A New Approach to the National Dialogue in Sudan that will Stop the Wars, Address the Humanitarian Crisis and Lead to Democratic Transformation
Chatham House, London on Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Presented by Yasir Arman
In one of his brilliant messages to Field Marshall Jafar Numeri, the late Dr. John Garang de Mabior in 1984 proposed a national constitutional conference as a mechanism to settle the issues of the civil war and to address the historical question of how Sudan is to be governed, before who governs it. It is known that Sudan is a country of historical and contemporary diversity that truly represents the diversity of the African continent. It is well established today, that Sudan needs a new national project and social contract, based on equal citizenship, democracy and social justice and one that will take Sudan into a new social, political and economic dispensation. This issue has been raised on different occasions and it is more important and relevant today, after the secession of South Sudan. Sudan needs to re-define its national project and take lessons on how to preserve its national and geographical unity on a new basis. Unsurprisingly, even after all these years, Garang’s “New Sudan” vision, still remains as the only game in town, in both Sudan and South Sudan.
The Agreement of June 28, 2011 between the SPLM-N and the Sudan government indicated that the issue of the war in South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains should be settled in a wider national context through a comprehensive national constitutional process. Article 3f states, “Negotiations shall be undertaken in the context of broader dialogue and political processes at the national level, recognizing the importance of cooperation between the Parties for stability, development, democracy and constitutional reform in Sudan.” Likewise the SRF in its early documents identified a peaceful comprehensive settlement as one of its mechanisms to transform Sudan in order to transition from war to peace, and from a one party system to a democratic system. This issue has taken a new dimension after the government in Khartoum admitted the need for national dialogue in the famous speech of General Omar Bashir in January this year. The Sudan government failed, however, in two rounds of talks with the SPLM-N in Addis Ababa to recognize the need for a roadmap that will provide the necessary requirements for a productive national dialogue and the need for a comprehensive approach to stop the war as a prerequisite for the national dialogue. Today, the SRF and all opposition forces are fully convinced of the urgency and need for a national constitutional dialogue and they have provided ideas on how to make this a successful process. They all agreed on three major issues:
1) The need to stop the war and address the humanitarian crisis;
2) To allow for freedoms and ensure the protection of basic human rights; and
3) Holding a national constitutional dialogue that will lead to an interim arrangement.
It is important to note that the government’s call for a national dialogue came within the background of the September 2013 uprising, which was about overthrowing the regime according to a government leaked report that quoted the security agencies saying, if the uprising were to continue for 48 hours, the regime could have been overthrown. In addition, the successful military operations by the SRF on Abu Karshola in May 2013 threatened the position of the NCP and posed serious challenge to that the regime is not immune from defeat.
The Characteristics of the Current Political Situation in Sudan:
1) There are three tracks for a peaceful settlement, which are discussing the same issues; Khartoum, Addis Ababa and Doha, while adopting a partial piecemeal solution.
2) The wars extend from Blue Nile, on the south far-east of Sudan, to Darfur, in the southwest of Sudan, with a humanitarian crisis that has displaced more than 4 million civilians internally and externally.
3) The Sudan Armed Forces are in bad shape as well. SAF is not trusted by the political leadership and General Bashir is increasingly depending on, and has become the Commander in Chief of, the Janjaweed - now called the Rapid Support Force. By doing this, he is counter-balancing the Sudan Armed Forces and using extensively hired tribal militias to fight for him in the rural areas of Sudan as well as using it to threaten any uprising in the urban areas of Sudan, which has resulted in the last six months, from January to June, in the displacement of half a million in Darfur, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. It is worth noting that this is a conservative United Nations statistic.
4) For years, the Sudan government has denied access for humanitarian assistance to South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and Darfur. This acts constitute a war crime in the International Humanitarian law.
5) Sudan is experiencing a deep economic crisis. It is enough to mention that the Sudan government uses more than 70% of its annual budget on war and security, and less than 2% on health and education.
6) A power struggle exists inside the core leadership group of the ruling National Congress. They use different means to undermine each other, including accusations of attempted coups and using the missiles of corruption allegations to damage each other’s reputations.
7) The national dialogue is losing momentum because the government is unprepared to meet the requirements to stop the war and allow for freedom. Ironically, after the call for national dialogue, the humanitarian situation worsened and many well known political leaders, journalists, students, youth and women were arrested. The government increased censorship of the media and an Editor in Chief of a newspaper was attacked in his office. More over, the apostasy death sentence of Miriam Yahya Ibrahim brought back into the political life of Sudan, the fundamental issue of equal citizenship and freedom of religion. Especially when speaking in the context of areas like South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and Sudan at large, where there is a sizeable number of Christians.
The Paris Declaration broke the political stalemate on the national dialogue and brought together major political forces, armed and unarmed, from the marginalized areas and the centre of Sudan, both traditional and new forces, which carries with it important symbolism. The declaration should be viewed as a demonstration of the goodwill of the opposition to support the national dialogue and to provide a new approach, and of injecting new momentum around the national dialogue, as well as availing the opportunity to unite the opposition forces towards ending the war and expressing their willingness to sit with the government for a national dialogue. It is also important to note that the forces of the Paris Declaration have fully agreed upon two mechanisms to effect change: the national dialogue and the national constitutional process are the preferable mechanisms.
