Annual Survey and Documents
Mohamed Beshir Hamid
The Never-Ending Crisis
Events in Sudan during 1987-88 were like a slow motion replay not only of the political scene in 1986-87 but, more ominously, of the situation that had prevailed more than 20 years earlier between 1965 and 1969.1 The similarities were indeed striking, even to the prevailing feeling of frustration over the ongoing crises and the constant sense of impending disaster. The unfolding events were almost identical: the strained relationship of the Coalition Governments of the Umma Party and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP); the ineffectiveness of the Constituent Assembly as a national forum; the constant political Pickering between Government and Opposition; the lack of direction and purpose in foreign policy; and the economic malaise that had practically crippled the country. In the background of these daunting problems and, indeed, overshadowing them all, is the running sore in the south that seems to be inexorably seeping to the north, as though it is enacting a bizarre self-fulfilling nightmare.
In this almost surrealistic atmosphere ‘the long-running, downward spiral of politics threatens to do permanent damage to political life and institutions in the country’2.
The first of a series of political crises concerned the’ constitutional amendments’ which had been one of the controversial issues since Sadiq al-Mahdi’s Coalition Government came to power in 1986. The amendments provoked criticism from opposition forces and the ‘southern bloc’ and dissensions among the Prime Minister’s partners in government, the DUP. The amendments to the Transitional Constitution of 1985 concerned the source of legislation (Article 4) and the granting to the Government of power to issue ‘provisional orders’ when the Constituent Assembly was in recess (Article 100B). Opposition to the proposed amendments came mainly from the National Islamic Front (NIF), which feared that they were designed to give more power to the Executive and weaken judicial and legislative supervision of government activities. The Government argued that the proposed amendments were essential to ‘achieve the goals and objectives of the 1985 April uprising’.3
To achieve a measure of consensus, the Government was forced to water down the proposed amendments before they were passed almost unanimously by the Constituent Assembly in April 1987. But hardly was that controversy resolved than a new crisis broke over the dissolution of the Cabinet by the Prime Minister in May 1987. The reasons for that measure were ostensibly to ensure more harmony in the new Cabinet and to instill more discipline in government actions. The Prime Minister referred in a press conference on 3 June 1987 to the poor personal performance by some DUP Ministers.4 In reality, the cabinet reshuffle was intended to remove the Minister of Commerce and Supply, Dr Muhamed Yusuf Abu Harirah, an outspoken critic of the Government’s failure to curb the black market and the parasitic activities of the commercial community. When the new Cabinet was announced in early June 1987, all the other Ministers retained their positions, except Dr Abu Harirah and Zayn al-Abidin al-Hindi, the Minister of Foreign Affairs (B 536). The Prime Minister issued a statement reiterating his Government’s intention to replace the 1983 September Islamic Laws with substitute laws and to work towards resolving the war in the south. To that effect, a memorandum of understanding between the Umma Party and the OUP was drawn up to clarify some of the items of the Koka Dam Declaration.5