East Sudan crisis highlights Khartoum’s transition snags

The government’s recent decision to dismiss the governor of Kassala, Saleh Ammar, was not enough to calm the tense atmosphere.
Saturday 17/10/2020
Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (left) and Sovereign Council chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan attend a conferecne in the capital Khartoum on September 26. (AFP)
Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (left) and Sovereign Council chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan attend a conferecne in the capital Khartoum on September 26. (AFP)

KHARTOUM- The transitional authority in Sudan doubled its moves, on Friday, to contain the raging crisis in eastern Sudan, before it gets out of hand and spreads to other regions.

In the meanwhile, the government is being accused of drowning the Transitional Sovereignty Council in Sudan with political problems and power-sharing battles and neglecting the task of finding solutions to priority issues.

The transitional government has failed its first test after the signing of the Juba Peace Agreement. It was not able to address the crisis of eastern Sudan and appeared confused in its approach, which led to further escalation and violent clashes with the security forces. There were casualties within the ranks of the demonstrators and on Thursday, the government decreed a state of emergency for three days in the region.

The government’s recent decision to dismiss the governor of Kassala, Saleh Ammar, was not enough to calm the tense atmosphere. On the contrary, it ignited the wrath of his tribe (the Beni-Amer) who saw the dismissal of the governor as the result of the relentless pressure exercised for two months on the government by their rivals the Hadendoa tribe.

The Transitional Sovereignty Council began activating its diplomatic and intelligence tools to resolve the crisis amicably, fearing that it would get out of hand and cause the explosion of other smouldering problems in a strategically important area overlooking the Red Sea and containing Sudan’s most important port, Port Sudan, which is coveted by foreign parties.

Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, First Vice President of the Transitional Sovereign Council, said that committees will be formed to solve the problem once for all by mutual consent, when he met Thursday with the delegation of civil administrations in eastern Sudan, and approved the holding of a consultative conference for the East in agreement with all social components without excluding anyone.

The dismissed governor of Kassala, Saleh Ammar, accused the police forces of killing the peaceful demonstrators who came out condemning his dismissal, saying, “The police and behind them the whole of the authority are responsible for this situation, because they are confiscating the legitimate right to expression, and because they have been watching the chaotic situation and the racist attacks for three months now without moving a finger.”

Observers attributed the flare-up of the crisis and its current dangerous development to the way Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok dealt with issues in eastern Sudan, and his focusing on the political aspect only, without his advisers taking into account the nature of the tribal conflict and its societal components.


The government was obsessed with interference by elements affiliated with the Sudanese Islamist movement, who were fuelling the conflict in the region. Then it hinted at interventions by intelligence and international bodies, and paid little attention to the internal causes, which still constitute the first and direct fuel for the crisis.

Observers said that the Alliance of the Forces of Freedom and Change, the political backer of the transitional government, was determined to have Saleh Ammar appointed governor of Kassala and failed to backtrack on its decision early enough, which proves that the alliance is, by comparison to the Sovereignty Council, less aware of the issues plaguing the eastern region.

They pointed out that the Sovereignty Council has mechanisms in the army, the police and intelligence services that provide it with correct information on the nature of the conflicts in the regions, which is why it intervened quickly to contain the crisis.

The leader of the Forces of Freedom and Change, Sherif Othman, revealed that there are serious consultations taking place between the transitional government and influential tribal components inside eastern Sudan to calm the current atmosphere down and reach an agreement on the appointment of an interim governor within two days.

Othman confirmed, in a statement to The Arab Weekly, that the government is trying to address its past mistakes and have all parties face up to their political, security and societal responsibilities in order to reach an appropriate solution around which everyone will rally, in a way that will lead to a consultative conference for eastern Sudan in order to appoint a consensual governor.

He stressed that the government will proceed with imposing the authority of the state in the region to prevent further chaos, and that military movements are taking place on the ground,in parallel with the political moves, to contain all tribes and control the dimensions of the crisis.

However, the use of force led to casualties, and this has intensified the anger against the transitional authority, both military and civilian, which forced it to work fast to contain the crisis before it got out of control.

Sudanese political analyst Abdul Wahid Ibrahim told The Arab Weekly that the government has solved about 50% of the crisis by dismissing the governor of Kassala Saleh Ammar, and now it has to address the remaining half by halting the so-called eastern path and starting to prepare for an inclusive conference on the eastern region’s urgent issues.

What contributed to the aggravation of the crisis was that the eastern path in the Juba negotiations did not gain a great consensus among the people of the region, and it brought in the process political groups that many locals were not sure of their belonging to the region or if they were qualified to express the concerns of eastern Sudan.

Ibrahim stipulated that the committees entrusted with the task of preparing the conference should be representative of all the political forces and social components of the region, thus contributing to the fair distribution of power and wealth.

He explained that the objections that accompanied the appointment of the governor of Kassala were not only tribal, but also included the general population of eastern Sudan, because he did not represent the real components of the region.