By Morak Babajide-Alabi
There seems to be a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel for the people of Sudan. For a little while, it is a flicker but for the troubled citizens this is massive and a step towards the realisation of the desire for a democratic country. The announcement of the power-sharing arrangement between the military forces and civilian groups is an indication that something has shifted in this troubled country.
Last week the military and opposition groups agreed to share power before a general election is held at a later date. After deliberations and deal brokering encouraged by the African Union and particularly the government of Ethiopia, an AU mediator announced that the parties “agreed on establishing a sovereign council with a rotating military and civilian [presidency] for a period of three years or a little more.”
The agreement will see the military in charge for the first 21 months, then a civilian-run administration for the following 18 months. Both sides will jointly run the highest ruling council by nominating five members each while the 11th member is to be jointly nominated. The announcement once again brought the citizens of Sudan, out on the streets, but this time they were dancing and chanting “Civilian! Civilian!! Civilian!!!” in support of the agreement.
The leader of the coalition negotiating with the military, Omar al-Degar had said: “We hope that this is the beginning of a new era,” and the notorious head of the Rapid Support Forces and deputy head of the Transitional Military Council, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, declared that the “agreement is comprehensive and does not exclude anyone.”
The world has watched with bated breath as events unfolded in Sudan. Initially, there was hope that things were turning around for good as the two groups (the military and the Sudanese Professional Association) engaged in talks. It was a surprising turn of events when the military (Rapid Support Forces (RSF)) cracked down on civilian protesters and killed many some weeks ago. This oppression and brutality have cast doubts on the ability of the present military rulers to sincerely push this latest agreement through.
The Amnesty International UK welcomed the agreement but warned that “the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) must be barred from all policing activities. They have no place in law enforcement given their record in committing war crimes in Darfur and the murders, torture and other brutal violence against protestors.” It also demanded “an immediate independent investigation into the ruthless violence perpetrated by government forces against protestors.”
There is no pretence that it will be a massive task to keep by this agreement, but the parties know this may be the last chance of survival for Sudan. It had taken this long for them to find a middle ground, but we must commend the efforts. The military guys were (and are still) desperate to hold on to power, while the rest of the country wants a chance at democracy. The coalition groups thwarted all efforts made by the military leaders to hold on the reins of power. They had maintained a defiant opposition to the continued despotic rule in the country.
The streets of Sudan had never witnessed such pounding of feet, clapping of hands accompanied by shouts and songs of freedom as it did in the past eight months. The confidence and audacity of the citizens shocked the military leaders with the realisation that there is little or nothing they could do to contain the agitation for them to return to the barracks. They heard the people loud and clear but were very stubborn in holding out their positions.
The soldiers thought it would be business as usual. They were used to silencing the citizens with the butt of their guns. The only language they comprehended was the sounds of the guns and the rolling armoured tanks. These including murders, rapes, jail threats and kidnapping were how they had sustained their rule for so long. So when the riots and protests broke out last year, they went into their usual mode, by threatening the citizens.
It is ironic that these machines of oppression bought and paid for by the defenceless citizens of Sudan are used to suppress them and deny them their fundamental human rights to freedom. But the citizens have had it enough. They had turned their backs away from the instruments of terror for too long. This time they stood still, bared their chests and confronted the military rulers. They dared the armoured tanks and guns to crush them. The citizens shouted, “enough is enough”.
The military leaders pretended they listened to silence the rising opposition to their rule by the masses. They sacrificed President Omar al-Bashir – the leader who had ruled with an iron fist for so many years. He was sent packing to appease the angry citizens and keep the military in control. It was a straight-forward logical thought that once al-Bashir is gotten rid of, the citizens would sheathe the swords and life would continue as normal.
The opposition groups became more agitated demanding that the military rulers hand over to civilians so they could determine their own future. If the leaders had thought the protests crowds at the ‘city square’ and adjoining streets would thin out as time went by after the exit of al-Bashir, they soon realised it gathered more momentum. The crowd grew by the day as they encamped at the military headquarters demanding for democracy.
In countries ruled by despotic leaders, the military is always handy to prop them up. As a result of the prominent role the soldiers play in decision making and the enjoyment of the trappings of power it is very difficult for them to sit back and allow democracy to thrive. History abounds of how military rulers suppressed revolts and uprisings to stay in power. The rule of despots like the evil genius Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha are good examples. These two ruled Nigeria with iron fists, crushed dreams and killed many in their bid to hold on to power forever.
There is something about with the way military rulers think. Their lines of thoughts make it difficult to even consider yielding power to the civilians. It took divine intervention in Nigeria before democracy could be restored. Left to the military leaders, they had rather preferred to play “hide and seek” games while pandering “a little to the left and a little to the right.”
Sudan is at a critical point in history. But the leaders are not having it easy like their counterparts in Nigeria did. The Sudanese had held their grounds and demanded a change. The beauty of the protests is that the citizens realised how far they could push the bounds. They pushed until they got a commitment of power-sharing from the military. It was uneasy but it was worth it. Many were wounded, maimed and killed in the process. At the end of the day, an arrangement that could have been put in place two or three months ago was achieved after so much bloodshed.
The Amnesty International UK has put it rightly: “We know that this agreement is clearly not the end of the terrible ordeal Sudanese people have experienced. But the fact that it has happened at all is a testament to the extraordinary determination and resilience of ordinary people who chose to stand up for their rights.”
As written for the column Diaspora Matters, Sunday Vanguard, July 14, 2019.