Debating Ideas is a new section that aims to reflect the values and editorial ethos of the African Arguments book series, publishing engaged, often radical, scholarship, original and activist writing from within the African continent and beyond. It will offer debates and engagements, contexts and controversies, and reviews and responses flowing from the African Arguments books.
Negotiations between Sudanese army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan and former prime minister Abdallah Hamdok appear to be making progress after the October 25 coup. The outline of the negotiation process is that there will be an initial agreement followed by a much more comprehensive framework deal between the civilian and military components.
In the initial agreement there are three main points: continuation of the state of emergency, release of all political detainees, and the ability for Hamdok to choose the cabinet and governors. As of the time of writing, the army has struggled to gain consensus around the initial deal. In the second phase of a more comprehensive framework agreement issues that will be hashed out include immunity for the June 3 massacre, military representation in politics and in parliament, and the dismantlement of the anti-corruption committee that investigates corruption from the al-Bashir regime whose mandate was established as part of the constitutional framework that governed the civil-military partnership.
The initial agreement appears to be a concession from the military. The deal would give Hamdok the power to elect his government while a more comprehensive accord is negotiated. Pro-democracy demonstrators haven’t given up anything and it appears the military has relented on allowing Hamdok to choose his cabinet. Still, there is scepticism from demonstrators against the deal. Why?
Some demonstrators simply don’t trust Hamdok in these negotiations. There is a fear that Hamdok is a man of compromise and will be pressured by the military to eventually sign a bad deal. Specifically, some cite the fear that even though Hamdok will be able to appoint his own cabinet that body may have no real power. This phenomenon has appeared in other nations. After promises to reform in Myanmar, for example, the military kept authority by exercising its veto in parliament and had unofficial levers of power. A gaping wound was fixed with a band-aid.
It appears that some mediators and diplomats in Khartoum have an easier time than others in empathizing with the military’s desire to continue power and are quicker to dismiss the demands of demonstrators as unrealistic.
But protestors aren’t being unrealistic: they just want an end to brutality, corruption and a violation of human rights. It seems that the only purpose for the military’s continued internet shutdown is punishing civilians and using web access as a bargaining chip. Accountability for the military’s use of live ammunition against peaceful protestors is absent during these talks. Former government ministers are among those who have been arrested by the military and are effectively being held hostage. Al-Burhan’s promise to hand-over power to the civilians appears like a lie. The IMF and World Bank estimate that 60 per cent of state spending goes to the military and security. Does any of this seem acceptable?
“We have had enough,” one activist said. “We are adamant this time about full blown civilian rule … The military is a national defense institution that is funded by the Sudanese people, it should be treated as such and should perform its function accordingly.”
It’s a sign of determination that the military’s tactics to smother the protestors haven’t worked. But this same determination may turn against Hamdok, mediators and negotiations if there is a bad deal.
 Interview with a person close to Hamdok, 3 November 2021.
 Interview with Jeffery Feltman, PBS Newshour, 28 October 2021.
 “A military-Islamist complex”, Africa Confidential, 17 May 2019.
 Interview with activist, Khartoum, 3 November 2021.