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.
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.
Govt and armed opposition groups made some progress in peace talks, notably increasing humanitarian access in south, and agreed to reconvene late Nov. Tens of thousands demonstrated in capital Khartoum and other cities 21 Oct calling for dissolution of former ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and accountability for perpetrators of deadly 3 June attack on protesters; Hamdok same day appointed investigative committee. Govt and rebel groups opened peace talks in South Sudan’s capital Juba 14 Oct brokered by South Sudan’s President Kiir. Talks stumbled when rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu 16 Oct withdrew, accusing govt of violating ceasefire by bombing several areas in Khor Waral, South Kordofan state. Sovereign Council head General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan same day decreed nationwide ceasefire. SPLM-N rejoined talks 18 Oct and same day agreed with govt outline agenda. As part of confidence-building measures agreed in Sept, govt 18 Oct released 26 prisoners of war. Govt and rebel coalition 21 Oct agreed outline agenda for negotiations and agreed to allow humanitarians access to rebel-held areas. Parties 22 Oct agreed to resume talks in Juba 21 Nov. PM Hamdok early Oct called on UN to align withdrawal of UN-AU mission in Darfur (UNAMID) with peace talks citing Darfuri armed groups’ concerns that UNAMID’s withdrawal would leave civilians exposed to attack by militias; Hamdok 22 Oct requested UN extend UNAMID’s mandate by one year. Council of ministers 23 Oct granted World Food Programme access to hitherto off-limits areas of South Kordofan. Govt 10 Oct extended state of emergency by three months. Head of paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” 28 Oct said some 10,000 RSF soldiers who took part in Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen had returned. UN Security Council 15 Oct extended mandate of UN peacekeeping mission in disputed Abyei region (UNISFA) on Sudan-South Sudan border until 15 Nov; 31 Oct renewed UNAMID’s mandate for one year. Sudan and South Sudan 22 Oct signed agreement demarcating shared border.
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.