Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 10 January 2015

National constitutional dialogue is the best solution for Sudan

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By Yasir Arman

January 9, 2015 - 59 years ago, Sudan got its independence, among one of the first African countries to get their independence, but up until today, the Sudanese people have been unable to reach a nation-building project that can bring national consensus, equal citizenship, democracy, sustainable development and stability to Sudan, despite there being numerous windows of opportunities, which were all wasted. The Sudan question, which is in fact an African question, and indeed an international one too, especially in the context of developing countries and beyond, is the question of how to build modern states that embrace diversity, be it religious or ethno-cultural, and cater for social justice within a democratic framework.

29 years ago, when I decide to join the SPLM, what resonated most with me at the time, was the simple, yet powerful vision of the New Sudan; urging us, the Sudanese, to build on our commonality, rather than what divides us, and to unite Sudan by recognizing its diversity. It was a country consisting at the time of more than 570 different tribes with different sets of beliefs, faiths, cultures and social backgrounds, in addition to its historical diversity that goes back to more than 7,000 years. Since we are in Norway, it is worth mentioning that Christianity reached Sudan much earlier than North Europe. There were Christian kingdoms in Sudan for more than 1,000 years. The first non-gentile Christian was in the year 38. Islam then spread through preaching and Sufi sects in Northern Sudan in about 900 years, from 641 till the first Islamic Sultanite, or kingdom, was formed in 1505. It is part of the Nile-Valley great Civilization. Sudan is therefore a country shaped by its historical and contemporary diversities.

The governments of the past 59 years failed to recognize these diversities, and have a nation building blue print with the correct parameters. The peak of it all came at the time when the political Islam agenda took over in a coup d’état in 1989. That marked the total failure to recognize the diversity, even within the Islamic and Arab culture context. What has been taking place in Sudan for the past 26 years is the Sudanese version of daesh (ISIS), which has been ruling Sudan and this has ended up in the division of the country and the committing of genocide in their search for uniformity based on the political Islam agenda. By now, it is clear, even within some circles of the Islamists that this is the wrong path, and ought to be changed. The question still lingering, is what is the best mechanism to change direction on new parameters that will lead to the restructuring, democratizing and preserving the unity of the country on a new basis, one that can bring forth national consensus, and this is our subject matter today.

1983 was the year Dr. John Garang correctly described the problem of South Sudan as the problem of Sudan, and that the only resolution, is for it to be considered in the context of preserving the unity of Sudan, by admitting its national character and the need to have unity on a new basis that reflects on, and respects the diversity. The failures of the Sudanese successive governments to acknowledge this fact led Sudan to the path it is currently on, and more so, to the succession of South Sudan, and failing to recognize the present issues of Darfur, Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and other marginalized areas in Sudan within the framework of their national dimension will lead to the same result.

Ironically, the vision of the New Sudan is needed today more than ever by the two Sudans to preserve their unity, and move into a new path and a democratic era of equal citizenship, development and social justice, and it may be the only game in town. Moreover, the vision of the New Sudan, can still provide a framework to reunite the two Sudans; a “Sudan Union” that is between two independent states as the case of the European Union (EU), mindful of the particularities of each situation.

1984, it was none other than late Dr. John Garang, a thinker and a great Sudanese patriot who proposed to late President Nimeri to hold a national constitutional conference instead of the power sharing formula President Nimeri proposed to him. Since then, this idea is very much alive and kicking, and it may be the best and possibly the only option to bring national consensus.

THE NATIONAL DIALOGUE

2014 January: General Bashir called for a National Dialogue between the Sudanese stakeholders; his call was received positively by majority of the political forces and civil societies, as well as goodwill from the regional and international community, despite the fear that it may be a political trick to buy time into the elections. As we speak today, exactly a year later, in 2015, it appears that the worst of this fear is true, unless a dramatic change is to take place on the present political scene. A lot of effort has been exerted by the opposition to move into a genuine National Constitutional Dialogue, which is more or less similar to the historical call for a national constitutional conference, but all efforts exerted by national, regional and international players have been frustrated by the government in Khartoum. Today, there is tremendous support by the opposition forces for the African Peace and Security Council resolutions “456”, which proposed two major steps to pave the way for a credible national dialogue:


• The first is to hold a preparatory meeting at the head-quarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa under the auspices of the AUHIP to agree on the procedural issues.
• The second step is to stop the war comprehensively, from the Blue Nile to Nuba Mountains/South Kordofan and Darfur as an entry point for a successful national constitutional dialogue.

