alert authorities immediately to any suspicious behavior or items.

Recent developments in Darfur highlight Sudan’s security dilemma of past armament of local militias; local escalation of conflict likely – Sudan Special Analysis

Current Situation

The Sudanese government launched a large-scale disarmament campaign in Darfur in October, as part of an effort to marginalize local militias and mitigate the threat they pose to the central government. Musa Hilal, the head of the Sudanese Awakening Revolutionary Council (SARC), refused to comply with demands for disarmament, and alleged that the campaign was launched deliberately to target him.

In response, Hilal, also the head of the Border Guards militia, was reportedly arrested by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia in a raid in Misteriya, North Darfur State, alongside his children, as well as other senior members of the SARC on November 26.

Reports indicate that dozens of people were killed in clashes between Border Guards militia and the RSF in Misteriya on November 29, when the RSF raided the Border Guards headquarters in response to an ambush of their vehicles the day prior. The RSF had reportedly besieged the town ahead of Hilal’s arrest, and remains heavily deployed in the area.

On December 1, the SARC released a statement condemning the arrest of their leader, and threatened revenge against the Sudanese government, particularly the RSF militia. They further noted that the arrest was a violation of the entire Rizeigat Arab tribe, as Hilal is the tribal leader of its Mahamid clan.

Background

Musa Hilal is most notorious for being a founder of the Janjaweed in 2003, organizing the loose coalition of armed Arab militias at the behest of the Sudanese government to put down the rebellions in Darfur. Hilal was eventually named as a suspect of genocide by the US State Department in 2004 and individually sanctioned by the UN in 2006 for his role in the ethnic cleansing of several tribes in the region.

Hilal came to be the head of a subset of the Janjaweed known as the Border Guards. After the war in Darfur largely subsided, the unit was later formally integrated into Sudanese military intelligence, now consisting of thousands of people, including 3,000 militia in Hilal’s home area in North Darfur.

Other elements of the Janjaweed became part of the newly-formed Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in 2013, which operates in coordination with the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and is deployed throughout the country’s conflict zones in the western and southern regions, with another contingent sent overseas to fight in Yemen with the Saudi coalition.

Recent developments in Darfur highlight Sudan’s security dilemma of past armament of local militias; local escalation of conflict likely - Sudan Special Analysis | MAX Security

Assessments & Forecast

Militia Groups Formerly Supported By Government Now Present Main Security Dilemma

Throughout the the outlying regions, and particularly in Darfur, the Sudanese government armed militias to fight local rebellions, with relatively high rates of successes in these campaigns. Nonetheless, in the absence of an active mission, Khartoum has been left with well-equipped and combat-tested militias whose services are no longer needed, but present a threat as an armed group, acting as destabilizing agents in their regions as well as potential challengers to government authority. This is exacerbated by Sudan’s poor economic situation, leaving the government with fewer funds with which to pay off any militia leaders as necessary. Despite the widespread volatility of the region, Hilal and the SARC represented the largest group in Darfur that was in rebellion to the government in all but name, thus bolstering the likelihood that the disarmament campaign was a specific effort to neutralize Hilal as a threat.

Despite the integral role that Musa Hilal played throughout the intensive phases of the conflict in Darfur, his arrest is the highly notable culmination of the rift between Hilal and President Omar al-Bashir that has been ongoing since 2013. Hilal had become more politically ambitious, demanding a prominent role in the central government, and claimed that he was not sufficiently rewarded for his role in crushing the rebellion. This has caused tensions and outright clashes in the past, including an armed confrontation with the SAF and RSF over control of Jabal Amer, the source of significant gold deposits in North Darfur. This period saw the founding of the SARC as a new movement, now thought to number between 8 to 10,000 people, as a vehicle for Hilal’s political and tribal agenda, serving as a prominent example of the extent of the threat posed to the central government by previously supported local militias. Bashir has been increasingly wary of Hilal, especially as the latter has become more vocally critical of Khartoum, particularly in condemning the deployment of troops to Yemen, urging his tribesmen not to participate.

