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GLOBALIST | 18 JULY, 2019

The Road To Peace In Sudan

Path clears to end crisis in Sudan


In Sudan the path seems to have somewhat cleared to work towards ending the crisis that has gripped the country since early this year. The efforts of the African Union, the Ethiopian government, and international pressure, including from the Sudanese army’s benefactors, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, has pushed the Army led TMC and the protestors under the umbrella of the Forces of the Declaration for Freedom and Change to negotiate and sign an agreement to determine the country’s future. The Communist Party said it and some other factions were rejecting the deal because it didn’t include the immediate handover of power to civilians and did not provide for an international investigation of the violence. Though the constitutional arrangement is yet to be signed, the provisions of the agreement, if adhered to in letter and spirit, could provide an impetus to efforts to restore stability and possibly a democratic polity within three years. Despite the recent agreement protests continue and police had to fire tear gas at rallies in Khartoum held to pay  tribute to dozens of demonstrators killed in protests since December.

The current situation arose from the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir who had ruled the country for three decades during which Sudan was listed by the U.S.A as a country supporting terrorism. After months of sustained civilian protests and autocratic measures, including the banning of unauthorized public gatherings, Bashir had given up leadership of the ruling National Congress Party but appointed a loyalist and his deputy Ahmed Harun in his place. Both men were in the listed of those wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes committed in Sudan's Darfur region.

The change in the party’s leadership had little impact on the protests and finally Bashir was forced from office in April 2019. The Army which was instrumental in pushing him out set up a Transitional Military Council. Thousands of people poured onto the streets of Sudan's capital celebrating what they hoped would be the establishment of a civilian administration with chants of "New era, new nation!" echoing.

The celebrations gave way to anger when General Awad Ibn Auf announced that, while Bashir had been arrested, there would a two-year, military-run transition government. The Alliance for Freedom and Change, one of the groups involved in organising the anti-Bashir protests, called the move a "coup" that would keep in place the people and organisations against which the people had been protesting. The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which had spearheaded the sit-ins and protests , also rejected the army's move and vowed to hold further demonstrations. The SPA said that among its key demands werethe restructuring of the country’s powerful National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), the dissolution of militia forces that operated under Bashir and the arrest of all “corrupt leaders” involved in what it called crimes against citizens.

After Bashir’s departure, the protest movement entered into negotiations with the TMC. The negotiations ended abruptly on June 3, when troops attacked a protest camp outside the Defence Ministry in central Khartoum killing at least 100 people and injuring 300. The Transitional Military Council cancelled all agreements it had reached with the opposition. But subsequently, possibly at the urging of the Ethiopian Prime Minister Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who visited Khartoum just after the raids to encourage the two sides to resume talks, the TMC made an offer for the resumption of negotiations. The offer was turned down by the protestors who demanded that the military rulers take responsibility for the bloodshed, allow an international investigation into the violence and free political prisoners Instead the authorities arrested opposition politician Mohamed Esmat and Ismail Jalab, leader of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) both of whom had held discussions with the Ethiopian Prime Minister.

The opposition alliance had called on protesters to take to the streets of Khartoum and other cities in what was called the ‘millions march’ to demand the TMC cede power to civilians and justice for all the lives lost at the hands of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) during a bloody dispersal on June 3 of a protest camp outside the military's headquarters in the capital. The TMC said it held the Freedom and Change alliance, leading the protest movement, "fully responsible for any spirit that is lost in this march, or any damage or harm to citizens or state institutions".

By the last week of June the scenario changed with the TMC saying that it had found that a joint African Union and Ethiopian proposal received on June 27 provided a viable framework for resuming negotiations. The Alliance for Freedom and Change-the umbrella opposition group-which had earlier refused to meet with the TMC- agreed to talks subject to certain conditions which included the categorical rejection of a permanent military presidency of the proposed sovereign council, the ratification of previous agreements between the two parties, the handing over of a written document by the military council confirming this, and the review of confidence-building and approval procedures. In addition the AFC called for the release of political detainees from the protest movement and the formation of an international committee to investigate the June 3 incident.

