Sudan: Dual Power With the Military, Playing With Fire? Myanmar and Sudan


The Derg's promise to return power to civilian rule when it usurped power in 1974 is still fresh in our memories. In many countries, the military did promise to return to civilian rule almost without exception. During the Cold War, it was unimaginable to stage military coups without the consent and active involvement of a super-power; Vietnam 1963, Chile 1973, and so on. In Africa, we had witnessed countless coups in the past four decades as well. With exception of Jerry Rawlings' (Ghana) and Thomas Sankara's (Burkina Faso), almost all the military coups in Africa resulted in dictatorships and suppressed democratic rights. El Bashir's coup in Sudan (1989) and the coup in Burma this week are no exception.

The Mynamar military has been in power since the fifties and established a formidable dictatorship. The 1988 popular revolution did not manage to end military rule. Instead, the military resorted to a massive clamp down against protesters and kept Aug San Suu Ki under house arrest for over twenty years. But, that did not end the aspiration for democracy in Burma. Change would be inevitable and the military goons that had looked unshakable in face of international condemnation of their repressive actions, mellowed down a bit and agreed to certain constitutional reforms that brought Suu Ki's party to power. But that particular constitutional dispensation left actual power still into the hands of the military even though Suu Ki became the prime minister. Thus, what Suu Ki accepted was a dual power to reign in Myanmar: executive power into her hands but actual and military power still into the hands of the military but well known for its brutality.

Why did Suu Ki accept this arrangement when it is not even power sharing in the proper sense of the term? Perhaps she might have a strategy to gradually dis-empower the military. But, that requires a concerted organizational strategy that aims at recruiting soldiers, both regular and officers, to her party or political agenda, and laying down her party's influence and structure particularly through the non-state sphere (unions, NGOs, professional associations, etc... ) and actually get prepared for any eventual showdown by the high brass of the military. Has she done that? The fact that the civilian protests after the recent coup were not strong enough to destabilize the military indicates that she had not been prepared for a show down. Illusion over the military? On top of that, perhaps her biggest mistake that tarnished her international image is her bigotry towards the Rohingya even when the military conducted genocide against them. She even had the nerve to defend the military's actions of crimes against humanity at a hearing in the World Court of Justice. Disgusted with this blatant bigotry, many in the international scene called the Nobel Prize Committee to ask her to return the Peace Prize she was earlier awarded. Suu Ki's experience in this regard is a clear case of accepting dual power co-existing with the military. This, I think, is an illusion of immense proportion.

Sudan's recent history also poses a similar problem despite a history of popular uprisings that uprooted two military dictatorships in 1964 and 1985. I am an eye witness to the 1985 Intifadha when millions of Khartoum, Umdurman and Bahri residents went to the streets come what may and overthrew Nimiery's dictatorship. The provisional military administration under Suar Ad-Dahab promised transition to a civilian rule after a general election within one year. Perhaps, that was among the very few military that honoured their words. Elections were held and Sadik El Mahdi was elected prime minister. El Mahdi's government did not last long; El Bashir overthrew him in 1989 and brought back military dictatorship.

2018/9 ushered yet another popular revolution in Sudan and overthrew Beshir's regime but not his military. The confrontation between the people's revolution and the military's counter-revolution was fierce and the resolve of the people finally won the day and the military agreed to 'remove' Beshir before they were all uprooted from power. It is hardly possible to believe that some members of the junta who were well known for their extreme brutality would ever agree to remove their boss. In actual fact, General Mohammed Hamdan Dagolo, who is currently no. 2 in the military, was Beshir's commander of the infamous militia, the Janjawid, well known for committing untold massacres first in South Sudan and then in Darfur. Together with General Burhan, the no. 1 in the military now, they toured Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates and are believed to have agreed with Egyptian and Saudi leaders on certain agenda among which one is on the Nile.

There was a stand-off between the revolution and the military for a while as to how to go about the changes that the peoples demanded. Finally, an Ethiopian team of mediators led by premier Abiy Ahmed managed to bring the two sides into an agreement that ended up in a situation of dual power very similar to that of Myanmar. A civilian government led by Abdala Hamdok took the helm of government while the army still retains actual power. Unlike Mynamar's military, Sudan's high brass also represented a foreign agenda mainly that of Egypt. With the breakout of war in Tigray recently, Sudan's high brass resorted to perhaps one of the most stupid mistakes it could ever make by invading Ethiopia's territory. Their outcry for "reclaiming Sudan's own territory" was not even well thought out. By contrast, the same military leaders were never heard of reclaiming a chunk of Sudan's territory, the Halayab Triangle invaded by Egypt as far back as 1992. The invasion of Ethiopia's territory by Sudan's military was at least a subject of negotiation that had gone for years while the Halayab was an outright invasion. In any case, this unilateral measure by the military put the civilian government in a fix. It also made the negotiation process with Ethiopia difficult as there can be no negotiation without returning to the status quo ante. Hamdok's government might accept this premise but not the military. That is the consequence of reigning in a dual power with a military. Sudan's revolution should have consummated by overthrowing Beshir's crucial weapon, the military's high brass altogether.

At the end of the day, what is crucially important is the fraternity and sisterhood between the peoples of Sudan and Ethiopia. The foundation of this solidarity is solid, built by the most generous hospitality of the two peoples towards each other. The famous song by Ahmed El Mustafa, Etyobya was Sudan, ahwan ahwan" is solidly cemented in the hearts of the two peoples. A network of Sudan's civil society recently issued a statement to this effect. Such solidarity should not be allowed to be spoiled by the stupidity of a few soldiers in the high brass of Sudan's military. Abiy Ahmed has so far displayed exemplary patience and wisdom by not resorting to immediate reprisals which Sudan's military seems to have expected perhaps on the advice of Al Sisi of Egypt.

Ed.'s Note: Melakou Tegegn is author of the Amharic book "Kesengatera Eske Amsterdam". He can be reached at The views expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter.

Contributed by Melakou Tegegn

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