Throughout Sudan’s history, key security actors have shaped the distribution of power and wealth, effectively consolidating both in the hands of their loyal supporters and business partners. The resulting political economy has outlived the country’s long-term dictator Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted by a popular uprising in 2019, it has obstructed the country’s ensuing transition to democracy, and it continues to undermine present attempts at ending the war. While individuals, alliances and businesses change over time, the mechanisms deployed by these networks to retain and expand power have remained the same. They have created an ecosystem that impedes rather than enabling competition and growth, holding Sudan’s private sector hostage to their own power ambitions.
Yet, amidst this history of political instability and repression, a whole parallel, largely informal, economy has existed, and sometimes thrived. Businesses of different sizes and from various sectors have shown resilience and have nevertheless found different ways of operating, creating employment and offering much-needed products and services, even in times of war. While the majority of the pre-war Sudanese private sector was not independent, but rather depended on – and in some cases benefited from – the predatory kleptocracy, a small segment of business owners lacked political connections or decided not to leverage them. During the 2019-2021 transition these entrepreneurs doubled down their efforts, and showed perseverance and innovation to survive and cope. This segment of Sudan’s private sector, rather than the country’s security actors and affiliated businesses, will have to play a critical role in Sudan’s reconstruction after the war.
The war that continues to rage in Sudan has a disastrous impact on the economy, and the financial resources required for reconstruction will be immense. To move towards the end of the war and to prepare for reconstruction, this report advocates a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, the predatory securitybusiness networks that have underpinned Sudan’s history of conflict and that sustain the present war must be systematically dismantled, so that they cannot fuel the current war or hijack any post-war transition. On the other hand, and simultaneously, the beleaguered private sector that did not benefit from support under al-Bashir’s rule, needs to be empowered, so that it can survive the war and play a role in the reconstruction. Dismantling Sudan’s security-business networks and empowering its productive private sector are complementary efforts. Together, these efforts can help to break the cycle of inequality and violence, and support Sudan’s transition towards democracy and civilian rule.