Commentary from Alex de Waal

Below is commentary from WPF Executive Director, Alex de Waal, regarding the evolving situation in Sudan.

April 17, 2019

In this interview, de Waal discusses the news that former Sudanese President Bashir has been moved to Kobar prison.

 

April 15, 2019

What’s left is “Bashirism without Bashir,” said Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

Defense Minister Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf, who announced the coup, stepped down as head of transitional military council less than two days later, as protesters raged against a prominent member of al-Bashir’s regime wielding power.

On Sunday, the council announced the general is retiring and that Sudan’s ambassador to Washington, Mohamed Ata, the former head of the National Intelligence and Security Service, is being replaced. Salah Gosh, who twice served as NISS’s chief, resigned Saturday. A restructuring of the service is promised.

“The deal between the army, NISS and the paramilitaries is fundamentally unstable because of the rivalries among them and because they won’t be able to resolve the challenge of the mass protesters,” De Waal said. “It’s actually more dangerous than when Bashir was there.”

 

April 12, 2019

Gen Ibn Auf and his collaborators cannot have been so naïve as to assume that their gambit would satisfy the opposition. Rather, they are buying time so that they can decide whether to follow the path of repression or co-option, or more likely a bit of both.

Sudan has taken one step back from the precipice of bloodshed on the streets of the capital, but only one. If the 11 April coup turns out to be a step towards democracy, it will be despite what the coup makers wanted, not because of them.

 

On Thursday, a cabal of military officers, security chiefs and paramilitary commanders overthrew President Omar al Bashir, who had been in power since 1989. All were Pres. Bashir’s most senior lieutenants. Their intent is clearly to keep the existing system intact—with all the power and privilege that they enjoy. But it was one of the least competently organized coups in history: there was a conspicuous power vacuum as the military and security leaders argued over what they should do and who should be in charge.

 

April 11, 2019

It will be tempting for the United States, the United Nations and the African Union to congratulate General Ibn Auf on the overdue removal of Mr. Bashir and the promise of stability, and leave democratic change to news bulletins. That would be a mistake: The work of solving Sudan’s problems is only just beginning.

The first challenge of preventing civil war among the branches of the security apparatus has been averted, at least for now.

But the economy remains in free fall. The main reasons are mismanagement, corruption, unchecked spending on the security sector and the loss of oil revenues after the secession of South Sudan in 2011. The economic malaise was so deep it could not be fixed by the United States’ easing of sanctions on Sudan. Nor could it be fixed by an injection of Arab cash, which might ease the crisis for a few weeks but cannot fix the fundamentals.

Without serious progress toward democracy and a resolution of the continuing wars in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, Sudan will remain at the precipice of bloodshed and turmoil. The Sudanese must deliver this for themselves, but today they need active international engagement to move in the right direction.

 

Mr. al-Bashir assiduously attended the funerals and weddings of military officers, often sending presents of sugar, tea or dried goods to their families. He held an open house once a week where commissioned officers could drop in and meet with him, said Alex de Waal, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and an expert on Sudan.

“He’s like the spider at the center of the web — he could pick up on the smallest tremor, then deftly use his personalized political retail skills to manage the politics of the army,” he said.

Mr. al-Bashir used a similar approach to manage provincial leaders and tribal chiefs, Mr. de Waal added. “Most of them became militarized and enmeshed in one of the popular defense forces. He has that extraordinary network, and it’s all in his head.”

 

“What the bargain seems to have been is to avert a civil war, for now,” said Alex De Waal, the executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University.

 

  • 9 am EST: Audio commentary from Alex de Waal, introduced by WPF Research Director, Bridget Conley.

 

Mr. al-Bashir assiduously attended the funerals and weddings of military officers, often sending presents of sugar, tea or dried goods to their families. He held an open house once a week where commissioned officers could drop in and meet with him, said Alex de Waal, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and an expert on Sudan.

“He’s like the spider at the center of the web — he could pick up on the smallest tremor, then deftly use his personalized political retail skills to manage the politics of the army,” he said.

Mr. al-Bashir used a similar approach to manage provincial leaders and tribal chiefs, Mr. de Waal added. “Most of them became militarized and enmeshed in one of the popular defense forces. He has that extraordinary network, and it’s all in his head.”

 

The possible brokers of a deal that manages a transition to democracy and avoids the perils of massacre or civil war – the US, the Arab League and the African Union – are calling for restraint, and hoping for the best.

Until now Mr Bashir has been able to manipulate and manoeuvre and keep afloat amid Sudan’s turbulent elite politics.

It’s been Sudan’s misfortune that their large-scale popular uprisings – in 1964 and 1985 – have been staged when the international community has not been ready to support democratisation.

The same counter-cyclical mismatch appears to be happening today, when there is little international appetite for such democratic movements.

Fearful of the possibility of chaos, as followed uprisings in Libya, Syria and Yemen, Western powers are cautious, focusing on stability.

This caution risks missing the slender opportunity for snatching a solution from the teeth of potential calamity.

 

April 8, 2019

When you have an intricate patronage-based system, removing the president is like decapitating the head in a drug cartel, said de Waal, the Tufts professor. “You will get an outbreak of rivalry among the oligarchs, which could become a civil war.

“The issue in Sudan is not authoritarianism versus democracy. It’s, do you have a well-organized autocracy, a coalition of security chiefs, or anarchy? The worst is the free-for-all,” he said.

 

“The army would like to come out of this as the people who saved Sudan from chaos,” Alex de Waal, an expert on Sudan, told Al Jazeera.

“What we see on the streets in the moment is a clear division between some in the army and some in the NISS … which is overplaying its hand,” added de Waal, a research professor and executive director of the World Peace Foundation at the US-based Tufts University.

De Waal also said “enormous effort” was being made by military leaders to “keep the army together” over fears any internal fractures in responding to the anti-government protests could raise the prospect of a full-blown civil war.

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