I have not followed Sudan politics in over a decade, but I do follow Burkina Faso pretty closely, and in October 2014 long-time president Blaise Compaoré was ousted by street protests. Basically, regime insiders had to choose when to run, and as more ran, Compaoré himself decided to run, and insiders who remained took the reins of power in collaboration with civilian leaders in a long one year transition marked by episodic violence. Here are a number of things to consider for a transition in Sudan, which shares many similarities (and one notable difference: much more extensive militarization of society resulting from decades of protracted ‘frontier’ wars, so some kind of disarmament might be considered, though that has been a thorny issue for South Sudan). Here’s my two cents of perspective for civilian-rule leaders, gleaned from my understanding of Burkina Faso’s experience.
- Get dangerous insiders out of proximity to power right away. The biggest threat to the transition in Burkina Faso came in September 2015 when Gilbert Diendere, a top man in the formerly ultra-powerful presidential guard, staged a coup. He almost got away with it, but most of the regular army sided with the civilians. He and his coup comrades are now on trial. The disbanding of the presidential guard was one of the most consequential decisions the transition faced. It will always be risky. I would deal with it early and send the leaders to The Hague where they can use their wealth to hire elite lawyers.
- Don’t worry about legality and constitutionalism. The transition leaders in Burkina (whether deliberate or not) let the issue of “what exactly is the legal status of our state) not bother them too much. The key I think is having a supreme constitutional council that will be ultimate arbiter of legality that is stacked with civilian rule promoters who will interpret the contradictory thicket of non-legality in ways that will promote consolidation of civilian rule and rule against previous regime insiders clinging to power by appealing to previous regime technicalities. The biggest issue for this court in Burkina Faso was to determine whether old regime members could participate in the elections. The court ruled in the negative.
- Make a list of a projects and get them done expeditiously. Government is the largest employer and its multiplier is huge. A transition needs to be immediately giving out public works contracts and reducing the disruptive impact of the transition.
- Let the media flourish. For two reasons. One is that a competitive media probably fractionalizes potential opposition to peaceful civilian rule. Spoilers need to form a coalition to regroup, but if the former regime coalition is permitted to communicate, chances are they will be less likely to plot in secret. Another is that the free media is actually a significant employer of well-educated young people, and so gives them a bigger stake in promoting a free society. An excellent review by Nael Jebril, Václav Stetka, Matthew Loveless, however, suggests there is no robust academic basis for my suggestions 😉