Sudan’s course of political reform recently faced a glitch when armed members of the National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS) clashed with government forces over severance pay in Khartoum Jan. 14. Authorities later labeled the NISS’ action as “mutiny” triggered by remnants of the former regime, the National Congress Party (NCP). During the mutiny, rival security personnel exchanged fire in three NISS buildings in Khartoum, leaving two people dead and four others wounded. The incident forced Sudan to temporarily close its airspace. Beyond the army’s success in ending the mutiny, the clashes have signaled that Sudan may continue to face significant security concerns despite the transitional government’s political reforms of April 2019 after the ouster of long-time president Omar-al-Bashir.
The Genesis of the Jan. 14 Clashes
In its three-decades of ruling Sudan, the NCP used the NISS as its major instrument in crushing political dissents. The operation department within the NISS received paramilitary training and served the ruling party rather than the country. After Bashir’s fall, the Transitional Government of Sudan (TGS) limited the role of the NISS, downgrading its tasks to general intelligence work. In addition, authorities downsized the staff of the agency; some joined the army, retired after severance pay, or continued to work in the organization under its new name, General Intelligence Service. Out of 11,700 staff, 5,800 chose to leave the agency with satisfactory compensation; however, the TGS has offered less pay than promised, angering officers, with some resorting to force Jan. 14. The mutiny occurred when TGS had already reportedly allocated 104 Million Sudanese Pound (USD 23 million) for NISS agents’ compensation. If left unchecked, former NISS leaders and agents could continue to threaten the country’s security to maintain influence in Sudan or undermine the work of the current transitional government.
Former Ruling Party Accused of Fomenting Unrest
The TGS do not see financial demands as the cause of the Jan. 14 mutiny but believe groups within the NCP, functioning under Islamist forces in Sudan, instigated the event. The recent TGS’s decree, which bans the NCP from political participation for ten years and seizes its properties, has not done enough to restrain the former ruling party. For instance, Nusrat al-Sharia, a coalition of Islamic parties with ties to the NCP, continues to weaken the TSG in political and economic spheres.
The TGS accused the former NCP’s intelligence chief, General Salah Gosh, of orchestrating the mutiny and arrested 40 others for an associated offense. The TGS recently issued an arrest warrant for Salah, who lives in exile in Egypt, for his alleged crime committed during the NCP ruling. The Jan. 14 incidents prompted the resignation of the recent intelligence head, General Abou Bakr Moustapha, and replaced him with the former head of military intelligence, General Gamal Abdul Magid.
The elite Special Rapid Forces (SRF) played a crucial role in consolidating power in the country under NCP rule. The authoritative General Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti,” leader of the SRF and current vice president of the transitional government, entered into a coalition with other political parties to form the TGS. General Hemeti’s shift to support the opposition protests of 2018-2019 has prolonged his stay in power despite the alleged crimes against humanity his forces committed in Sudan’s Darfur region. In addition, the public prosecutor’s office appears to exclude Hemeti from the list of members of the former regime who are being prosecuted for past wrongdoings, while initiating investigation against Bashir and his other subordinates. Despite its ban, the NCP will likely continue to influence Sudan’s politics due to the political infrastructure it built during its rule. More importantly, the former ruling party still maintains power over the army, which plays a leading role in the current transitional government.
Attempts to Reverse the Transitional Government Reforms
TGS Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok is unsuccessfully addressing the country’s political and economic crisis. His efforts to seal a peace deal in Juba, South Sudan, with Darfur armed groups is not finalized, as some left the negotiation table due to armed clashes between Arabs and non-Arabs in west Sudan. Others have not accepted the peace call because of the presence of military leaders in the government. Some of these military generals will likely continue to undermine the premier’s political reform agenda to preserve their own interests. Hamdok’s biggest challenge also comes from the Islamic Coalition Parties, who have economic power and promote Islamic ideology. By creating shortages of basic goods and currency inflations, the Islamic Coalition Parties continue to sabotage Hamdok’s economic reforms.
Sudan’s political transition after Bashir’s ouster did not take place as it was envisioned by the protesters, who expected drastic changes in the country’s political climate. The military wing of the current government still maintains a strong political and economic position in the country. As part of the militarized wing of NCP, the NISS and the RSF may continue to pose a threat to Hamdok’s leadership. The prime minister could have difficulty in bringing the armed forces under solely government control, leaving him and other civilian officials at the mercy of the military. Sudan’s future will largely depend on how military and civilian leaders work together in the transition period. A countercoup against the transitional government is possible in the near term if the military powers oppose the direction the current leaders are taking, potentially plunging the country into a political crisis.
Recommendations for Personnel or Business Operations in Sudan
- In the event of armed clashes, especially in Khartoum, shelter in a secure location until the situation stabilizes.
- Confirm the status of flights from Khartoum International Airport (KRT) through the duration of the crisis.
- Exercise caution near security installations.
- Avoid all protests, demonstrations, and areas with a heavy security presence during security disturbances; even peaceful protests can spontaneously result in clashes between security forces and protesters.
- If unrest erupts near you, leave the area immediately and seek shelter in a non-governmental building such as a hotel.
- Roads can close during military unrest and demonstrations, and authorities can block all transportation means; foreign nationals are advised to rely on transportation provided by local contacts.
- Stock up on food supplies due to shortages of basic commodities.
- Always carry important identification and travel documents with you; be polite and nonconfrontational if stopped at a security checkpoint. Maintain contact with your diplomatic mission.
- Establish contingency plans to depart the country if security conditions worsen.
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