Country Risk

Sudanese president’s cabinet, governor reshuffle indicates shrinking support base, aimed at ensuring military’s loyalty amid ongoing protests

26 February 2019

A Sudanese protester raises the victory sign during an anti-government demonstration in Khartoum on 15 February. Source: AFP/Getty Images

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on 24 February reshuffled the cabinet and 18 provincial governors, replacing the ministers and governors with senior army and intelligence officers. The changes were made after Bashir declared a year-long nationwide state of emergency (SoE) on 22 February, prompting new protests involving thousands across Sudan.

  • There is likely growing opposition within Sudan's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) to President Bashir's planned re-election bid in 2020, with the cabinet and governor changes aimed at ensuring the military's loyalty by improving officers' access to diminishing economic rents. In the reshuffle, Bashir removed as first vice-president General Bakri Hassan Saleh, a long-serving figure who participated in the 1989 coup which brought Bashir to power, and replaced him with close ally Minister of Defence Lieutentant-General Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf. We had previously assessed that Saleh represented Bashir's most likely appointed successor, should he choose to step down or if his health deteriorated ahead of the scheduled 2020 presidential election. Saleh's removal suggests that Bashir faces growing opposition from within the ruling NCP, which he is trying to counteract by consolidating support from his few remaining allies, including in the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), which controls the 20,000-strong paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), to prevent an attempted military-led coup attempt. The NISS's head, Major-General Salah Abdallah Gosh, has so far proved largely successful in filling Saleh's role of managing discontent and will probably remain loyal given his access to scarce economic rents via the NISS control over key economic sectors, such as electricity, fuel, and water distribution.
  • The loyalty of security forces is likely critical to Bashir's ability to hold on to power, as funding from the Gulf states is unlikely to be sufficient to enable Bashir to pay security forces' salaries. Bashir will likely continue prioritising the disbursement of more than 70% of the government's budget on defence, including paying security forces' salaries, despite austerity measures, to retain the loyalty of the military and the police.

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