ثـــــورة دارفـــــــــور: أزمــــة الســـودان الجــــديــدة
ثـــــورة دارفـــــــــور: أزمــــة الســـودان الجــــديــدة
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Sudan’s Imperilled Transition: Policy Recommendations for the U.S.
Sudan’s Imperilled Transition: Policy Recommendations for the U.S.
Report 76 / Africa

ثـــــورة دارفـــــــــور: أزمــــة الســـودان الجــــديــدة

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ملخّص تنفيذي

السودان حيث بدت الآمال يالسلام واعدة خلال معظم عام 2003، أصبح قصة رعب (كامنة) خلال عام 2004. خلقت البداية السريعة للحرب في إقليمه الغربي دارفور، إحدي أسوأ الأزمات الإنسانية في العالم-قتل الآف وأجبر حوالي 830،000 علي مغادرة بيوتهم. وفي نفس الوقت تتهدد محادثات الإيقاد (الوكالة الدولية للتنمية) في نيفاشا بكينيا بين الحكومة والجيش/الحركة الشعبية لتحرير السودان بالتوقف. إنه لمن العاجل أن تنجح المحادثات وأن تبدا في ذات الوقت عملية موازية لمعالجة كلا من الأزمتين الإنسانية والسياسية في دارفور.

إن هذه الإتجاهات السلبية ليست بغير ذات صلة. فمتمردو دارفور الذين لا يشاركون في محادثات سلام الإيقاد توصلوا إلي خلاصة مفادها بأن عليهم القتال مخافة أن تتخذ القرارات بشأن إقتسام السلطة والثروة في كامل البلاد من دونهم وحكومة الخرطوم توصلت إلي حكم صحيح مفاده أن المجتمع  الدولي لن ينتفدها في مرحلة حرجة من عملية السلام وبالتالي أبطأت من وتيرة عملية نيفاشا لتعطي نفسها الفرصة لتقوم بهجوم كاسح في دارفور.

كانت الإستجابة الدولية ضعيفة بحق وغير فعالة. فأولوية أطراف النزاع الخارجيين الأساسيين- حكومات دول الجوار ومسانديها في واشنطن، و لندن، و أوسلو و روما- تكمن في أن تتوصل الخرطوم  الجيش الشعبي لتحرير السودان إلي إتفاق نهائي. واتخذت سياستهم منحي المشاركة البناءة التي تميزت يدبلوماسية هادئة والرغبة في الإبقاء علي التواصل لمن يفهم بأنهم عناصر حكومية متشددة. عرضت الحوافز الدبلوماسية والإقتصادية لكلا الجانبين ولكن الضغط توقف بالرغم من أن هناك دلائل بأن الضغط هو الذي أسهم بصورة أساسية في وصول   الحكومة والجيش الشعبي لتحرير السودان إلي شفا السلام. بدأت في مارس 2004 فقط دبلوماسية تجنح أكثر نحو إبداء العضلات فيما يتصل بكل من عملية الإيقاد والمحاولات لبناء تفاوض فعال حول دارفور ومورست الدبلوماسية الضاغطة فقط بعد مارس 2004 في إتجاه لتفعيل عملية الإيقاد والمحاولات لبناء تفاوض فعال حول دارفور.

إندلعت الحرب المكشوفة في دارفور في بداية 2003 عنما هاجمت مجموعتي التمرد اللتان يربطهما تحالف هش وهما جيش/حركة تحرير السودان وحركة العدل والمساواة الإنشاءات العسكرية. حمل المتمردون الذين يسعون أيضا إلي إنهاء التهميش الإقتصادي والسياسي الحاد للإقليم السلاح لحماية مجتمعاتهم ضد حملة إمتدت لعشرين عاما تقوم بمساندة الحكومة مليشيات ينحدر أعضاؤها من أصول عربية من دارفور وتشاد.  تلقت مليشيات "الجنجويد" هذه خلال العام المنصرم مساندة حكومية متزايدة كثيرا كي تقوم بإجبار المدنيين علي إخلاء المناطق التي تعتبرها الحكومة غير موالية. قادت هجمات المليشيات وحملات الأرض المحروقة الحكومية إلي نزوح كثيف، إلي القتل من دون تمييز، وإلي النهب وإلي إغتصاب علي نطاق واسع وتتعارض كل هذة الممارسات مع المادة العامة الثالثة لمعاهدة جنيف لعام 1949 التي تحظر الهجوم علي المدنيين.

