The Sudanese uprising of 2013 in which about 100 people were killed by security forces prompted deep reflections within the ruling elite on how to prevent a recurrence.
The one-month deadly riots — that came to be known as Sudanese Intifada — spread to the cities of Khartoum, Omdurman, Port Sudan, El Obeid and other towns, not only challenging President Omar al-Bashir’s then 24-year rule, but also exposing Sudan to further international scrutiny in addition to the indictment by the International Criminal Court over atrocities in Darfur.
The September-October riots were direct results of the secession of South Sudan in July 2011 that took with it 75 per cent of the oil wells and left the former north with a severe shortage of dollars to pay for imports.
Tensions that started building up in June 2012 when the government introduced austerity measures to stem the economic meltdown which included raising taxes on consumer goods, drastic reduction in number of civil servants and lifting the fuel subsidies that significantly increased pump prices.
Coming hot on the heels of public uprising in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and facing international condemnation from the US, the United Nations and the Arab World, President al-Bashir called for a national dialogue after blaming rebel groups in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states of attempting to overthrow the government.
The move was also to persuade the international community — especially the US — that the government was willing to stop the war in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile States. It would also open up political space in return for ending Sudan’s international isolation by lifting US sanctions, easing the foreign debt, and finding a solution to the ICC issue.
Now, President al-Bashir and his ruling National Congress Party (NCP) have the challenge of implementing the recommendations of the National Document signed on October 10 after two years of negotiations. The main opposition parties and the three main rebel groups are dismissing it as a time buying gimmick.
Yasir Arman, the Secretary-General of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) that is fighting the government in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, said that the national dialogue not only failed to achieve consensus and stabilise the economy, it has given the government little leverage to normalise its relations with the international community.
But Dr Ahmed Bilal Osman, the Minister for Information, said that even though there are bound to be some challenges in implementing what the 90 political parties and 34 rebel groups agreed to, President al-Bashir is committed to the national document which will change how Sudan is governed.
“Some people say that it was the NCP that was driving the whole process, but the reality is that the ruling party is just one among the political parties that participated in the process. We are not giving up because we now have something to offer to the opposition and the rebels,” said Dr Osman.
The proposed government of national unity, commonly known as “national consensus government,” will be formed after amendments to certain sections of the constitution within 90 days, among them the re-introduction of the position of the Prime Minister.
Mariam Sadig al-Mahdi, the Deputy Chairman of the National Umma Party (NUP) said that her party would consider joining the National Document on condition that the government ends the war, allow humanitarian access in war zones, release of political prisoners and ensuring political freedoms.
“Ending the war in Sudan must precede the drafting of the constitution and the general elections. Political, economic and social changes in Sudan are inevitable otherwise the country could descend into chaos if due to disappointment,” she said.
However, there is optimism within the NCP elite that the US will soon ease more economic sanctions after Washington in early October lifted restrictions on making certain non-commercial bank transactions with Sudan, mainly on humanitarian funding.
Finance Minister Badr El-Din Mahmoud announced last week that the US is expected to start lifting sanctions on planes and trains’ spare parts from December. The US imposed economic, trade and financial sanctions on Sudan in 1997 after the State Department designated the country a “state sponsor of terrorism” in 1993.
Sudan’s economic crisis has deepened after the failure of the government’s three-year plan to find alternatives to compensate the loss of the oil revenues, coupled with the reduced financial support Sudan used to get from Arab countries, especially from the traditional partners such as Saudi Arabia.
The government had embarked on diversifying the economy by encouraging investment in gold mining and increasing the production of Gum Arabic from the current 80,000 metric tons per year to 160,000 metric tonnes — with 120,000 targeted for export.
Sudan has the third largest gold deposits in Africa after South Africa and Ghana, and is the leading world producer of Gum Arabic, a key component of soft drinks and pharmaceuticals globally.
The US had exempted Gum Arabic from sanctions because it is a key component in the Coca Cola soft drink.