Despite great efforts exerted by the AUHIP, the AU and the international community, the Sudan government is adamantly obstructing efforts to a genuine national dialogue and continues to prepare for a one-party election, which in essence is just but an extension of the life of its one-party rule/dictatorial regime. The so-called “elections” can only increase violence and growing discontent even among the ruling party‘s circles.

NEW REALITIES

The political landscape in Sudan has witnessed a lot of change, especially in the camps of the opposition. The marginalized forces forged a united camp in the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) and they reached out to the Umma Party, with whom the Paris Declaration was signed on the 8th of August 2014. They also reached out to the 7 + 7 pro-government group of the national dialogue and they both signed the road map to the national dialogue with the AUHIP. Again, a major qualitative development took place when the Sudanese opposition core group represented the opposition civil societies, the Umma Party, the national consensus forces and the SRF signed the Sudan Call on 3rd December 2014 with a clear agenda on a comprehensive peaceful settlement by implementing the AUPSC rs 456, in its absence, an uprising to overthrow the regime.

A new balance of forces is emerging between the regime and its opposition, and a growing popular discontent triggered by the economic situation and miserable living standards at a time when the government is using around 70% of the annual budget on war, security, and presidential expenditure, and less than 2% on health and education, the same pattern used in the 2015 budget as being discussed now. More resources are being used to recruit hired militias to the war front, with poor results - the only achievement being more genocide and war crimes against the civilian population. More civilians are being displaced; in fact the United Nation’s statistics for 2014 note that half a million civilians were displaced in the three areas of Darfur, Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains/South Kordofan.

It is worth mentioning that this week, General Bashir made a major constitutional amendment, leading to a dramatic change in concentrating the power in his hands and instead of a one-party system, it is now a one-man system. Moreover, he has legalized the Janjaweed and the militias, as part of the regular forces, giving more constitutional powers to the security, making Sudan a true police state. The last nail was put on the coffin of the judiciary. The amendment turned any call for a national dialogue into a futile exercise and shattered any hope for a credible national dialogue. This will lead to a wider discontent even among the ruling circles.

DENIAL OF ACCESS AND BOMBARDMENT OF CIVILIAN POPULATION.

Today, the Sudan air-force is the only air-force in Africa that is used extensively for the bombardment of civilian population and civilian instillations such as hospitals, clinics, schools and water points, all of which constitute a war crime, in addition to the denial of humanitarian access to the civilian population, particularly in the Nuba Mountain/South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur. This is happening in front of the eyes and ears of the international community, with very rare voices speaking out. The humanitarian situation remains the ugliest characteristic of the present situation, and the role of Norway and the Norwegian people is required and would add much value as it has been doing in the past decades.

ARE THE ELECTIONS A SUBSTITUTE TO THE NATIONAL DIALOGUE?

2015 April is the month set out for the coming elections in Sudan, and it is obvious that the ruling National Congress are interested in manipulating the elections, rather than having a credible National Dialogue to reform the one-party system and take serious lessons from the succession of the South, as well as the genocide and war experience. The idea of the National Dialogue itself resulted from the challenges of the 2013 September/October uprising in the urban areas, and the joint military operation by the SRF of April the same year, that forced the government to look for a mechanism that will enable them to buy time through a cosmetic process - reproducing the old system in a new fashion - as they were also facing the storm of the Arab spring from surrounding neighbourhoods.

Sudan is not short of elections experience, especially under this regime, and elections without serious reforms have never answered the fundamental questions of Sudan, nor are they going to do so in April 2015. On the contrary, given the degree of the present crisis, and the increasing demand for change, the elections under the present government and under the dictatorial one-party system will only deepen the crisis and the rift even among the ruling circle itself, and indeed the call for change and for a new generation to take over has been used within the ruling party to settle bills of power struggle, and to marginalized top influential leaders within the ruling circle. This power struggle within the ruling groups will continue and international justice wants the head of the regime who has become a liability to his own system, and the only way to address the objective situation, as well as the issue of the ICC for the head of the regime, is by having a credible National Constitutional Dialogue. Therefore, the massive majority of the Sudanese political and civil society forces are viewing the coming elections as an extension of dictatorship, and it will be the most isolated elections in the history of Sudan. Many activists are planning to consider it a battleground towards an uprising and the environment is favourable due to the unity of the hardcore opposition represented by the “Sudan Call”, as well as much wider forces of change.

