The Sudan crisis: What is happening?

The Sudanese people face a vicious fight ahead to establish democracy in their country (Image Source: Al Jazeera)

By Rebecca Copeland | @beccopeland 

Sudan is in the middle of a major political and humanitarian crisis, following the ousting of dictator Omar al-Bashir on April 11.

After al-Bashir’s 30-year dictatorship came to an end, there was a brief glimmer of hope that Sudan may transition to civilian rule.

A temporary council called the Transitional Military Council (TMC) was created to sit in government and negotiate with protesters for a three-year transition period to democracy.

Protesters argued a long transition period was necessary to dismantle the former dictator’s political network and facilitate fair elections.

However, the TMC has now scrapped all agreements with protesters, cut internet access, and defied calls to hand over power to civilians.

On June 3, a TMC militia called the ‘Rapid Support Forces’ (RSF) unleashed a violent crackdown on unarmed protesters in the country’s capital, Khartoum.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA)—a collaboration of doctors, health workers and lawyers—has said approximately 120 people were killed in the massacre.

The RSF has also been accused of trying to hide the true death toll by throwing bodies into the Nile River. At least 40 bodies have been pulled from the river.

The military-controlled health ministry set a much lower death toll at 61.

Because the military cut access to the internet, the chronology of events is unclear, and some journalists on the ground have even been barred from reporting.

The Rapid Support Forces aka the Janjaweed

The ‘Janjaweed’ refers to multiple armed groups from the western regions of Sudan: Darfur and Kordofan.

Several militias formed in the mid-1980s when the region was suffering from a combination of drought, famine, civil war and neglect from Khartoum.

The collapse of law and order saw these groups—now collectively referred to as the Janjaweed—arm themselves, take power into their own hands, and make land grabs.

The Sudanese government implicitly supported the militias, as they provided supplies to enable the militias to fight against the rebel Sudanese People’s Liberation Army.

The Sudanese government managed to incentivise and recruit these groups by paying them, providing access to loot, as well as promising land and administrative power.

The Janjaweed is responsible for the Darfur Genocide, which began in 2003 and is ongoing.

The Janjaweed have burnt villages, looted economic resources, polluted water sources, and murdered, raped and tortured civilians.

The Janjaweed is now known as the ‘Rapid Support Forces’ (RSF) after Omar al-Bashir officially organised and constitutionally accepted the Janjaweed as a regular force in 2014.

Al-Bashir selected Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagalo as the leader of the RSF.

Dagalo is now the deputy chairman of the TMC. The council is led by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, but many believe Dagalo has the real power.

What’s happening now?

The TMC has said it will now resume negotiations on a transition to democracy, after accepting a proposal submitted by the African Union and Ethiopia.

The African Union and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed have been trying to broker a return to negotiations between the TMC and protest leaders in the weeks following the June 3 Massacre.

The proposal suggests that the sovereign council overseeing the transition to democracy should be made up of seven civilians and seven members of the military, with one additional seat for an independent member.

The TMC has said the proposal submitted is suitable.

Meanwhile, the TMC has also signed a $6 million lobbying contract with Canadian firm Dickens & Madson Inc, to gain support from the United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.

The contract states that Dickens & Madson Inc would aim to secure funding for the Sudanese military and try to arrange a public meeting with President Trump.

Today, the Sudanese people will return to the streets for what social media users have dubbed the “millions march”.

The “millions march” coincides with the 30th anniversary of the 1989 coup which brought al-Bashir to power.

Despite the lack of internet access, protesters have spread information about the march through brochures and graffiti.

Ahead of the march, Amnesty International’s Secretary-General Kumi Naidoo demanded the TMC ensure the safety of protesters to avoid a repeat of the June 3 massacre.

“The horrific unprovoked use of lethal and unnecessary force against peaceful protestors as witnessed on 3 June must not be repeated this Sunday, or ever again,” Mr Naidoo said on Friday.

Despite this, jailed protestor Ahmed Hadra told Al Jazeera that he expects the military to use force once again.

“People are expecting the security forces to respond with violence, but there’s no longer any fear and they’re (the protestors) prepared to walk towards any fire,” Mr Hadra said.

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