These developments are additionally notable as it comes as Khartoum is engaged in peace talks with the Sudan Call opposition, with ceasefires extended throughout 2017. While there remain holdouts, notably the Sudan Liberation Movement – Abdelwahid al-Nur (SLM-AW), the power of these groups has considerably diminished and outright confrontations are intermittent, with the most recent clashes lasting about a month in June and July in Jebel Marra. Reports have circulated of cooperation between Hilal and the rebel groups, which would appear paradoxical given Hilal’s role in the campaign against them, but the calculus had shifted following Hilal’s falling-out with Bashir. This was further emphasized when the SLM – Minni Minawi (SLM-MM) issued a statement on November 28 calling for Hilal’s release.

FORECAST: With that said, while this is politically expedient for the rebel groups, the extent to which they would be willing to mobilize on Hilal’s behalf is likely limited. Rather, the threat they pose in this situation is opportunistic, and there is likely to be increased rebel activity as they seek to take advantage of the government’s focus on Hilal and the SARC in order to stage their own attacks on the SAF and RSF in their areas of operation within Darfur.

Involvement of Regional Actors 

An additional element of this situation is Hilal’s ties to neighboring states, with the move to arrest him possibly triggered by suspicions that he is connected with Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar and the Libyan National Army (LNA), whom President Bashir accuses of deliberately working to destabilize Darfur. While Haftar’s specific involvement in Sudan is less clear, his presence is broadly in Libya’s east, which also hosts hundreds of Darfuri rebels suspected to use Libyan territory to avoid Sudanese authorities and, at times, to launch attacks back into Sudan. Furthermore, there are indications that Darfuri militias are employed by rival factions in Libya, increasing the Darfuris’ capabilities with funds, and further weapons and experience. To this end, several top SARC members were arrested by the RSF while en route from Libya to Darfur in September, who Khartoum publicly accused of recruiting for Haftar. In addition to concerns about Hilal receiving material support from Haftar that could be used against Sudan, the Sudanese government has likely pointed to the foreign influence in efforts to undermine Hilal and the SARC, attempting to impugn their opposition as non-local, or driven by external forces rather than a legitimate cause for hostility toward Khartoum.

In addition to Libya, Hilal’s daughter is married to Chad’s President Idriss Deby, who could have represented a source of support as N’Djamena and Khartoum have clashed in the past. However, Deby made a statement on December 2 affirming his support for the disarmament, suggesting that this will be limited and, instead, Bashir’s willingness to arrest Hilal may have involved a signal from Deby that he would not interfere. Deby and Bashir have made a number of public steps in recent months to demonstrate improved relations, including discussions of a joint border force. It is possible that Deby sees the disarmament campaign as potentially stabilizing the Darfur region, which would improve the security situation on his eastern border. In this case, this suggests that Hilal will see little support from those familial ties, which could have been considerable given Chad’s formidable military. With that being said, it is unlikely that Chad will actively participate in any of the ensuing conflict in Darfur, instead tacitly allowing Bashir’s plans to go forward without interference on Hilal’s behalf.

Conflict Likely to Remain Localized with Tribal Features, Have Indirect Effects on Other Regions

The most substantial risk in the coming weeks and months is intra-tribal. Hilal’s precarious situation with Khartoum in 2014 was exacerbated by President Bashir taking the second-in-command of the Border Guards, General Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hametti’, who once served under Hilal in the Janjaweed, and appointing him to a coveted role as the head of the RSF, which reports directly to Bashir. Crucially, Hametti is the head of the Amhary clan, also in the Rezeigat Arab tribe, and in addition to the RSF troops that he commands, this directly pits him against Hilal both within the military as well as the tribe.

FORECAST: As a result, the coming conflict is likely to be within the Rezeigat tribe, dispersed across Darfur, between the factions backing their respective leaders. Although elders have been attempting to mediate in recent months, the arrest of Hilal is expected to ignite the in-fighting. Arresting Hilal’s sons and other SARC leadership may have been an attempt to eliminate potential replacements that could organize the movement, but the SARC’s immediate response suggests they nonetheless retain these capabilities. Both the ambushes and targeted attacks on RSF troops near Misteriya as well as the SARC statement swearing revenge are indicative that those loyal to Hilal are ready and willing to escalate the conflict. Furthermore, given the role that Hilal played in the formation of the Janjaweed, his popularity among his compatriots and disillusionment due to his treatment by the government may trigger defections from the RSF to the Border Guards and the SARC.