The changed attitude of the TMC was possibly a result of multiple factors including the international pressure; the very obvious determination of the protestors as demonstrated during the million man march; and, notably, the changed stance of Saudi Arabia and the UAE both long term benefactors of the Sudanese Army. Sudan’s army had been a vital component of the Saudi-UAE led coalition fighting in Yemen. Until recently, the Saudi and Emirati rulers had openly backed Sudan’s generals, pledging billions to aid the Sudanese forces. The Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and his Emirati counterpart, Mohammed bin Zayed, had welcomed Sudan’s generals in their capitals. There were reports, denied by the Saudis, that they had been recruiting child soldiers from Sudan to fight in Yemen.There was some comment that the sudden interest of the Saudis and Emiratis in bringing the two sides together was prompted by the army’s brutal tactics, supporting which might further tarnish the image of the two countries which had faced a barrage of criticism for the conduct of their own forces in Yemen. Also with the USA and UK and other western countries backing the pro-democracy forces whose opposition to the army rule was very evident, the Saudis and the Emirati rulers seemed to have realized the benefits of backing a more diplomatic approach rather than letting the scenario in Sudan impact of their own people.

The situation in Sudan had figured in the United Nations also. Britain and Germany had circulated a press statement that would have called on the TMC and protesters to "continue working together towards a consensual solution to the current crisis”. The Security Council failed to agree on a common position with China strongly objecting to the draft while Russia insisted that the Council should await a response from the African Union . After the failure of the Security Council to adopt a consensus position, eight European countries said in a joint statement that they condemned the violent attacks in Sudanby Sudanese security services against civilians.

In the beginning week of July 2019, at the end of two days of reportedly hectic negotiations, the African Union mediator announced that the two sides had arrived at an agreement. Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the TMC, said in televised comments that the army would return to its barracks after 21 months, when leadership of the council would pass from a military representative to a civilian. He said the military council that assumed power after the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in April would be dissolved with the implementation of the power-sharing deal.

The agreement provides for a joint sovereign council and a cabinet that would govern Sudan until mid-2020. The military will rule for the first 21 months — after which the civilian council will govern for the next 18 months. Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the leader of the TMC, is expected to rule for a little over three years while elections are organized. It was agreed that the transition team would have 11 members, five from each group, with the last agreed upon by both parties. It was unclear whether the 11th member would be a civilian or from the military- but he would end up being the real power broker. It is also expected that an independent commission would be created to investigate violence against civilians during the uprisings, particularly the June 3 massacre that killed more than 100 protesters and stalled initial negotiations.

How will Sudan fare under this arrangement? Many questions remain unanswered. Legislators are expected to be elected, at the earliest, by September 2019. But there is no information on how the legislature will be elected, who can contest the elections, the timeline for the elections or details about a new constitutional arrangement, which, according to reports, should become available by 19thJuly 2019.

Analysts suggest that the protest leaders had agreed to a protracted transition because they were worried that they would not able to effectively compete in early elections.The civilian coalition is made up of people and organizations that protested for all matter of reasons, ranging from the economy to local grievances. The group has little to no shared ideological foundation. The military had earlier exploited this weakness during negotiations and was likely to try to exploit it again.

The fact that military officials will govern the country for the first 21 months — without a legislature for the next three months – could allow them to enact laws to protect themselves and set precedents for the civilian government to follow.

While the stage was being set for the agreement the army announced it had thwarted an attempted coup designed to derail the negotiations. It is evident that the nature of the formations envisaged would continue to ensure a prominent role for the army and one expressed fear among the pro-democracy elements is that Sudan might go Egypt’s way with pro-democracy elections overturned by the army and an autocratic military dictatorship getting installed. The fact that Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan had made his first foreign visit, after taking power, to meet Egyptian strongman General Sissi had been noted and raised some eyebrows. Pro-democracy demonstrators had been specifically warning that Egypt should not interfere in Sudanese politics.

Sudan’s economy too has taken a beating in the past years with cash shortages and long queues at bakeries and petrol stations. Analysts have blamed the crisis on economic mismanagement, corruption, and the impact of U.S. sanctions, as well as the loss of oil revenue when South Sudan seceded in 2011. In October 2017, the United States lifted some trade and economic sanctions on Sudan. But as Sudan remained on the USA’s list of countries sponsoring terrorism it could not avail of debt relief and financing from international lenders.

In April 2019 Saudi Arabia and the UAE agreed to send Sudan $3 billion worth of aid making it the first publicly announced assistance from Gulf states in several years. The two Gulf Arab countries were to deposit $500 million with the Sudanese central bank and send the rest in the form of food, medicine and petroleum products.

But the question remains whether the arrangement now agreed to would persuade the USA to lift the listing of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism making it possible for any new dispensation to tap into international lenders and donors. If this does not happen the economic stagnation and ensuring hardship might lead to further unrest and a possible future standoff between the army and the pro-democracy elements even before the new deal has begun to show any effective results in ensuring democracy and stability in Sudan.

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