View on Africa: Sudan's military discreetly reorganised

Has the Sudanese military become the most important guarantee of President Bashir's personal grip on power?

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The issue

In June 2015, Omar al-Bashir was sworn in for another term as president of Sudan. He has ruled the country since coming to power in a military coup in 1989. 

In June, he effected an undetected but pivotal reorganisation of the military high command. He appointed new and more loyal officers to several key positions, including the joint chiefs, deputy chiefs of staff, as well as the chiefs of staff of Sudan’s army, navy and air force. Trusted officers also filled the inspectorate, human resources and military intelligence positions.

Berouk Mesfin, an ISS senior researcher based in Addis Ababa, presented this week’s View on Africa. He examined why the extensive reorganisation occurred, its political implications and how the Sudanese military high command has become the most important guarantee of Bashir’s personal grip on power. 

Key points

  • A source familiar with the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) contended that ‘the reshuffle was part of regular promotion and retirement of the Military High Command’ and that ‘al-Bashir had made similar changes in June 2010 among the highest ranks of the officer corps following the elections of April 2010.’
  • Decisions of who would be assigned a command in the SAF have always been, and still are, crucially influenced by al-Bashir’s self-protective tendencies.
  • Officers lacking professional qualities are usually given better appointments and accelerated promotions simply because of their loyalty and to secure the permanent loyalty of the SAF by preventing coups d’états. Divide-and-rule personal policies are constantly practiced.
  • The new SAF command is seen by a number of military experts as consisting of officers who are primarily al-Bashir’s staunchest loyalists and have a history of liaising between the SAF and the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). This trend clearly reflects the positioning of the NISS as the lead force in Sudan. 

What to watch

  • A knowledgeable source in Sudan says: ‘There are SAF officers who want the government to reform the SAF but instead the SAF ended up being under al-Bashir’s control. Infuriated by the lack reform to come out, many believe that middle-level and junior-level officers may contemplate how to change the status quo.’
  • The current 26-year-old government faces further erosion of internal support within and outside the SAF. Yet, it continues to resist implementing genuine political and economic reforms and continues to use violence to sustain itself in power. It has developed a complex web of tribal and economic patronages and it managed along the way to polarise a population resentful of the government’s repressive tendencies (often violently).
  • Currently, the government of al-Bashir is in survival mode, confronting a deepening economic crisis and an unprecedented collapse of living conditions, with the value of the Sudanese pound falling to record lows. The situation is further exacerbated by delays in the flow of oil from South Sudan, currently experiencing a civil war.

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Vues d’Afrique : L’armée soudanaise réorganisée dans la plus grande discretion

La réunion aura lieu aux bureaux de l’ISS à Addis Abéba. Vous pouvez vous rendre sur place, de 12h00 à 13h00 EAT, regarder la réunion depuis les bureaux de Pretoria (de 11h00 à 12h00) ou bien nous rejoindre en ligne via Voiceboxer.

Au pouvoir depuis le coup d’État militaire de 1989, Omar el-Béchir a été une nouvelle fois élu président du Soudan en juin dernier.

Immédiatement après sa réélection, il a entamé dans la plus grande discrétion une restructuration capitale de la haute hiérarchie militaire. Il a placé aux plus hautes fonctions de l’armée de nouveaux officiers plus fidèles, notamment aux postes de chef d'état-major et dechefs d'état-major adjoints, que ce soit dans l’armée de terre, l’armée de l’air ou la marine. Il a aussi positionné des éléments favorables au sein de l'Inspection générale, des services des ressources humaines ainsi que des services renseignements.

La réunion de cette semaine sera présentée par Berouk Mesfin, chercheur senior de l’ISS basé à Addis Abéba. Il discutera des raisons qui se cachent derrière cette réorganisation ainsi que de ses implications politiques, et expliquera comment la haute hiérarchie militaire est devenue la principale garantie d’el-Béchir pour conserver son emprise sur le pouvoir.

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