By: Elhadi Idriss Yahya
August 24, 2014 - Did the leader of Sudan’s opposition National Umma Party (NUP), Sadiq al-Mahdi finally acknowledge the existence of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) led by Malik Agar or was he sent as a “mole” by Khartoum regime to infiltrate SRF? This has been the subject of debate for the past two weeks since the two parties NUP and SRF met on 8th of August 2014 in Paris and signed a document now known as the Paris declaration. Among other issues, the document calls for the cessation of hostilities between Sudan’s government and the armed forces, engaging in a genuine national dialogue and constitutional reforms aimed at political transformation in Sudan.
Despite the good content of this document, most of comments have been directed towards the personality of al-Mahdi for a couple of reasons. Firstly, al-Mahadi was known for his hard-line position against the SRF, at one point he described SRF as a racist coalition seeking for regime change with undemocratic means or “harsh force”. Consequently, there is no different between the SRF and the regime in Khartoum as such it’s better to be with a devil that you know than an angle you have never seen! Secondly, al-Mahdi’s track record in honoring his words is not transparent. In the mid of 1990’s he fled to Eritrea to join the then Sudan’s opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) before his returning to Khartoum in a mysterious way. While he is inside Sudan, al-Mhadi has kept a good relation with the government of al-Bashir to the extent that his two dear sons now are part of the government, one is the senior advisor to Sudan’s president and other one is a security officer.
Despite having his two sons inside the government, al-Mahdi has been arrested several times without being taken to court. His last detention was in May this year. The circumstance of his arrest and release is also not convincing to some quarters of Sudanese. It’s against this background that many Sudanese have received the Paris Declaration with mixed feelings and wanting thus opening doors to independent discussions including this very one as seen below.
Objectively speaking, let’s give al-Mahdi this time around the benefit of doubt and we look at the content of the document that he signed. In his paper entitled “a new approach to the national dialogue in Sudan”, Yasir Arman, one of the leading figures in SRF summarized the three key agreed issues between them and NUP in Paris; these are the need to stop the war and address the humanitarian crisis, to allow for freedoms and ensure the protection of basic human rights and holding a national constitutional dialogue that will lead to an interim arrangement. However, Arman did not mention how these objectives will be achieved? Thus what will be the timelines for attaining such an agenda? Who are the stakeholders of the national dialogue and so forth?
Certainly, one may argue that, apart from the symbolism of bring together Sudanese traditional political forces represented by al-Mahdi and armed political forces, the above stated objectives of Paris Declaration are not new at least for those who are following closely the dynamics of Sudan political events in the recent past since the arrival of al-Bashir to power in 1989.
Surely, all documents that have been signed either between the Sudan government and its opponents on one hand or among Sudanese political parties on the other hand, the words such as stop war and national dialogue are prominently featured in all these documents. Ironically, 1989 shortly after toppling al-Mahdi government, Bashir’s regime initiated the national dialogue with all Sudanese political leaders whom majority of them were in detention just for sake of popular consumption. On the issue of stopping war all the countless agreements that have been signed so far, like the clause of cessation of hostilities have always come first including the last one that was signed in Doha. Nevertheless, none of these objectives have ever being realized.
Having been the initiator of national dialogue, the regime always does the opposite. Reason being that genuine dialogue leads to collapse of a regime and they are fully aware about this fact. Similarly, the signatories of Paris Declaration are aware about this fact, too. Given this fact, then the challenge is how are you going to engage the regime in a serious national dialogue?
Again on the issue of cessation of hostilities in which al-Mahdi declared to the world that he has managed to persuade the SRF to denounce the violence and pursue their goals through political means. If it’s true that al-Mahdi has convinced the SRF to abandon the arm struggle, then who will convince the regime to reciprocate the SRF’s gesture?
Furthermore, it’s reported that, violence is the “comfort zone” for the regime just like water for fish. This is evident especially when one looks at the nature of the military forces that now guard the regime. It’s well known that the regime is no longer depending on Sudanese National Armed Forces for its protection rather it depends solely on Janjaweed - now called the Rapid Support Force. The survival of such irregular forces equally depends on the continuation of the violence.
As a result of the aforementioned factors above, in order to safeguard this declaration, it’s necessary for SRF and NUP to put the regime in situation of “mutually hurting stalemate” in which any action taken by either side will hurt both. If that is the case, then the SRF is required to re-organize itself both militarily and politically. It’s imperative also for them to reach out to other armed and unarmed groups and Sudanese society at large. Diplomatically, they need to engage the governments that on the regime camp, notable, Qatar, Chad, China, Russia, among others. Otherwise, the Paris Declaration will not bring any difference to Sudanese political stalemate apart from the symbolism of al-Mahdi had a change of heart by accepting to shake hands with SRF leaders in Paris!
Elhadi is a lecturer at Kampala International University (KIU). He can be reached at (firstname.lastname@example.org)