Foreign Policy magazine published excerpts from a book prepared by journalist Justin Lynch, about his period of coverage of events in Sudan, which led to the end of Omar al-Bashir’s rule 3 years ago.
In it, he presented a summary of his interviews with activists and decision-makers in the country, and the former civilian prime minister, Abdullah Hamdok.
The author talked about how the United States, the United Nations, and the technocrats who assigned the process of political transition frustrated the experience of the Sudanese revolution, from which the West must learn.
Despite the apparent eagerness of the United States, the United Nations and the international community to take advantage of the revolution to bring about a democratic transition, it was a factor in its defeat due to the steps and policies it took. accepted.
The United States has pledged $ 700 million to support the transition, in addition to $ 600 million in annual aid. The United Nations has set up a mission to support the elections. French President Emmanuel Macron held an international conference in support of the civilian government.
Today, the civilian movement is completely without its power, and a military coup in October 2021 against the civilian government halted all processes of democratization.
The author said that he followed the revolution closely, but that he wanted to live the transition phase in Sudan, and therefore he worked as an official in the United Nations and with NGOs in Sudan, where he was activists, the evicted prime minister and army met. officials with the aim of writing a joint book on the revolution. He says a missed opportunity for reform was missed by technocrats, the outside world and institutions that wanted to help.
He believes the role of the international community in Sudan paints a picture of limited foreign support, but it is also a story of self-deception and neglect. We must not forget that the Sudanese army and its politicians are responsible for the fate of their country. The legacy of corruption and violence did not disappear after the fall of al-Bashir, which means that the process of transformation in Sudan will always remain stumbling, if at all. Civilian Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok was clear and predicted a regression in the Sudanese revolution. Hamdok and the rest of his technocrats in the civilian government did not have the skills to use the influence they had, and were limited by a constitution that gave almost total power to the military.
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However, there was a window of change missed by these technocrats as well as by the foreign countries that wanted to help in democracy and before the counter-revolution struck.
Lynch says the lessons learned from international support for Sudan are important because Bashir will not be the last dictator to be expelled. If pro-democracy advocates want to help, they must learn from Khartoum’s failed lessons. The power dynamics in the process of democratic transition in Sudan were no clearer than when Hamdok became the first displaced prime minister in the world.
When Hamdok arrived in Khartoum in 2019, army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan refused to give him any of Bashir’s old headquarters to stay in one of them. The author met him in a house that a famous family in Sudan had opened for him, and when he met him, he felt that the prime minister was set up in a way similar to renting houses and rooms by the Airbnb application.
The dispute over the prime minister’s housing was a major flaw in the revolution, as the transitional constitution kept the army in power for 18 months and gave no real power to Hamdok and his civilian government.
The imbalance in power represented a dilemma for civil society, which questioned whether the transfer of power was real.
Hamdok explained that his top priority is to normalize Sudan’s relations with the international community. He explained to the author in an interview published in 2019 by the Associated Press that Sudan was treated as a “pariah state” due to three decades of sanctions and the US designation of Sudan as a sponsor of terrorism.
Sudan’s debt rescheduling and budget support from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were suspended in the first year of Hamdok’s government.
His main strategy was to improve the lives of ordinary Sudanese in a way that would strengthen the economy and increase the popularity of the government to deter the army from carrying out a coup. But Hamdok wanted the money, and the debt left by the regime meant he could not provide basic materials.
The prices of bread, electricity and basic materials are constantly rising, and the inflation rate reached 329% in 2021. Sudan’s economy was in a state of constant collapse.
Hamdok said removing Sudan from the list of terrorists was “the key to everything we can do for this country.” However, US aid was delayed as the fight within the Donald Trump administration to remove Sudan from the list was only resolved a year later.
As a result of this delay, the transitional government’s chances of success diminished. The unknown government situation was exacerbated by the rise of Covid-19, which disrupted the Sudanese economy, which shrank by 3.6%. The author notes that some US officials explained to him that they were not confident that the process of transformation in Sudan was real. And they were reluctant to provide significant support so that it would not end up in the hands of the military if they returned and took control of the government.
Other officials said there were officials in Washington who had the power to make decisions they were afraid to make. When the Trump administration finally announced the removal of Sudan and the provision of aid in October, the decision was not a charity, as the removal of Sudan and the resumption of aid were linked to Khartoum’s recognition of Israel. Leaders in Sudan felt that the United States was holding the transition process hostage to strengthen Trump’s chances of re-election.
Despite Washington’s promise to support Sudan, it has delayed it. And when the support finally showed up, it was not right. The US Agency for International Development received most of the $ 700 million in support, in addition to $ 600 million to support the transition process and address humanitarian issues in Sudan.
Each Western embassy in Khartoum had its own package of billion-dollar aid to tackle poverty, respond to violence, and support democracy. The checks were not written in the name of Hamdok or Sudan. The United States will spend its money through the United Nations, NGOs and contractors.
The programs included systems to monitor violence in Sudan, buy wheat for Sudan and pay salaries to employees in Hamdok’s office. Some of these programs have had little success, but they have not addressed the roots of corruption and violence. Many programs also supported individual interests at the expense of what Hamdok wanted. It was expensive, but the small group of aid groups continued to flourish without fruit. In contrast, human service officials at foreign embassies admitted that they did not know how to spend the money allocated to them.
By the end of 2021, most of the US $ 700 million in US government support had not been spent. The diplomats said they had transferred the money to UN agencies that did not know how to spend it. While some assistance was spent on effective projects, the large number of donors meant that money was spent on similar programs.
Diplomats said communication efforts in Hamdok’s office were funded, but from several donors at the same time. Hamdok needed money to provide cheap electricity, bread, and spending on important projects, and it was better to transfer the money to him. Instead, he acquired an army of advisers who did not know the local context and implemented expensive programs with rare success. Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity is the failure to push for reform that would have facilitated subsidies.
Under al-Bashir, the Humanitarian Support Commission was affiliated with the Sudanese intelligence. The intelligence was proficient in theft, embezzlement and the prevention of foreign aid. It was used as an instrument of political pressure under the old regime. The coercive regime remained present during the transition period.
Hamdok has often hinted to the author that he does not have the power to confront the military and the intelligence services that have benefited from corruption. Examples of prevention or misappropriation of support are numerous. At the start of COVID-19 in 2020, Military Intelligence prevented exams, for no other reason than fear of foreign support. UN employees were threatened with eviction if they talked about the matter.
Although the United Nations system has made the transition process in Sudan a priority, but without clear results. In 2020, a new mission was established, the United Nations’ integrated mission to support the transition phase in Sudan.
The author says that during the founding process he witnessed how officials undermined his mission because they saw it as an opportunity to raise funds for their agencies. He referred to a dialogue attended by Sudanese Humanitarian Coordinator Paula Emmerson, who said the mission should not include peacekeepers because it means a lot of money.
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