REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK

100 days of Sudan’s transitional government: Now what?

Sudan remains divided between praise for interim government and criticism for slow progress on some issues.

Wednesday marks 100 days since the transitional cabinet's swearing-in and results are mixed [File: Ebrahim Hamid/AFP]
Wednesday marks 100 days since the transitional cabinet's swearing-in and results are mixed [File: Ebrahim Hamid/AFP]

Khartoum, Sudan – In September, the first ministerial cabinet since the removal of the country’s longtime President Omar al-Bashir took its oath amid high hopes and expectations.

The cabinet had a good idea of what it was facing. The economy was in such a crisis it triggered protests that quickly turned into anti-government demonstrations last December. The political turmoil that resulted after al-Bashir’s departure appeared to be dissipating as the protesters made it clear they wanted to see change happen quickly.

The cabinet set its 200th day as evaluation time, after announcing that achieving peace in conflict areas in Sudan and improving the economy were among its top priorities.

Wednesday marks 100 days since the swearing-in, and Sudanese people seem to be divided between praising the government for its achievements made so far and critiquing it for not moving fast enough on certain issues.

“The market prices keep going higher and higher,” Batul Adam, a tea-seller who relies on what she earns daily, told Al Jazeera.

“Yes, this government is new but we need to see change in the economy and for the better. I struggle to keep up with the market prices. And on top of that, transport to bring me to my workplace and take me back is so hard to get that I have to close early and still get home late.”

Search for justice

Calls for accountability since the start of the revolution grew louder following a deadly June 3 attack on a months-long pro-democracy sit-in at army headquarters in Khartoum.

At least 120 protesters were killed, prompting more demands for justice for alleged crimes committed since 1989 when al-Bashir’s government came to power. 

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok formed committee to look into human rights abuse allegations and a separate body to investigate the June 3 attack.

Some officials from the former ruling party remain in jail since the ousting of the government on April 11, and the former president al-Bashir was sentenced to two years in a rehabilitation centre last week for corruption and possession of foreign currency.

Activists criticised the light sentence, which the judge said was because al-Bashir is more than 70 years old.

Mohammed, a student told Al Jazeera, “the government is yet to hold any of the members of the former regime to account”.

Inflation rising

Inflation that has been on the rise even before the government took over continued its climb in the past few weeks. While the value of the Sudanese pound against the dollar officially remained stable at 45 pounds to the dollar, in the parallel black market, it jumped from 62 to 87 pounds to the dollar.

Currency traders blamed the spike on a scarcity of dollars in the central bank, an issue confirmed by the finance minister who, weeks after being sworn in, said Sudan had enough hard currency reserves to last no more than a few weeks and the country needed $5bn to stabilise its economy.

Following that statement, the value of the Sudanese pound dropped even further and increased economic uncertainty.

Sudan’s information minister, Faisal Salih, admitted while economically the issue of cash availability has been resolved, the government has not made a lot of progress to address the issues of inflation. He said officials are discussing it in the 2020 fiscal budget, and have made gains in the past three months. 

“The peace process is going well, the democratic transformation and change is going well. In terms of legal reforms, there are a lot of laws ready for approval to match the transition period.”

Legal changes

The government overturned an infamous signature law of the former regime known as the public order act, which prevented vendors from selling on the streets and controlled the movement of women in public.

Women could be arrested for solicitation and prostitution if merely found in a room (even an office) with a man.

The law even had its own “public order police” to make sure it was not violated, and rights groups had long critiqued it as humiliating and degrading, especially to women, and demanded it be repealed. But local women’s rights groups say while the government did overturn it, they also need to repeal certain acts in the penal code that told women how to dress in public.

“These were laws by former regimes,” Ihasn Figiri, founder of the No to Women’s Oppression organisation, told Al Jazeera. “They need to repeal all the articles that were the basis of the public order act, not just the act itself.”

The day the government repealed the public order act, it issued a decree dismantling and disbanding the former ruling National Congress Party (NCP).

In the decree, the minister of justice announced the seizure of all assets owned by the former party and dissolution of any partnership or association it had with related business entities.

The announcement was met with celebrations in the streets, with people seeing it as a fulfilment of one of their demands since the protests began.

Two weeks after disbanding the NCP, a decree dissolving all labour unions was issued.

“The former regime is present at all levels of government and if this government doesn’t remove them, it won’t be able to move forward,” Salah Habib, political analyst and editor-in-chief of the daily Al-Mijhar newspaper, told Al Jazeera.

“The move to dissolve labour unions is because those who were loyal to the former party in the past 30 years and part of the Bashir regime are all in the unions that he empowered. Some of the challenges this government is facing is because of the former party, which doesn’t want this government to progress.”

Progress on peace

On the 100th day since the swearing-in of the executive ministerial cabinet, and for the first time since the war started in Blue Nile in 2011, humanitarian aid reached Yabous, an area controlled by the armed opposition Sudan’s People Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N) led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu.

It came as talks between the government and various armed groups were under way in South Sudan‘s capital Juba and just a few weeks after another aid delivery to Kauda, which is under the control of the same group in South Kordofan state.

Both were led by the World Food Programme’s executive director, David Beasley. But what set this apart from the previous mission is that, for the first time in more than eight years, humanitarians facilitating the operation were able to fly in from Sudan’s capital Khartoum to an opposition-held territory.

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“This is a great breakthrough in an area that has not received aid from the United Nations in over 9 years,” Beasley told Al Jazeera.

Conflict in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan has resulted in hundreds of thousands of people displaced. Because of a lack of access by the previous government, the exact death toll is not clear, but the UN has repeatedly issued warnings of the humanitarian situation in the two areas, as the previous government and armed groups went through rounds of failed peace talks.

In September, the transitional government and various armed groups agreed to a “declaration of principles” to start peace talks.

The initial period to reach a comprehensive deal was two months starting in October, but that was recently pushed to February as the sides continue to negotiate on what can and what cannot be included in the agreement.

“The people are in need,” Beasley said. “I’ve been extremely impressed with the openness and willingness of the leadership of Hamdok and others to do what we need to do without getting in the way and they have given us just unimpeded access not just once, not just twice. But I really believe this is a new day, a new Sudan.”

Source : Al Jazeera

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