When the establishment retains some leverage over reformers change can be slow, superficial and short-lived. Sudan appears to be a textbook case.
Since the “palace coup” of April this year the transition has been a power play between the old guard and the reformers. The impasse between the protesters and the military establishment has been underscored by disagreements. This culminated in the suspension of agreements reached since Omar al-Bashir was removed.
The military commandeered the transition time table and has been guiding proceedings unilaterally.
After encouraging progress and talks between the generals and the civilian Alliance for Freedom and Change, the military is purging the protest movement. Recent developments have been characterised by civilian massacres and brutality. Deaths and the forceful clearance of protest sites have been reported at the military compound where the protests began.
The AU has suspended Sudan. It is calling for a speedy return to the agreed transition calendar, restraint on the part of the military, and respect for the civil and political rights of Sudan’s people. The international community has endorsed the AU’s condemnation and called for restraint and a return to the negotiating table.
What could explain the breakdown in proceedings? I would argue that the military sanctioned al-Bashir’s ouster to preserve itself and its interests. This was the case in Algeria, Zimbabwe and Egypt. The countries remained in the grip of an autocratic old guard.
In Sudan, the ultimate sticking point was the leadership of the transitional council. The military and the civilian protest movement wanted to claim this for themselves.
The generals, who are embedded in the establishment, showed a distrust for civilian leaders whom they viewed as unknown power brokers with little knowledge of the status quo.
The Sudanese military was a key beneficiary of al-Bashir’s regime and Sudan’s patronage system. And because of its size it has always put a significant strain on the struggling economy.
The end of Sudan’s civil war, which ran from 1983 to 2005, and the scaling down of the Darfur conflict could signal a potential need to restructure the bloated military. This must sit uneasily with the military hierarchy.
Sudan is an indispensable contributor of troops to the Saudi-led “Operation Decisive Storm” in Yemen. Because of their military coalition, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and their allies would encourage the Sudanese generals not to cede ground to the civilian protest movement.
While the agreement on the transitional timetable was encouraging, the change of tune was precipitated by the protest movement which remains reluctant to return to "normalcy".
While the generals felt that they had made a substantial compromise, it might appear that the protest leaders overplayed their hand or had a false sense of their own leverage.
There is no guarantee that transitions will be unidirectional. This is especially true when some actors have leverage and others don’t. Ultimately, the direction the change takes is dictated by the interplay between strategic choices, the games the actors are willing to play, and the things they are willing to trade off. In Sudan’s case, it’s down to the willingness of both sides to moderate their demands and to maximise future benefits.
Pressure from the international community could help encourage a civilian-military rapprochement. Domestically, agreements must be reached on how best to serve military interests. Regionally, the geo-political role of Egypt and Saudi Arabia will be crucial in the end game to this transition saga. The Conversation
* Kiwuwa is associate professor of international studies at the University of Nottingham.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.