Most attention has focused on the resignation of Ali Osman Taha and his replacement as first vice-president by Bakri Hassan Saleh. While Bakri’s ascension may in time prove to be the decisive move in the Bashir succession drama, I’d argue that its immediate significance has been overplayed. Recall: Bakri has been at Bashir’s side since the regime’s beginning. As minister of presidential affairs from 1998 to 2000 and again from 2005 onwards, he has steered policy in the presidency and served to mediate party and army concerns. He is one of the main gatekeepers to those seeking access to presidential decision making. His elevation in the constitutional hierarchy does not alter his already formidable power and influence. The army is central to state policy concerns; that is unchanged. We will now see much more of Bakri, the man. But Bakri’s mentality has long been on display.
And of Taha’s departure? Ideologically, it is hard to see Taha’s mark in the post-CPA years, and his supposed and oft-cited moderating tendencies – credence in their existence itself an oversimplification if not mischaracterisation of Taha’s intent and beliefs, but this is not the place for that debate – seem to have had little effect on recent policy decisions (if indeed they ever existed). If the rumours that Taha was supposed to succeed Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir as speaker of the National Assembly are true, it is confirmation – despite Taha’s still formidable political acumen – of his decline in influence. Not since Turabi was speaker has the post been pivotal.
In sum, while Taha’s resignation is important for any number of reasons, not least in the overall context of the regime’s history, it may not signal any discernible change in the nature of presidential decision making. The more important question for the NCP is whether leaving Taha out of government is a loss the party may in time regret? The long-term implications of Taha’s departure are less certain.
Sacking Al-Haj Adam Yousef as second vice-president after little more than two years in office confirms his tenure has been something of a disappointment. In recent years Ghazi Salahuddin, Amin Hassan Omer, Taha, Osman Kibir, the security chiefs and indeed others have all played more significant roles in Darfur affairs, nominally the reason for Yousef’s appointment. Appointing former HAC chief Hasabu Mohamed Abdel-Rahman to the post may reconfigure how the Darfur agenda is handled in Khartoum. Hasabu was the man who announced the expulsion of the 13 international organisations from Darfur in March 2009. Perhaps paradoxically, Hasabu’s HAC pedigree means he understands the utility of showing progress on some fronts while remaining obstructionist on others. Hasabu will be closer to the walis of Darfur than Yousef and will be especially useful to Khartoum if he can better manage (ie. contain) DRA chief Tijani al-Sissi. He is likely to be a wilier politician than Yousef, who retains his role in the NCP’s political sector.
The rest of this article addresses three appointments that strengthen the government and the NCP:
Ibrahim Ghandour as deputy chairman of the party and presidential assistant, replacing Nafie Ali Nafie. Nafie is no fool, but Ghandour is an intellectual and organisational upgrade. A dentist who pursued postgraduate studies in the UK, Norway and Sweden, and former University of Khartoum vice-chancellor, Ghandhour has repeatedly proven himself in organisational roles across the party, both internally and externally focused. He is pragmatic and far less bombastic than Nafie. He interviews well. He can effectively mobilise people, within the party and beyond. In short, he is the ideal candidate to run a political organisation and reinvigorate the base of the party faithful.
Salah al-Deen Wanasi as minister of presidential affairs, succeding Bakri. Jumping from a state ministerial post to the halls of the Republican Palace demonstrates who has really been running the ministry of foreign affairs in recent years: Wanasi, rather than his former nominal boss Ali Karti, who remains minster of foreign affairs. Wanasi is well organised, well briefed, and used to doing diplomatic battle with the international community. There’s little doubt he will run the office of the presidency as effectively, assuming Bakri allows him the latitude to handle some of his former responsibilities.
Badr al-Deen Mahmoud as minister of finance and national economy, replacing Ali Mahmoud. While no one can claim much glory in Sudan’s recent macroeconomic performance, Ali Mahmoud was clearly floundering and it’s not a surprise he was dropped from the post. As deputy governor of the central bank, Badr al-Deen has been a safe pair of hands for Khartoum, despite plenty of economic mismanagement elsewhere. Having served under Sabir Mohamed Hassan, the most successful central bank chief in living memory and a principal architect of Khartoum’s economic renaissance in the 2000s, Badr al-Deen has some idea of what an economic recovery should resemble. He has significant international experience as one of Sudan’s negotiators for debt relief and as a board member of the pan-Arab state owned Arab Investment Company and the International Islamic Financial Market, which develops guiding principles for the application of Islamic banking.