The resistance of the current regime in the rural areas of Sudan is spearheaded by the SRF. The top leaders of the government are declaring dates to crush and wipe out the SRF forces militarily, and experience has proven this to be an unrealistic dream.

WHY THE NATIONAL CONSTITUTIONAL CONFERENCE IS THE BEST OPTION.

The scenarios facing Sudan can be summarized into the following:

1) A popular peaceful uprising.
2) Continuation of the armed resistance that can converge with the uprising.
3) Continuation of the status quo, which will eventually lead to the collapse of the Sudanese states. General Bashir was openly worried about the Yemeni scenario.
4) National Constitutional Dialogue.

The national constitution conference is therefore the best option to transform Sudan at this point in time for one simple reason: as I have mentioned earlier and above, there is an option of overthrowing the regime through a peaceful uprising, alongside the armed struggle in the rural areas of Sudan, but given the deep division created by the present regime, the best mechanism to bring national consensus would obviously be to effect change through a national constitutional conference and a negotiated settlement between the different stakeholders. In its absence, other alternatives will definitely have to take over. Maintaining the status quo is not an option. It will eventually lead to the collapse of the Sudanese state, as it happened in some of the surrounding African and Arab countries.

THE WAY FORWARD.

The two scenarios of having a national dialogue before the elections and of having the elections before the national dialogue are no longer competing. It is clear that the choice of the ruling party and the priority for them is the elections, unless there is strong pressure mounted on them, both from within and beyond Sudan, to bring them back to the national constitutional dialogue truck.

Given the division within the UNSC as a result of many factors, the Sudan government is benefiting from the lack of the international political will, in addition to the instability challenges facing the surrounding neighbourhoods of Sudan. The only way for those who support the course of democratization, and ending of wars and war crimes in Sudan and national dialogue, is to directly extend political support to the internal forces of change in Sudan represented by the “Sudan Call” and others, as they are organic to the Sudanese situation. The continent and international community should also embrace the unity achieved by the opposition as it is the only way to achieve transformation through internal organic force that would put an end to the ugliest experience of the political Islam agenda that does not only threaten the unity of Sudan, as it did divide Sudan, but as we all know, the political Islam agenda is threatening the unity of many African, Arab and Islamic countries, as is the case in Nigeria, Mali, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan and many more.

Thereby, the effort by the opposition to solicit support from African and Arab countries should be reinforced.

Moreover, the international community has a role to play in making crystal clear to the government that the elections will not be recognized this time, without a credible constitutional process that ends the war and opens way for democratization. The need for a credible national constitutional process should be key in the normalization of relations between Sudan and the outside world, and general Bashir and his government should understand that the demand for a credible national dialogue internally and externally, has reached a point of no return.

Likewise, fund and regional/international observation missions should cease to be part of this superficial process, especially known institutions such as the Carter center, which participated in many past national congress elections. We also appeal to the former Nigerian President, and a friend of the Sudanese people, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose name has been mentioned by the ruling party propaganda machine to be the head of the African observation mission to turn down this invitation.

In any case, the national congress’ elections are not going to solve problems, they will only increase problems, and the opposition forces are definitely going to revisit their position on the national dialogue if the elections take place. Majority of them will lean towards the option of overthrowing the regime and even those who will still consider the national dialogue as an option will not accept holding it under the current regime. They will ask for an interim government, under which the national constitutional dialogue will take place unlike today, where the opposition are ready to participate in the national dialogue by implementing the African Union resolution “456” under the present government.

We believe the only way out, is to implement the AU resolution 456 and to postpone the election for an agreed period of time to be utilized to hold a credible national constitutional process. In the absence of it, the struggle will continue in the rural and urban areas of Sudan, using different means such as a popular peaceful uprising and the continuation of the armed struggle in rural Sudan, and it is possible for the two means to converge. With that said, it is no doubt that the national constitutional conference is the best option to bring about transformation in Sudan and to restructure, democratize and unite Sudan.

The author is the secretary general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North. This paper was presented at at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Norway on 8th January 2015.



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