In the absence of that, they are equally prepared for a peaceful uprising to achieve transformation. The Paris declaration is well received inside Sudan and it has brought a new equation into the Sudanese political life. It was not only well received by the opposition political parties, but equally by civil society, new social forces, and interestingly, from well known personalities within the Islamic movement, who have continuously opposed the SRF.
General Bashir’s term in office, as well as the national and regional legislatures, will come to an end in April 2015. The government is facing a catch-22 situation. On the one hand, General Bashir and his party have ruled Sudan continuously for 25 years and the voices for change are heard everywhere including within their own party. They only have two ways to go; to have credible democratic elections that are a representation of the national consensus will and bring national reconciliation that can only be achieved through a credible national dialogue and national constitutional process.
On the other hand, the other option is for them to go for the usual rigged elections that will only fuel the political crisis and result in more polarization and deepen political division within the country, creating an environment that would increase the violence in the absence of the political means and peaceful exchange of power. Therefore, in the opposition, we call upon the regional and international community to give a clear message to General Bashir and his government that the regional, and international communities will not recognize such an election. In addition, the issues of the humanitarian crisis and human rights violations should be raised up front as one of the means of putting pressure on the government to allow for a credible national dialogue.
The opposition would like to reach out to China and Russia, to convey that it is in the interest of both countries to support a credible national dialogue as a mechanism to bring peace and stability to Sudan, and for Sudan to be an effective economic and investment partner, especially since most of the viable economic projects are in the areas hit by war.
If the National Congress insists on an election regardless of national consensus and will of the people, the Sudanese opposition and civil society will definitely boycott the elections and will turn the elections into a political battlefield for peaceful uprising.
Sudan and the Regional/International Stability
It is an open secret, the known and the hidden relationship between Sudan and the forces of the political Islam, both regionally and internationally. Sudan has increasingly become part of the Iranian alliance, which has worsened its relations with important neighbouring countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Sudan is gaining more importance in the international Muslim Brotherhood organization, especially after they lost power in Egypt and also as part of their strategy in the Middle East conflict. Sudan became strategic in its partnership with the Iranian military industrial complex in Khartoum, which is providing arms to Sudan and to other organizations. Sudan’s name continues to come up in the conflicts of neighbouring countries and the continent, as in the case of Central Africa, Libya, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, Mali, as well as the Middle East. Given the fragility of our country and the need for it to reconcile within itself, coupled with the importance of refraining from instigating instability regionally and internationally, which our country paid dearly for, we, the Sudanese, believe it is high time for Sudan to change direction towards positive interaction with its neighbours and the international community, to end decades of isolation and forge a constructive partnership in the interest of peace and development.
It is also known that Sudan has become one of the important ideological training grounds for African fundamentalists. For the last 25 years, thousands of African Islamist ideologues have graduated from the African Islamic University in Khartoum, who are playing a leading role in some orgarnisations such as the Boko Haram in Nigeria, in Somalia and in other places. The present government in Sudan has a long record and a hand in many terrorist incidents in Kenya, Ethiopia and the United States. It is worth mentioning that political Islam is threatening the unity of Africa as it did in Sudan, for the African societies are tremendously ethnically and religiously diverse. Likewise, the partnership of Iran in the Sudan military industry is fueling wars inside Sudan and in the neighborhood.
It is to be recalled that Sudan is the only country in Africa today using its air force against its own civilian population.
The Way Forward
The Paris Declaration should be used to move the national dialogue and the national constitutional process forward, and the Sudan regional and international partners should seek a new approach to make use of the momentum created by the Paris Declaration. The SPLM-N leadership, on the eve of the preparations for the SRF leadership meeting in Paris and for the Paris Declaration, met the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and the Chair of the AUHIP, Thabo Mbeki, the ANC and its allies in South Africa, as well as a joint meeting of the SRF leadership with the European and US partners in the search of peace for Sudan. Together we provided new ideas and we discussed the need for a new approach that will inject a new momentum into the national dialogue and constitutional process. Among them,
1) The need to unify these three forums in Khartoum, Addis Ababa and Doha into a single forum which will lead to the national dialogue or at the very least, have effective coordination between them, as well as welcoming regional and international facilitation;
2) A comprehensive cessation of hostilities from Blue Nile to Darfur, that will address the humanitarian situation and lead eventually to a strategic ceasefire that will create a new environment, favorable for the national dialogue inside and outside of Sudan;
3) Guarantee freedoms and the release of all political detainees; and
4) The end game of the national dialogue should be clear to each and every Sudanese in order to mobilize the best energy in our society, towards a transition from war to peace and from a one-party system to a democratic system that carries national consensus and national reconciliation and healing.
In conclusion, the fundamental question will remain; Are we heading towards a national dialogue and constitutional process that is going to reproduce the current political system and deepen the present political crisis, or are we on the eve of a national dialogue that will open roads towards a new national project that enjoys national consensus and lead to the building of a new Sudan based on the fundamental principle of equal citizenship?