As protests intensify, Sudan’s PM and President spar over civilian takeover of economy

Sudan’s president General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has defended military dominance of the country’s economy after the civilian PM, Abdalla Hamdok, sought the transfer of proceeds from army-run businesses to the finance ministry

August 28, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Protests demanding the establishment of a legislative council and the transfer of the economy to civilians have been mounting in Sudan.

Cracks within Sudan’s transitional government have begun to show after the civilian prime minister Abdalla Hamdok and the president, general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, sparred over the army’s continuing control over most of the economy.

The prime minister has been under increasing pressure as protests in the capital Khartoum and other cities are gaining momentum. Key demands of these protesters have been the establishment of a legislative council and a civilian take-over of the “parallel economy” controlled by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). The SAF is composed of the army, intelligence services and its affiliated militia called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).  

Abdalla Hamdok finally demanded on August 21 that proceeds from army-run businesses be transferred to the Ministry of Finance. He pointed out that his cabinet controls just 18% of the economy, while the remaining is under the control of the SAF.

This, he said, is hampering the ability of the government to reform and revive the economy. Inflation in the country hit 143% last month. 221 of the 421 state-owned companies in Sudan are reportedly owned and controlled directly by the army. 

No taxes are paid by any of these companies and the profits are not remitted to the public treasury. These companies have investments in many sectors including agriculture, livestock, private healthcare, pharmaceuticals, mining and tourism.

Hamdok reiterated on August 22 that the “return to the government of businesses owned by the military and the security services is its top priority.” This is reported to have infuriated senior officials in the army who have deep vested interests in this economy.

Speaking to high-ranking officers at the Army Command in Khartoum the same day, al-Burhan alleged that the failure of the civilian government was being attributed to the military. In a press statement he is also reported to have accused “some circles” of “making sedition” between the armed forces and the Sudanese people by attributing their (finance ministry’s) economic failure to the companies and the investments of the armed forces.”

He escalated the matter the following day, provoking an assembly of troops during his address at the Wadi Sayedna military area in Omdurman city. “There are well-organized campaigns seeking to dismantle the army and its economic companies in order to break up the country,” he told them.

Protest movement mobilizes

“We consider Al-Burhan’s recent statements…a direct threat to the revolution,” said the coordinating body of the Resistance Committees in Khartoum Province. Organized in neighborhoods across the country, these committees are the nerve centers of the movement.   

Calling for greater “vigilance, caution and regulation” among its activists, the body said, “the risks are increasing day by day, but we are fully confident that the masses that achieved the great revolution…will be able to correct the course and achieve the goals of the glorious December revolution.”

It insisted that the government use the Empowerment, Elimination, Anti-Corruption, and Funds Recovery Committee — set up in November 2019 to dismantle the former regime’s control over the state’s resources and institutions — to “immediately initiate practical steps for the Ministry of Finance’s jurisdiction over companies belonging to SAF.”

The foray of security forces into investments across sectors of the economy began during the former dictator Omar al-Bashir’s rule to fund the costs of militarization of the state. In course of time, these investments have expanded into sectors which are not even remotely related to security.

“Investment activities of the regular forces extended in all areas, from mining to construction to cars and electronics, from meat to oil to financial and food industries to communication. This blows up the claim [that] the ownership is to meet the needs of the regular forces,” said the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA).

The SPA is a coalition of trade unions which spearheaded the December 2018 revolution which deposed al-Bashir and subsequently mobilized against the military junta, forcing it to make way for the current civilian-dominated transitional government.

The SPA called on the “executive authority, represented by the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister” to take charge of revealing all the details of these investments before the public. It also hinted that bringing them under the control of the civilian government will require mass mobilization. 

Half of the members of the sovereignty council, the highest body of the transitional government, is made up of military officers, including president Burhan. In the cabinet, the ministers of defense and internal security are also appointed by the security forces. 

Under the circumstances, given the power the SAF continues to hold in the government, the SPA said that bringing the economy controlled by it under the command of the finance ministry will require “summoning the masses to deploy their time-tested resistance methods to push forward on the path of struggle to complete the tasks of the revolution.”

According to the constitutional declaration which paved the way for the transitional government, an entirely civilian legislative council was supposed to be established by November 2019. The majority of the seats in the council are to be held by the political coalition representing the protest movement.

However, this body, essential to counter the influence of the military which came with vested interests in the former regime, is yet to be established. At the time of publication, multiple protests continue to rock different cities of Sudan demanding the establishment of the legislative council and reigning in of the SAF by the civilian leadership in the government.