FORECAST: Following Hilal’s arrest, there is likely to be a continuation of the backlash that was seen with the immediate fallout, namely deliberate attacks and ambushes on RSF troops in the Misteriya area in North Darfur. However, this is liable to spread throughout northern and central Darfur, where the Rezeigat Arab tribe is located, and see tribal clashes that extend beyond specific attacks on militia forces to violence against rivaling villages and towns, including in al-Fasher and its environs. This comes amid the ongoing withdrawal of the UN-AU Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which has been in the process of handing over 11 military bases in Darfur to the RSF and SAF, better positioning them in the impending fight while removing a source of international oversight. Furthermore, as conflict intensifies between the Border Guards and RSF, President Bashir has little incentive to intervene or otherwise de-escalate the situation, as allowing the groups to fight each other necessarily weakens both, therefore relieving pressure on the government in managing the security threat of reining in the militias he first empowered years ago.

Given this dynamic, the forthcoming escalation is likely to be restricted to the Darfur Region. However, the re-deployment of troops from other conflict zones to Darfur as reinforcements may result in an uptick in militia activity in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, as other rebel groups seek to take advantage of any additional security vacuum.

Recent developments in Darfur highlight Sudan’s security dilemma of past armament of local militias; local escalation of conflict likely - Sudan Special Analysis | MAX Security

Recommendations

Travel to Khartoum can continue while practicing security precautions regarding the threat of criminality.

We advise against travel to outlying areas of Sudan, particularly Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile States, given the volatile security situation caused by ongoing fighting between the government and armed rebel groups, the threat of kidnapping, as well as intercommunal clashes.

 

This report was written by:

Rachel Jacob– MAX Security’s Associate Director of Intelligence, Sub-Saharan Africa Division

And reviewed by:

Tzahi Shraga – MAX Security’s Chief Intelligence Officer, ret. LTC from the Israeli intelligence community
Oded Berkowitz – MAX Security’s Regional Director of Intelligence, Sub-Saharan Africa Division, Europe and the Americas Division

The Arab Spring: The Decline of the Arab Nation-State?

By Danny B.

The “Arab Spring,” simplistically coined as a regional freedom and democracy movement, is leading to protracted periods of sectarian fighting and an accelerated breakdown of the Arab states.

The genesis of Arab states is in mandates maintained by European powers, Britain and France, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War One. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, with reluctant consent from Moscow, carved up zones of influence for the two colonial powers in the Middle East. As a result, newly independent Arab states were hastily crafted without much consideration for outstanding sectarian conflicts. Generally speaking, concepts of nation-states are rather foreign to the region, thus a lack of unifying narratives, combined with outstanding internal sectarian conflicts, and destined these Arab states to be plagued with a myriad of seemingly irreversible problems.

An Egyptian holds a sign in support of an An-Nour party member in Cairo (New York Times)

For decades, Arab states have attempted to establish a variety of political platforms to ensure economic growth, security, and increase sovereign power. Excluding the oil-rich GCC monarchs, the political concepts of Arab socialism (Baathism), pan-Arabism, and secular-nationalism have failed. Then the collective Arab defeat in the Six Day War against Israel, compelled many in the Muslim world to seek a new sociopolitical answer to the Jewish State and the West. Their defeat, in addition to other factors, was one catalyst for the Islamic awakening in those nations. That said, moderate political Islamic movements, like the Muslim Brotherhood, endured decades of modest, yet solid beginnings as a result of suppressive secular dictatorships. But with the weakening or ousting of these leaders, the political Islamists have seized the initiative, thus set to rule many Arab states. Most surprising however, are the unprecedented gains by more radical Salafist sects throughout the region – at the expense of inept liberal parties – which has propelled them to lead the new opposition against their new rivals, the Muslim Brotherhood. It is important to note that Salafist Islam comes in various degrees, but the their burgeoning influence results from the work of the most radical Salafists. Their surge has become one of the most important consequences of the “Arab Spring.” For these reasons, this Salafist stream now appears to be the primary obstacle for more moderate political Islam, embodied in parties such as the Freedom and Justice in Egypt, or the Ennahda Party in Tunisia.

Continue reading The Arab Spring: The Decline of the Arab Nation-State?