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.
Mounting economic turbulence is rocking Sudan’s delicate political transition. Without urgent donor assistance to provide economic relief to a suffering population, public support for the cabinet’s reform agenda could collapse. Any failure in the civilian-military government could have tragic consequences for Sudan and the region.
Peace talks between transitional govt and rebel groups suffered new delays and security forces reportedly repelled cross-border attack by Ethiopian troops. After govt and rebel coalition Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) failed to meet self-imposed 20 June deadline to reach comprehensive peace deal despite “significant progress”, representatives of SRF groups and South Sudanese mediation team 25 June arrived in capital Khartoum to hold face-to-face talks with govt in bid to narrow differences on outstanding issues. Faction of rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu 17 June resumed talks with govt following months-long absence from peace negotiations. Following spate of cross-border clashes in recent months and with negotiations over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) at an advanced stage, Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti”, head of paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and deputy head of Sovereign Council 17 June met Ethiopian PM Abiy in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Security forces 22 June said they had repelled cross-border attack by Ethiopian troops on Anfal military base in Al-Qadarif state previous day, inflicting “heavy casualties”; following incident, Khartoum and Addis Ababa reportedly agreed to continue dialogue and exercise restraint. Tens of thousands 30 June took to streets across country to demand greater civilian rule in transition, one protester reportedly killed. New round of talks with Egypt and Ethiopia over filling and operation of GERD on Blue Nile river started 9 June but faltered 17 June; negotiations resumed 26 June (see Nile Waters). International Criminal Court 9 June said former Popular Defence Forces and Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb, sought for alleged war crimes in Darfur in 2003-2004, had surrendered in Central African Republic 7 June; Kushayb transferred to The Hague next day. UN Security Council 3 June created UN assistance mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) to support country’s transition; next day extended mandate of UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) until end of year. At Berlin Sudan Partnership Conference 25 June, foreign donors pledged $1.8bn to support transition.
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.
The transitional government and the international community [in Sudan] must move quickly to avert an economic collapse and accompanying disintegration of the transitional dispensation.
The attack [in Sudan] may have the effect of increasing the solidarity between the civilian and military components of the transition.
Overt Israeli endorsement of a [sanctions] lift for Sudan will provide a key push to the U.S. government.
An underappreciated dynamic [in Sudan] is the split between the military, who traditionally have a Muslim Brotherhood background, and Islamists themselves.
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.
With rains swelling the Blue Nile, Ethiopia is just weeks away from beginning to fill the massive dam it is building. Egypt and Sudan demand that it not do so without an agreement. All three countries urgently need to make concessions for a deal.
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.
Egypt and Ethiopia are exchanging harsh words over the dam the latter is building on the Blue Nile. At issue is how fast the Horn nation will fill its reservoir once construction is complete. The two countries’ leaders should cool the rhetoric and seek compromise.
Following the ouster of Sudan’s strongman Omar al-Bashir, sustained pressure yielded a power-sharing agreement between the military and opposition alliance. But the settlement is fragile and the economy is in deep distress. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 - Third Update for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to support the civilian cabinet during the country’s delicate transition.