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Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Sudan’s priority list

Sudan is laying the groundwork for peace as negotiations continue with the opposition and armed groups and the announcement of reform plans, writes Haitham Nouri

Haitham Nouri , Thursday 12 Sep 2019
Sudan’s priority list
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Head of the Sudanese Sovereign Council Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan announced that the government was planning to “restructure the armed forces and security apparatuses” this week as negotiations continued with the country’s opposition and a high-level delegation began talking to armed groups in different parts of the country as part of a general movement towards peace.

Negotiations kicked off on Monday in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, between the Sudanese government and the Revolutionary Front with the aim of “making peace,” described by the country’s transitional Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok as being “of the utmost priority.”

A Sudanese delegation headed by member of the Sovereign Council Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo visited Juba on Sunday to meet with the Revolutionary Front and other armed groups including the SPLM/A-N in South Kordofan.

News reports in newspapers the Sudan Tribune in Juba and Al-Intebaha in Khartoum said the leaders of the armed movements had agreed a draft agreement during talks with the government in Khartoum.

According to Al-Hadi Idriss, head of the Revolutionary Front, the draft agreement included “restoring the security apparatus and building a unified army” in Sudan. Sources close to the negotiations said those at the meeting had emphasised the need to “alleviate the effects of the war, allow the voluntary return of refugees, and develop marginalised areas.”

The word “marginalised” was first used in the mid-1980s by the late John Garang, former leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. Many believe that the whole of Sudan is in fact marginalised, given the poverty rates in north Sudan, which has long been home to the country’s ruling elite.

“It is ironic that less-developed areas and zones of cultural diversity are considered to exist throughout Sudan except in the capital and the state of Gazira,” said Heidar Ibrahim, a former professor of socio-political science at Khartoum University.

Such culturally diverse areas saw conflicts that escalated into civil war due to the economic marginalisation of Darfur, south Blue Nile, the Nuba Mountains and north Sudan, among others. Gazira is the richest agricultural region in Sudan.

Other commentators, among them Sudanese writer Ismail Abkar, author of The Centre and the Margin in Sudan, claim that their areas should be considered marginalised, and that north Sudan, home of the ruling elite, cannot be described in this way.

The Black Book, released by the Justice and Equality Movement that fought in Darfur in 2006, emphasises the economic marginalisation of Darfur.

Hamdok is expected to visit Juba next week as part of efforts to bring about peace in the country, commented Fayez Al-Salik, a consultant to the Sudanese Al-Taghyeer (Change) Website.

It is possible the negotiations will succeed, Al-Salik said, which could result in the reformation of the government to include representatives from the armed movements. This would be in line with Al-Burhan’s earlier statements that the government was going to commence talks with the armed groups, which he said “all wanted peace.”

The government of former Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir, currently on trial in Khartoum on charges of corruption, irregular trade in foreign currencies and money laundering, had used Arab tribes against non-Arabs in Sudan, including in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and south of the Blue Nile.

After announcing that Sudan was going to “restructure the armed forces,” Al-Burhan said that committees working under the supervision of the Sovereign Council had “reconsidered restructuring all the forces, particularly the intelligence service”.

“The armed forces have a specified set of duties and are the guarantors of the Sudanese people,” Al-Burhan added.

Al-Bashir’s regime flexed the muscles of the security apparatus until it had the upper hand over the army, police and the regime itself.

Sudan’s Sovereign Council faces many challenges due to rising inflation, the depreciation of the currency, a halt of production slated for export and civil conflicts in a number of regions. These are in addition to Sudan’s efforts to be delisted from the US list of countries harbouring terrorism, which has not yet happened despite the lifting of the US sanctions against Khartoum.

Asmaa Abdallah, the first female foreign minister in Sudan and the Arab world, said her ministry aimed at lifting Sudan from the US list of terrorist countries.

This had weakened Sudan’s hope of attracting investment, desperately needed to revive its economy that has been spiralling downwards and that led to the eruption of protests in December 2018 resulting in the overthrow of Al-Bashir on 11 April this year after leading Sudan for 30 years, Abdallah said.

Consecutive US administrations have accused Sudan of fostering terrorism, particularly in the mid-1990s when Al-Bashir’s regime hosted Al-Qaeda figurehead Osama Bin Laden.

Washington bombed Sudan in September 1998 after the US accused it of taking part in blowing up US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar As-Salam in Tanzania, and supporting the Somalian Shabab Al-Mujahideen group.

Neighbouring countries such as Egypt and Eritrea have also accused Khartoum of exporting terrorism, especially following the assassination attempt on former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 1996.

Islamist rule in Sudan, founded by Al-Bashir and leader of the Sudanese Islamists the late Hassan Al-Turabi following a military coup in 1989, still appears to be thriving in the country and could make a comeback with the end of the transitional period in 2022.

However, the country is suffering from the repercussions of the isolation that resulted from Al-Bashir’s policies, despite his attempts at improving relations with the Arab countries.

During his last years in office, Al-Bashir insisted on taking part in the war in Yemen, sending thousands of soldiers to fight alongside the Saudi-led Arab Coalition, and he answered the Egyptian demand to cease support for Libya’s Islamists. He continued to have strong relationships with Turkey and Qatar, however.

To earn the support that would help him to maintain his rule, Al-Bashir cut ties with his long-time ally Iran after demonstrators stormed the Saudi Arabian consulate in the country.

Yet, despite his resistance to the victims of the civil wars and the divisions that had blighted Sudan, it was the state of the country’s economy that finally brought down Al-Bashir earlier this year.

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