Sudan is undergoing a major transition following the 11 April ouster of Omar al-Bashir, one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders. The strongman’s toppling, prompted by a sustained, peaceful campaign by a diverse and well-organised protest movement, raised hopes that the country might make a transition to more inclusive, civilian-led rule. That transition has been halting and is fraught with risk, with the old military regime showing little appetite for real change. Sudan matters not least because it sits in one of the most geostrategic locations on the continent, straddling the Horn and North Africa, with a long Red Sea coastline, and serving as a historical bridge between North and sub-Saharan Africa. Through field research and advocacy with Sudanese and international actors in the region, we aim to reduce the likelihood of conflict inside Sudan and encourage a genuine transition to more inclusive governance by Khartoum and an attendant shift toward positively engaged regional and international relations.
While Sudan has embarked on a path toward democratic and accountable government, economic fragility threatens to derail its transition. The Friends of Sudan should bolster the civilian-led administration with urgently-needed financial support and call for an African Union envoy to help keep the transition on track.
Peace talks between transitional govt and rebel groups continued despite new delay and authorities redoubled efforts to hasten reforms. Govt and rebel coalition Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) failed to meet self-imposed 9 April deadline to reach comprehensive peace deal, agreed to extend talks until 9 May. Govt and Malik Agar, leader of faction of rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), 19 April entered negotiations over wealth-sharing in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states; 21 April agreed peace agreement would also apply to West Kordofan state. Abdelaziz al-Hilu, leader of another SPLM-N faction, 1 April extended ceasefire in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states until 30 May, citing COVID-19 crisis and need to give peace talks a chance. Govt, Sovereign Council, and opposition coalition Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) 6 April formed committee to hasten transitional reforms, 12 April pledged to appoint Transitional Legislative Council and economic emergency committee by mid-May, and civilian governors by 18 April. SRF 14 April reiterated its demand that governors be nominated after peace deal is reached, prompting Hamdok to postpone appointments 18 April; SRF same day said it would back appointments provided it takes part in nomination process. After army 30 March reportedly deployed troops on border between Al-Qadarif state and Ethiopia’s Amhara region following spate of criminal violence and clashes between militias, senior state officials 10 April met with Ethiopian counterparts in capital Khartoum, reportedly agreed to coordinate border security and monitoring operations. Amid COVID-19 outbreak, authorities 7 April postponed former President Bashir’s trial. Dozens of supporters of Bashir, members of Islamist group Unified Popular Movement 9 and 16 April demonstrated against govt in Khartoum despite COVID-19 ban on public gatherings. Govt 18 April imposed three-week lockdown in Khartoum state to prevent spread of virus. UN 28 April said deployment of new police units to disputed Abyei region as part of UN peacekeeping mission (UNISFA) faced “serious delays” due to COVID-19.
Sudan’s post-Bashir transition holds the promise of civilian rule but also perils, among them renewed insurgency, economic stagnation and backsliding into autocracy. Outside powers should press the military to adhere to its power-sharing pact with the opposition. Authorities in Khartoum should pursue peace with rebels.
The UN General Assembly kicks off on 17 September amid general scepticism about the world body’s effectiveness in an era of rising great-power competition. But the UN is far from paralysed. Here are seven crisis spots where it can make a positive difference for peace.
Ethiopia is building a mighty dam on the Blue Nile, promising economic benefits for both itself and Sudan. But Egypt fears for its freshwater supply. The parties should agree on how fast to fill the dam’s reservoir and how to share river waters going forward.
Popular protests are rumbling across Sudan, shaking President Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year grip on power. The authorities have cracked down hard and, as the demonstrations intensify, they may ratchet up the repression. External powers should urge restraint and offer Bashir a way to the exit.
By 12 October, Washington will decide whether the steps Sudan has taken qualify it for lifting some U.S. sanctions. But to push forward afterwards will require a new roadmap that ties further sanctions relief and improved bilateral relations to political reform and human rights.
China, traditionally averse to intervening abroad, is testing the role of peacebuilder in South Sudan, where it has unique leverage. This could portend a growing global security role, but further Chinese engagement will likely be tempered by self-interest, capacity constraints and aversion to risk.
The transitional government and the international community [in Sudan] must move quickly to avert an economic collapse and accompanying disintegration of the transitional dispensation.
The attack [in Sudan] may have the effect of increasing the solidarity between the civilian and military components of the transition.
Overt Israeli endorsement of a [sanctions] lift for Sudan will provide a key push to the U.S. government.
An underappreciated dynamic [in Sudan] is the split between the military, who traditionally have a Muslim Brotherhood background, and Islamists themselves.
This is a case where the UN should aim to be ‘best supporting actor’ rather than the star, bringing economic expertise to back up the AU’s work on Sudan’s transition.
All roads forward in Sudan now run into the Hemeti problem. Over time, his power will need to be reined in, yet any action against him at the moment risks civil war.
Murithi Mutiga, Crisis Group's Project Director for the Horn of Africa, reflects on the Sudanese revolution and on the challenges lying ahead for the new civilian-led administration in Khartoum.
Following the ouster of Sudan’s strongman Omar al-Bashir, sustained pressure yielded a power-sharing agreement between the military and opposition alliance. But the settlement is fragile and the economy is in deep distress. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 - Third Update for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to support the civilian cabinet during the country’s delicate transition.
Watch List Updates complement International Crisis Group’s annual Watch List, most recently published in January 2019. These early-warning publications identify major conflict situations in which prompt action, driven or supported by the European Union and its member states, would generate stronger prospects for peace. The third update to the Watch List 2019 includes entries on Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Sudan and Yemen.
Sudan’s military junta and opposition have agreed to form a civilian-led administration to steer a transition toward free and fair elections. But the generals signed only under pressure. All Sudanese – and outside partners – will need to remain vigilant lest they try to restore autocracy.