Civilian or Military Governance: The Role of International Intervention in Sudan

Tensions are rising throughout Sudan. Protestors are calling for a civilian government and an end to the long military rule that has characterized Sudanese politics. The protests began in December of 2018, where protesters disputed the rising bread prices and chanted “No to hunger.”

Omar al-Bashir, the former President of Sudan, took power through a military coup against the democratically elected government in 1993. His rule has been characterized by the international community as a dictatorship. In 2003, Bashir sent troops to the western Sudan region of Darfur to crush an ongoing rebellion. As a result of Bashir’s intervention, the United Nations (UN) reports that 300,000 people were killed, including many civilians. The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for Bashir’s arrest in 2009, on the grounds of war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, Bashir was elected President once again in 2010 and again in 2015, demonstrating the ongoing pattern of political corruption in Sudan. When Bashir was eventually overthrown in 2018, the Sudanese government attempted to address and bring an end to the economic misfortunes of the country. These misfortunes were caused by the many years of U.S. sanctions by instituting austerity measures and currency devaluation. The problematic economic measures resulted in the previously mentioned rising bread prices and ongoing protests. However, the rallies have developed to now focus on seeing the end of military and dictator governance. 

In January of 2019, political groups in Sudan issued a call for a new governing regime. Consequently, Bashir declared a Sudan-wide state of emergency and handed the governing power to his deputy of the National Congress of Sudan, Ahmed Mohamed Haroun. As a result of the emergency, Sudanese Defense Minister Awad Ibanouf said that there would be a two-year transitional military government to prepare for civilian rule. Bashir is currently being held in custody and is suspected to be held for trial inside Sudan. Although the people looked to the military to remove Bashir, they did not want a military government. The danger of a transitional military government lies in the fact that the civilians do not trust the military. There is mistrust that the military will interfere and manipulate Sudan’s electoral process. The hope is that an agreement can be reached between the civilian and military actors which will lead to an influx of funding to repair the damaged social and economic fabrics of the country.  This would lay the foundation for democratic governance. Yet, instability characterizes much of Sudanese society, making reconciliation and agreement less likely to occur.

The Declaration of Freedom and Change, a coalition of activists and oppositional groups, sent the interim military government a list of requests. The difficulty with the civilian proposal is that it did not include the Islamic Sharia law as the traditional basis for legislation. The Islamic Sharia law stands as the foundation and guiding principle of Sudan’s constitution and, due to this disparity, talks for concession between military and civilian actors have stagnated.  

There are three possible outcomes in the ongoing Sudanese crisis. The first is that there can be a movement towards democracy. However, transitioning to democracy would be a challenge, as democracy entails the absence of the military in politics. The second outcome is that one group will consolidate power which would result in yet another autocratic ruler, making it an unattractive outcome for the good of Sudan society. The third option is that the military forces become rivals, resulting in an all-out civil war. This would not be beneficial to Sudan’s economic or social fabric. Rather, a civil war would push Sudan back further into a state beyond repair. International intervention is needed to ensure that Sudan will take the proper steps for the good of its citizens.

It seems as though it is up to the international community to decide the fate of Sudan. Located in Northern Africa, Sudan has close surrounding allies in the region. Sudan was a close ally in the Yemen Civil War, with Sudan’s President of the Military Council as a commander in the Yemeni Civil War. Neighboring countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have contributed resources and capital to Sudan in support of the military. The ongoing influx of support in the Sudanese military has been characterized as the “Middle Eastern games,” as all countries support different elements of Sudan’s military. However, none of the neighboring allies are in support of democracy for Sudan. Support for democracy and civilian rule has been left to the United States and the African Union (AU), a coalition that aims to provide greater unity and solidarity between African countries. Under President Trump’s administration, the U.S. has reduced its military presence and overall role in Sudan. It is now up to the African Union. The AU declared military governance to be unconstitutional and urged for a civilian government. Their deadline for returning to civilian rule was April 30th. However, the military was, and remains to be, still in charge. As a result, the AU simply extended their deadline. 

Violence against civilian protestors continues to rise. On Monday, May 13th, five Sudanese protestors were killed and dozens were injured outside of the military HQ. On Wednesday, May 15th it was also announced that the civilian and military actors had reached a deal. They agreed on a three-year transition to democratic rule. However, it is ever more apparent that any future government will have to accommodate the military or be dominated by them.  If the U.S. and AU continue to look the other way and disregard the calls of the civilian government, the future of Sudan remains uncertain.


Featured Image: Former President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, at a Summit for the African Union. (2009) via Wikimedia Commons.  Public Domain.

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Emma Tallon

About Emma Tallon

Emma Tallon is currently entering into her fourth year at the University of Toronto, St. George, with a degree majoring Political Science and minoring in History and English Literature. She is currently a volunteer with Amnesty International at the University of Toronto. Emma has researched and composed six articles for the Amnesty International publication at the University of Toronto. The topics of the articles have ranged from human rights to environmental protection. She is passionate about bringing awareness to humanitarian and environmental issues in order to incite debate and discussion on how to resolve the issues. Emma’s specific topics of interest in international relations and foreign policy include environmental protection, the protection of religious sovereignty, and the use of child soldiers in war. Emma is an avid reader and enjoys works of both fiction and non-fiction. She is the incoming Vice-President of Amnesty International’s chapter at the University of Toronto for the 2019-2020 academic year. Emma plans to pursue a master’s degree in public policy and global governance after graduation.