• Katherine Everitt

Sudan's Shaky Truce: What Will Determine a Successful Transition to Democracy?

Sudanese protesters and the Sudanese military have agreed to a temporary three year government before holding elections in 2022. Made up of six civilians and five military officers, the council promises to oversee Sudan's transition from military to democratic rule.

They have even appointed a prime minister, an ex-UN economist who promises to lift Sudan out of its economic crisis.

While this transitional government is itself a huge success, Sudan is not out of the woods yet. Institutions tend to imbed themselves, and so what's to stop this temporary government from becoming permanent?

There are some considerable obstacles that will make this transition difficult, but not impossible. What are the key pillars that will determine this transition's success?


The biggest question on the table is what's to stop this 11 person temporary council from solidifying power?

Ideally, the civilians appointed are meant to balance out the military officers, but it's the military who has held power since Omar al-Bashir's coup in 1989. The state machinery has long been in their hands, and taking that power away is the single largest impediment to a democratic transition.

Limiting the military's role in the state's administration will be key to success.

The openness of this council's internal procedures and divvying up of power will help outsiders provide critique and oversight. So far, the head military commander Gen. Hameti has promised to stick to what's been agreed, but there are limited guarantees the military will stick to their confines.

Publicizing the internal operations of the council is one step to keeping the military, as well as the civilian representatives, in line.

Limited Role of Third Parties

Another complicating factor will be the role of outside actors such as the UN, and states with particular interests such as the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Russia.

The UN has the most potential to act as neutral enforcer of the transitional government's agreements. Looking down the line at elections in three years' time, the UN could help secure election locations and ensure free and fair procedures. Even UN peacekeeping operations could help stymy the power of the military in tense areas such as Darfur.

But state actors could complicate the situation. Recently overthrown Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir had close ties to Saudi Arabia. Potential sponsorship from the U.S, Saudi Arabia, or Russia could jeopardize the delicate balance between civilian and military rule.

Should outside actors attempt to sway the situation in their favor, factions could form and the fragile peace could be disrupted.

Abatement of Ethnic Violence and Growth of Civic Discourse

The internal political landscape of Sudan has been wrought with ethnic violence. The genocide in Darfur saw the UN-sponsored partition of Sudan into Sudan and South Sudan in 2011.

The current Sudanese military was born from the infamous Janjaweed militia that carried out genocidal acts in the west of the country. Gen. Hemeti, the new strongman of the military, has ties with Darfur genocide.

Should democratic elections eventually take place in Sudan, it will be critical that parties form along civic rather than ethnic lines. Without a history of political parties, this is both a major institutional and cultural project. Will some spinoff of a socialist and a free-market party spring up overnight? Or will ethnic lines be drawn deeper in the sand as groups compete for access to the state?

The curtailment of military power is necessary for immediate stability in Sudan. And in the long run, the formation of ideological rather than identity-based political parties will be key to a peaceful future.

Regional Stability

Outside of Sudan's immediate control, the stability of surrounding states will be key to a peaceful transition to democracy. Should refugee flows, terrorism, and black markets continue to disrupt internal operations in Sudan, the country may be tempted to reintroduce hardline military solutions to their security problems.

Neighboring Eritrea has one of the region's highest rates of refugees, as people flee a brutal policy of forced conscription. The Central African Republic has seen decades of ethnic and religious conflict, as has Sudan's other neighbor Chad. Egypt to the north and Ethiopia to the east are more stable borders, but Egypt's entrenchment of military rule under General Sisi threatens to influence Sudan's transition.

Of course, relations with South Sudan will be critical to Sudan's future. The shaky truce between the two states is an easy flashpoint for the military to securitize. Keeping relations cooperative will be one of the most important lynchpins of the entire region's stability.

Transition to Democracy? Articulating the Goal

How likely is Sudan to reach a successful transition to democracy? Much depends on the shrinking of the military's role in the state apparatus. Just like other authoritarian regimes that have recently shaken off their longtime leaders' yokes, Sudan will face the considerable obstacle of limiting the military's hold on power.

So far, the military has promised to behave. The council has appointed a prime minister. And things are looking up. But there are considerable obstacles ahead. The military has so far only shifted from answering to strongman al-Bashir to running a governmental council. If anything, their role in Sudanese government has grown.

Dismantling the military machinery is not impossible, but it will be a challenge. Articulating this as a central goal could help keep the council, the Sudanese people, and the international community focused on the most important aspect of this transition.