Sudan peace deal still elusive in spite of growing international attention

Saturday May 07 2022

Sudan’s ousted president Omar al-Bashir (centre) waves as he arrives for his trial in the capital Khartoum, on October 6, 2020, along with 27 co-accused over the 1989 military coup that brought him to power. PHOTO | AFP


Sudan’s ruling junta is struggling to reach consensus with civilian movements, months after the transitional government was toppled and street violence ensued.

And this is in spite of growing international attention that last week saw a number of special envoys descend on Khartoum, calling for “consensus” as soon as possible.

In public, the junta has been assuring visiting dignitaries that it was ready to form a new transitional government as soon as possible, led by a civilian head to spearhead the country’s return to normalcy. But in reality, the demands by civilian groups have made it harder to close any gaps in their viewpoints.

As Muslims celebrated Idd this past week, Sudan’s deputy leader of the Sovereign Council, the junta’s ruling body, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo issued a rallying call for “national unity.” He called on the country’s people to learn to “co-exist with one another with goodness and virtue, keeping away from all forms of divisions in order to preserve this unified and cohesive nation that we inherited from our ancestors.”

Sudan has been attracting various international parties ever since the country fell into chaos last October, after the government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was deposed by the junta led by Lt-Gen Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.

Last week, an Eritrean delegation travelled to Khartoum in what sources indicated was Asmara and allies’ push to have stability renewed in Sudan. Officials said Asmara, which enjoys strong ties with the junta, had delivered a Gulf-induced push for the junta to reach an amicable solution with civilian movements.


Asmara denied sending a delegation on pressure from Gulf countries.

“It is not in Eritrea's DNA to undertake diplomatic tasks under bidding of others,” said Yemane GebreMeskel, Eritrean Minister for Information.

“Secondly, periodic consultation with Sudan on issues of mutual concern is a norm.”

If anything, Eritrea’s move seemed parallel to another initiative run by regional bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) which Sudan is current chair. Since March, IGAD, the African Union and the United Nations Integrated Transitional Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) with Western partners have been pushing for an initiative to create a new transitional government. Last week, they warned that further delays could hurt Khartoum’s recovery from years of isolation under the Omar al-Bashir rule, including renewed financial support from donors and debt reconsideration from lenders such as the World Bank. Bashir was ousted in April 2019 following street protests. But the military hijacked the revolution, installing the Council, which later roped in representatives of civilian movements before deposing them last year in October.

Last week on April 27, UNITAMS Head Volker Peretz said that while most stakeholders have “consensus” on how to form the transitional government, there is a variance in demands from various civilian groups, some of who want the military completely out of the transitional government.

Peretz spoke to the media alongside African Union special envoy Mohamed Ould Labat and the IGAD’s Ismail Aweis, warning Sudan must urgently compromise to avoid “slipping back into instability and threatening the economic, social and political gains that were achieved after the revolution.”

Peretz’s view is endorsed by various Western partners who last week sent their envoys to Khartoum April 29. They included French Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Frederic Claver, the German Director for East Africa and the Horn of Africa Thorsten Hutter, the Norwegian Director-General for Regional Affairs May Elin Stener, the United Kingdom’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea Philip Parham, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Africa, Sudan and South Sudan Peter Lord, and European Union Special Representative for the Horn of Africa Annette Weber.

This group has pushed for a narrower-focus on critical issues such as dialogue on constitutional review, an agreement on criteria for choosing the next transitional prime minister and developing a programme for addressing urgent humanitarian needs, as well as a timetable for holding elections.

These envoys believe these issues, once agreed on, will resolve other bits such as the future role of the military and how to protect institutions. But the talks have been marred by weeks of violence which has seen at least 95 people killed, some with gunshot wounds. And because of this animosity, civilian groups say they won’t negotiate with the military until the feared Rapid Support Forces and other militia are dissolved.

After meeting the envoys, Al-Burhan said his government is committed “to the political dialogue process, through the Sudanese agreeing on a formula to manage the remainder of the transitional period through a comprehensive dialogue that includes everyone.”

Al-Burhan cites recent freeing of political prisoners as one gesture to build trust. But even he himself is unwanted by the civilian groups.

The mediators under IGAD plan another meeting with stakeholders next week on May 10 and have asked everyone to attend and “engage constructively and fully in the process.”

The mediator though want every other political prisoner arrested during protests to be freed, the military to stop the crackdown on protesters, end to end violence, including sexual and gender-based violence against protesters, ensure accountability for those responsible for such acts, lift the state of emergency immediately and removal of elements from the former regime that seem to be still influential in the junta making it more difficult to implement reforms.