Brussels — Sudan's post-Bashir transition holds the promise of civilian rule but also perils, among them renewed insurgency, economic stagnation, and backsliding into autocracy. Outside powers should press the military to adhere to its power-sharing pact with the opposition, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG).
In Safeguarding Sudan's Revolution, a new ICG report released on October 21, the international think-tank poses that the power-sharing deal signed by the Sudanese military and opposition leaders on August 17, could, if honoured, pave the way for elections and civilian rule.
"Sudan faces a crushing economic crisis, insurgencies and political polarisation, with a security establishment bent on keeping power and an opposition movement determined to install a fully civilian administration. The 17 August agreement represents the best pathway both to achieving reform and to averting spiralling violence," ICG states in its Executive Summary.
The African Union, America, and the European Union, together with Gulf states, should push the generals to respect the power-sharing deal. They should encourage Khartoum to make peace with insurgents in peripheral areas. The USA should rescind Sudan's state sponsor of terrorism designation while maintaining pressure on the military in other ways.
Sudan's military leaders "continue to wield enormous influence, and they have shown few signs that they intend to respect the Sudanese people's demand for a civilian-led administration. In Sudan's lopsided, patronage-driven economy, the top brass has a clear interest in clinging to political power," the report reads.
"The country's primary military and paramilitary organisations should be unified under one command, but that project will require patience and encouragement from outside powers like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates." - ICG
Another challenge is the fragmented security establishment which is unaccountable and subject to dangerous internecine rivalries. The army has lost its primacy to the Rapid Support Forces, Sudan's main government militia, run by Mohamed Hamdan 'Hemeti', "who may be the most powerful man in Sudan".
"The country's primary military and paramilitary organisations should be unified under one command, but that project will require patience and encouragement from outside powers like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)," ICG states.
"Then there is the challenge of maintaining the unity of the extraordinarily broad civilian coalition - named the Forces for Freedom and Change - that has been at the vanguard of the uprising. [..] It will need to deftly manage them lest the security establishment use fissures in its unity to peel off constituents and weaken it politically.
"There are also wars on the country's periphery - in the Blue Nile, Kordofan and Darfur regions - that tear at national cohesion. The transitional government should focus on ending these conflicts."
Yet, there is a good deal that "outside actors - including African powers, Khartoum's backers in the Gulf, Western states and multilateral organisations - can do to help the power-sharing arrangements succeed and nudge Sudan along the path of transition.
"Rescuing Sudan's anaemic economy will require broad international support through a major multilateral donor initiative." - ICG
"The AU should dispatch to Khartoum an envoy to support the transition by mediating between the two sides and helping guard against the possibility that the security establishment (with all its structural advantages) will steamroll the civilian opposition if there are disputes over the deal's details. The deal will be all the stronger if Western powers, including the U.S., keep up the pressure to honour it and press Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt - all with close ties to the generals in Khartoum - to do the same.
"There is also much to do on the economic front. Rescuing Sudan's anaemic economy will require broad international support through a major multilateral donor initiative," the Crisis Group advises.
As PM Abdallah Hamdok has estimated that the country needs a $10 billion infusion over the next two years, donors, including the USA, the EU, and the Gulf countries, should begin taking steps to support this request.
Washington should also "move expeditiously to rescind Sudan's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, which forbids international financial institutions from issuing loans and impedes other foreign investment, thereby hobbling Sudan's private sector. Lifting the designation would help the newly appointed, civilian-led cabinet by giving it an early win and would be an important step toward Sudan's qualifying for debt relief.
"Sudan is one of Africa's most important countries, sandwiched between two major powers, Ethiopia and Egypt, abutting the Red Sea, and located in a region scarred by instability," the Executive Summary concludes. "The benefits of a successful transition are potentially enormous, and the cost of state failure would be vast. Until recently, it was hard to imagine a moment of opportunity like the country now faces. It would be a mistake to squander it."