Security Infighting Drives Delays in Sudan
For well over a year, the conventional wisdom about Sudan’s transition has featured regular reference to the fractious, divided civilian coalition that has been trying to wrest power away from the security forces. The characterization reflects some undeniable realities but also echoes the Sudanese military’s own justification for seizing power and derailing the transitional government in October 2021. Too often, the implication has been that for those interested in pragmatic diplomacy, the security forces currently running the country are more reliable and realistic negotiating partners than their diverse, pro-democracy counterparts.
But it’s the divisions between armed men in uniform that have led to the latest delays in moving the country forward. As General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan and his formal military forces jockey for position with Mohamed Hamdan (popularly known as Hemedti) and his paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), they have generated new uncertainty and fears of a confrontation between armed actors. The signing of a deal intended to get the transitional process back on track has now been twice delayed. Reportedly, the sticking points center on the timeline for integrating the RSF into the military and the overall substance of security sector reform—a critical set of issues in Sudan, where the economy cannot begin to serve the interests of the whole population while various security elites maintain exclusive access to lucrative sectors.
The tensions around reform of the security services come as no surprise. Both the military and the RSF wish to retain as much power as possible, to shield their economic activity from any real accountability, and to ensure that they never face justice for crimes committed against Sudanese civilians. Their interests align insofar as they both benefitted from the system that governed Sudan for decades and drove the economy to the brink of collapse, but diverge substantially when it comes to implementing reforms aimed at easing pressure on Sudan’s economy and meeting civilian demands. The divisions are both substantive and somewhat cynical—both parties undoubtedly find it useful to underscore real and perceived rifts in their ranks to create a dynamic in which civilian leaders must make concessions to try to ease tensions and stave off spoilers.
It’s worth remembering that there is little reason to have confidence in the good faith of Sudan’s security elites, who have proved unwilling to concede power to civilians in the past, and all too willing to use brutality and repression to protect themselves. They are neither united nor especially credible. Observers and diplomats alike might use this moment to reframe the popular narrative around what qualifies as pragmatism in Sudan. It’s understandable to be frustrated by the fact that civilian leaders involved in negotiations don’t speak for the totality of the unarmed, pro-democracy forces in the country. But surely, the ample evidence that security elites wish to maintain all their advantages but escape from any accountability is just as frustrating, and as impractical as it gets.