Sudan is undergoing a major transition following the 11 April ouster of Omar al-Bashir, one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders. The strongman’s toppling, prompted by a sustained, peaceful campaign by a diverse and well-organised protest movement, raised hopes that the country might make a transition to more inclusive, civilian-led rule. That transition has been halting and is fraught with risk, with the old military regime showing little appetite for real change. Sudan matters not least because it sits in one of the most geostrategic locations on the continent, straddling the Horn and North Africa, with a long Red Sea coastline, and serving as a historical bridge between North and sub-Saharan Africa. Through field research and advocacy with Sudanese and international actors in the region, we aim to reduce the likelihood of conflict inside Sudan and encourage a genuine transition to more inclusive governance by Khartoum and an attendant shift toward positively engaged regional and international relations.
While Sudan has embarked on a path toward democratic and accountable government, economic fragility threatens to derail its transition. The Friends of Sudan should bolster the civilian-led administration with urgently-needed financial support and call for an African Union envoy to help keep the transition on track.
Transitional govt pursued efforts to hold former regime to account, pursue peace with rebel groups and normalise relations with U.S.. Court 14 Dec sentenced former President Bashir to two years in “social reform facility” for corruption. Sovereign Council 10 Dec ordered creation of committee to remove from power remnants of Bashir’s regime, fight corruption and recover embezzled money. Court 30 Dec sentenced 27 police and intelligence officers to death over killing of teacher in Feb. Third round of peace talks opened in South Sudanese capital Juba 10 Dec. Govt and rebel coalition Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) failed to reach deal by self-imposed deadline, but expressed confidence in process and agreed to extend talks by two months until 14 Feb. Govt and Darfuri SRF groups 18 Dec agreed to involve local stakeholders in “Darfur track”; 28 Dec agreed on roadmap to end Darfur conflict. Govt and representatives from central Sudan 28 Dec reached peace agreement. Rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu 26 Dec postponed resuming talks with govt by two weeks to consult with leadership and grassroots. Violence continued in peripheries. In Darfur, herders 10-11 Dec clashed with farmers in Dubo El Omda and Kabkabiya, 10 Dec reportedly killed one farmer and one soldier near Tawila. In Al Qadarif state near Ethiopian border, suspected Ethiopian gang 10 Dec killed civilian in Barka Nurein. During PM Hamdok’s visit to Washington early Dec, Sudan and U.S. agreed to appoint ambassadors for first time in 23 years. U.S. 20 Dec removed Sudan from religious freedom blacklist. “Friends of Sudan” nations, which met in Khartoum 11 Dec, made no financial commitments to support transition, but agreed to convene donor conference in April. Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt continued talks to resolve dispute over Ethiopia’s construction of dam on River Nile. Irrigation ministers held technical meetings in Cairo 2-3 Dec and Khartoum 21-22 Dec registering progress; FMs 9 Dec agreed to reconvene in Washington 13 Jan to review outcome of talks.
Sudan’s post-Bashir transition holds the promise of civilian rule but also perils, among them renewed insurgency, economic stagnation and backsliding into autocracy. Outside powers should press the military to adhere to its power-sharing pact with the opposition. Authorities in Khartoum should pursue peace with rebels.
The UN General Assembly kicks off on 17 September amid general scepticism about the world body’s effectiveness in an era of rising great-power competition. But the UN is far from paralysed. Here are seven crisis spots where it can make a positive difference for peace.
Ethiopia is building a mighty dam on the Blue Nile, promising economic benefits for both itself and Sudan. But Egypt fears for its freshwater supply. The parties should agree on how fast to fill the dam’s reservoir and how to share river waters going forward.
Popular protests are rumbling across Sudan, shaking President Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year grip on power. The authorities have cracked down hard and, as the demonstrations intensify, they may ratchet up the repression. External powers should urge restraint and offer Bashir a way to the exit.
By 12 October, Washington will decide whether the steps Sudan has taken qualify it for lifting some U.S. sanctions. But to push forward afterwards will require a new roadmap that ties further sanctions relief and improved bilateral relations to political reform and human rights.
China, traditionally averse to intervening abroad, is testing the role of peacebuilder in South Sudan, where it has unique leverage. This could portend a growing global security role, but further Chinese engagement will likely be tempered by self-interest, capacity constraints and aversion to risk.
This is a case where the UN should aim to be ‘best supporting actor’ rather than the star, bringing economic expertise to back up the AU’s work on Sudan’s transition.
All roads forward in Sudan now run into the Hemeti problem. Over time, his power will need to be reined in, yet any action against him at the moment risks civil war.
Sudan is not one signing ceremony away from righting itself from Bashir’s rule. A political deal remains necessary to avert the worst in Sudan, but is only the beginning.
Any agreement is a positive step [in Sudan]. The challenge will be actually getting the military council to do as it promised.
There is still no clear path forward that involves everyone on the military council [in Sudan] simply stepping aside, partly because Hemeti, in particular, represents such a big problem.
What is striking is that the protest movement’s support [in Sudan] is unprecedented, both very broad and very deep.
Murithi Mutiga, Crisis Group's Project Director for the Horn of Africa, reflects on the Sudanese revolution and on the challenges lying ahead for the new civilian-led administration in Khartoum.
Watch List Updates complement International Crisis Group’s annual Watch List, most recently published in January 2019. These early-warning publications identify major conflict situations in which prompt action, driven or supported by the European Union and its member states, would generate stronger prospects for peace. The third update to the Watch List 2019 includes entries on Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Sudan and Yemen.
Sudan’s military junta and opposition have agreed to form a civilian-led administration to steer a transition toward free and fair elections. But the generals signed only under pressure. All Sudanese – and outside partners – will need to remain vigilant lest they try to restore autocracy.
Sudan’s political transition is in great peril following the unprovoked killing of dozens of protesters. The African Union has rightly suspended the country’s membership. Western and Gulf powers should take urgent steps to compel Sudan’s interim leaders to accept a civilian-led transitional administration.