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  • Beatriz Gutierrez

Security landscape: the TCM and the civil disobedience movement.

Actualizado: 11 oct 2020

Year 4 - Week 22

ISSN 2603 - 9931

The fall of the dictatorial government of Omar al-Bashir last April, after months of protests, has risen new regional concerns in the upper Eastern Sahel. Bashir, a former brigadier in the Sudanese army, gained the control over the country in 1989 after a coup d’etat during a 21-year civil war between North and South Sudan, which formally ended in 2005 and left thousands o displaced. During the nineties, Bashir joined forces with Hasan al-Turabi, leader of the Muslim extremist National Islamic Front; in 1996, when Bashir dismantled the military government, he was confirmed president, with Turabi as president of the National Assembly, starting an islamization process of the country, which fueled the conflict with the mainly animist, Christian and black South, and opened the doors to groups as al-Qaida and its expansion in the African continent. Two years later, the same Bashir ousted Turabi, alleging a plot against him, what meant also the final expulsion of al-Qaida structure, although the seeds remained in the region. In 2000 Bashir declared the state of emergency, which was extended periodically until it became indefinite. Despite the signature in 2005 of a peace agreement with the Sudan Popular Liberation Army (SPLA, main armed actor representing the South interests), since 2003 Bashir had to fought a second front in the trans-border area of Darfur, which in 2008 involved the deployment of a United Nations mission with African Union soldiers. With the country immerse in a new civilian conflict, in 2011 and after 2010 reelection amid concerns of fraudulent democratic practices, a referendum was celebrated in the South of the country, showing a major will to secede, once again fueling instability in the North. From the secession to April 2019, al-Bashir’s government has been marked by the economic fallout after losing the oilfields in the South, a raising number of opposition figures asking for constitutional reforms and a harsh, repressive policy for containing those questioning voices and the boycott to 2015 election, which provided Bashir with a false 95% of the electoral support[1].

The political landscape.

The historical and geopolitical context reached a turning point at the end of 2018. With a rampant economic crisis, the levels of social unrest reached unprecedented levels. Protests quickly evolve into an organized movement where main opposition leaders and protestors called for Bashir to step down after months of economic degradation and daily life conditions worsening, specially due to bread and oil subsidies cuts. The government answer was declaring the state of emergency, dissolving both Cameras and replacing governors by military and security officers, banning unauthorized demonstrations and renouncing to the NCP (National Congress Party) leadership, but he declared he would only abandon the government ousted after elections. Consequently, demonstrations continued spiraling into more political instability and social unrest. On April 6, 2019, the protest reached for the military headquarters and presidential palace in Khartoum, setting a sit-in camp; the military repression were faced by some army factions who protected the demonstrators, showing a rift in the ranks and that the military institution was no longer a monolithic support for al-Bashir government. Only five day later, the 11th of April, Bashir was finally overthrown by the same army.

The political resulting landscape is far from having recovered stability. From the beginning, civil representatives have requested the military to hand over power to civil society. After a month of negotiations between the newly-formed Transitional Military Council and the Declaration of Alliance for Freedom and Change (DAFC), which includes all the protestor groups, both parts reached an agreement the 15th of May, where the transitional government would last for three years to guarantee fair elections, providing the framework to clean the administration from pro-Bashir non-democratic elements, before handling the government to civilians and under international scrutiny. The agreed structure was based on a sovereign council, a cabinet and a legislative council. During this period, an interim Parliament was defined, where the civilian representatives would have majority, leaving aside the thorniest issue of who will remain in charge of the country until the celebration of elections and the transition of power[2].

