Following mutiny by al-Bashir loyalists, Sudan appoints new intelligence chief

The armed mutiny by military personnel lasted for 15 hours and put into evidence the delicate security situation in the country

January 21, 2020 by Pavan Kulkarni
Sudan mutiny
(Photo: AP)

The resignation of Sudan’s intelligence chief Abu Bakr Mustafa was accepted on January 16, Thursday, after the suppression of the mutiny led by military officers of the country’s General Intelligence Service (GIS). The GIS was previously known as the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) under the regime of ousted president Omar al-Bashir.

Lt-Gen Jamal Abdel-Majeed Qasim Alsayed, the head of military intelligence since October 29, 2019, was appointed as the new director of GIS on the same day. Alsayed was a major general in the army when he was removed from the security force by Omar al-Bashir, who had seized power through a military coup in 1989.

Last Tuesday, on January 14, one unit of NISS, many of whose officers had played a key role in training and arming the RSF, began an armed rebellion following a disagreement with the government.

The clashes lasted for 15 hours, in the course of which, four military personnel and two civilians were killed. The mutiny was finally quelled by the pro-government forces. For about five hours, the country’s airspace remained closed.

Senior members of Sudan’s transitional government have accused Salah Gosh, the head of NISS under Bashir, of being the main culprit engineering the mutiny. The heavily armed NISS was the main security force used by Bashir to repress the mass-protests against his rule. Abu Bakr Mustafa was also accused of negligence in his dealings with the disarmament, and demobilization process of the disbanded NISS.

“In order to know the facts and for greater transparency, we call for the establishment of a neutral and legal commission that will look into the events of last Tuesday,” said the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) in a statement on January 19, “Protecting the revolution requires the dismantling of militias and the confiscation of their weapons.”

The capital city of Khartoum, the surrounding suburbs, and the capital city of North Darfur State, El Obeid, witnessed sporadiac gunfights between the rebelling GIS forces on one side, against the RSF and regular armed force.

Omar al-Bashir’s National Intelligence and Security Service

Shooting, torture, mass arrests, attacks on doctors treating injured protesters were all used by the NISS to defend Bashir’s regime against the democratic movement. Bashir was nevertheless ousted on April 11, 2019.

Gosh was also forced to resign, following which General Abu Bakr Mustafa was appointed to his position by the military junta which had assumed power after the ouster of Bashir. Mass protests continued, insisting that the military junta step down and make way for a civilian government. Calls for scrapping of the NISS became louder and louder.

In July, the military junta had signed an agreement with the opposition coalition which had come together under the name of Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF), to make way for a transitional government in which the civilian forces will hold majority power. By the end of the month, the junta passed a decree to reform the NISS, removing its power to carry out arrests or search operations.

This reformed body, which was only authorized to conduct intelligence and counter-intelligence operations, was called the General Intelligence Service (GIS). Given the diminished mandate of this 13,000 personnel-strong body, a significant section of the forces had to be retired – a task which fell on the civilian-dominated transitional government after its formation in August 2019.

In line with this task, one of the units which had to be dismantled was reportedly offered to either retire with financial compensation or join the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), composed mostly of the Janjaweed fighters who were used by the former regime to commit a genocide in Darfur.

The RSF, which is not a part of the regular armed forces, is led by General Mohamad Hamdan Dagalo. He was the vice-president of the former military junta and is presently a powerful member of sovereignty council.

The powerful positions held in the civilian-dominated transitional government by senior military officers such as Dagalo, who played a key role in the formation of these militias, is proving to be an obstacle in accomplishing the dismantling of these militias, one of the most notorious of which is the RSF.

Unions call for formation of transitional legislative council without delay

The transitional legislative council, which was to be formed in November, could have been a counter-weight to balance the disproportionate influence the military generals hold in the transitional government.

67% of the seats in this body are reserved for those chosen by the DFCF, while the remaining 33% for reserved for other political parties excluding ousted president Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) and its allies. The NCP was banned by the Sudanese government.

However, the armed rebel groups, who began peace negotiations after the formation of the transitional government, have insisted that the formation of the legislative council be delayed till a peace agreement is reached.  Once the agreement is reached, groups will negotiate their representation in this body, but negotiations have been proceeding at a slower than expected pace. While they were expected to conclude by December 14, the deadline was postponed to February 21 with several issues remaining to be settled.

Given these pending issues and the numerous splinters of armed rebel groups to be satisfied, the conclusion of a peace agreement by next month remains doubtful. In the meantime, armed militias continue to possess and use weapons they were armed with by the previous regime, destabilizing the security situation in the country. Reforming of the NISS has not been completed successfully, as is evident from the mutiny.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), a coalition of trade unions banned by the former regime and restrung now with the support of the SCP, has called for the formation of the transitional legislative council “without delay”. The SPA which led the uprising that ousted Bashir remains a powerful force, capable of mobilizing people on the streets in large numbers.

In a statement yesterday, the SPA has called on the transitional government and the DFCF “to take urgent steps to fill the void in the structures of the transitional institutions in a manner consistent with the previous understandings.”

They added, “We hope that our partners in the armed struggle will understand that peace cannot become an obstacle to meeting the urgent and necessary needs of the people.”