However, previous agreements derailed last Monday, June 3, when the protestant movement reactivated the sit-in and demonstrations since no agreement was reach on who would lead the transition and the lack of advances towards building the bases for an electoral process. Some barricades with burning tyres were mounted for closing some of the main streets of Khartoum, while more demonstrators congregated in the sit-in area in front of the military headquarters and the presidential palace. The security forces response, allegedly against “unruly elements who fled the protest side and cause chaos”[3] and based on the use of live ammunition, has provoked a toll of around 60 deaths –although opposition medics put the toll on more than one hundred, mostly due to gunfire wounds-[4], raising concern and condemnation from actors as the United Nations or the European Union. The transitional period has been unilaterally reduced by the TCM to just nine months, what the DACF considers a too short period for setting an entirely new and reliable democratic system. The demonstrations and the sit-in are announced to continue, approaching the country to the edge of a civil war.

Security landscape: the TCM and the civil disobedience movement.

The Transitional Military Council is formed by seven generals, and they claim to maintain in government in order to guarantee order and national security. Despite this, the monopoly of the use of force by the TCM is questionable, due to the presence of other non-State armed actors, as different paramilitary groups and Islamist militias. Among this paramilitary actors connected to the TCM and to the facts of June 3, it is the Rapid Support Forces, formerly known as the Janjaweed militia and one of former president Bashir’s closest allies an whose commander, Mohamed Hamdam Dagalo “Hemedti”, is the deputy head of the TCM[v]. The RSF have been in charge of the crackdown over the protesters in the last weeks, with Hemedti declaring that any further chaos would be controlled by force, especially regarding cut roads and railways with barricades[6]. Main hotspots of resistance have been combated in the Khartoum University area and the protesters encampment. According to international observers, the RSF might have a deployed force of around 10000 foot-soldiers in the country, in addition to another 20000 garrisoned or deployed as supporting forces in conflicts as Yemen, backing Saudi Arabia army[7].

The civil disobedience movement who has coordinated the protests wave responds to the name of Sudanese Professional Association. However, different protesting groups have joined to coordinate and strengthen their negotiating capabilities under the umbrella of the Alliance for Freedom and Change. After the violent crackdown over the protesters, the main pro-democratic leaders have called or a total disobedience campaign and a general strike. In this sense, a civil disobedience campaign, if it is effectively organized and strongly committed to the doctrinal foundations of this resistance techniques corpus, may take a whole country to a halt due to maneuvers as out-administering –not paying taxes, creating a parallel administration, etc.-, sit-ins as the one celebrated since April, mass demonstrations, etcetera. Civil disobedience plays with legitimacy or moral support to a cause, and choses non-violence on purpose, so if the State security apparatus uses force against an unarmed civilian gathering, automatically is represented as an abusive force, suffering a main blow on its legitimacy levels[8],

Regional risks.

The regional context for Sudan is not stable either. A traditional trading region, based in nomadic groups exchanges and caravans, the Sahel belt, which crosses Africa from East to West, have become a corridor for illicit activities from illegal traffics, smuggling and jihadist activity. The Arab Springs (2011) have set an example in countries initially unaffected by the revolutionary wave, as it has been the case of Algeria and the very same Sudan, which probably escaped to the first wave due to the fact that it was immerse on the consequences of South Sudan secession.

The regional environment remains unstable, too. The recent resignation of Abd el-Aziz Bouteflika in Algeria and the growing infighting in Libya are contributing to the regional vacuum of power and the diversification of armed actor, in addition to the expansions of both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in rapid progression from traditional strongholds as Mali and Nigeria to the East, with a special remark to Boko Haram, who is coopting different tribes in the area and fueling intertribal struggle and consequently further insecurity in the area. Likewise, border porosity and internal instability of the Sahel States only favors the expansion of these armed non-State actors throughout the area.

[2] Reuters (2019), Sudan crisis: Military and opposition agree three year transition. (15 May 2019).

[4] Reuters (2019) Death toll from violence in Sudan rises to 61: health ministry (6 June 2019)

[5] Burke, Jason (2019) Hemedti: the feared commander pulling the strings in Sudan (29 May 2019)

[8] See Sharp, G. (…), How non-violent resistance works

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