إن الحرب الأهلية التي تهدد بإحداث  بضرر لا يمكن إصلاحه في التوازن الإثني الهش لسبعة آلاف شخص يربطهم الإسلام هي في حقيقة الأمر صراعات ذات حبكات متطابقة. يدور أحد هذه الصراعات بين القوات الموالية للحكومة وبين المتمردين، وفي صراع ثاني تغير المليشيات الحكومية علي المدنيين ويشمل صراع ثالث مجتمعات دارفور ذاتها. وتتجاوز تعقيدات هذه الصراعات الحدود الدارفورية. فتتهدد بصورة غير مباشرة نظامي الحكم في كل من السودان و تشاد ولها القدرة علي أن تخط مثالا للتمرد في مناطق أخري من البلاد. فقد تحالف بالفعل مؤتمر البجا من شرق السودان مع جيش تحرير السودان، وقد تظهر مجموعات أخري- في الشرق أو في الغرب- في إئتلاف ضد الحكومة حتي أن عناصر من الجيش الشعبي لتحرير السودان بجبال النوبة وجنوب النيل الأزرق قد تنضم إليه إذا لم يرضها سير محادثات الإيقاد.

تسعي الخرطوم لتجنب مخاطبة القضايا السياسية التي تغذي الصراع. إن الترتيبات التي تتركز أساسا علي مسارات العون الإنساني لا يمكن أن تدوم وستلحق الضرر بعملية الإيقاد وتطبيقاتها. إن أي عملية موازية لعملية الإيقاد تهدف إلي معالجة الزمة الإنسانية في دارفور من خلال وقف لإطلاق النار مثال تلك المحادثات التي ستبدأ في أبريل 2004 بتشاد يجب أن ترمي إيضا إلي معالجة القضايا السياسية التي تغذي التمرد.

كان الدور التشادي في مفاوضات 2003 معيبا وعكسي المردود. تتطلب المحادثات القادمة تيسييرا من دائرة أوسع من أطراف النزاع الخارجيين مثال الإتحاد الأوروبي، والولايات المتحدة، والأمم المتحدة. ويجب ان يكون هناك تنسيقا دوليا أكثر ما هو عليه الان في دارفور، إضافة إلي دبلوماسية شعبية متزايدة لمساندة عملية المحادثات وبشأن إنتهاكات حقوق الإنسان التي تجري حاليا وإيقاع عقوبات واضحة علي أي طرف سوداني يضع العراقيل أمام حل الصراع.

في ذات الوقت يجب ممارسة ضغط مركز متزايد علي أي طرف يعاند في محادثات نيفاشا في أي وقت من المحادثات. يجب أن يتجمع رؤساء دول الإيقاد والدول المراقبة خلف المقترح الأمريكي الأخير حول أبيي كأرضية عادلة وسط لحل القضايا الأساسية العالقة ومعاملتها كعامل مساعد في مفاوضات المرحلة الأخيرة حول إتفاق نهائى. وبإمكان المجتمع الدولي من خلال الدبلوماسية الماهرة والرغبة في إستخدام نفوذه في إتمام إتفاق سلام مبكر بين الحكومة والجيش الشعبي لتحرير السودان.

نيروبي/بروكسل، 25 مارس 2004

Executive Summary

The international community can no longer ignore the escalating war in Sudan's western region of Darfur, which threatens international peace and security because of its cross-border nature, including refugee spill-over. It is described by UN officials as the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa.[fn]"U.N. Slams Sudan War, Says Killings Recall Rwanda", Reuters, 19 March 2004.Hide Footnote Diplomatic attention has been understandably centred on the IGAD peace process between the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA), but the scope and intensity of the Darfur conflict also demands immediate, focused action.

The UN estimates that in the past year the conflict has led to the killing of thousands of civilians, the forcible internal displacement of 700,000 and the flight to neighbouring Chad of another 130,000, figures the government does not dispute.[fn]Figures as of 26 February 2004 according to UN sources. ICG interview, 26 February 2004. More recent assessments by the UN of up to one million displaced are contested by Khartoum. See "U.N. Slams Sudan War, Says Killings Recall Rwanda", Reuters, 19 March 2004.Hide Footnote  Testimony of displaced people and refugees depict a consistent pattern of attacks by a government-aligned militia, the Janjaweed, whose horse- and camel-mounted fighters use scorched-earth tactics, backed by government air and land strikes.

Survivors tell of Janjaweed assaults in which villagers are indiscriminately killed, whipped, and raped. Hundreds of villages have been burned to the ground after looting. Grain in storage or about to be harvested is destroyed. These tactics have led to the depopulation of entire areas inhabited by the Fur, Zaghawa, Massaleit, and other smaller groups of black African origin and are grave violations of the laws of war that govern internal armed conflicts, namely Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.[fn]Sudan acceded to the four Geneva Conventions on 23 September 1957. Fighting between army and security forces and SLA and JEM rebels, as well as between the rebel groups and the Janjaweed militia, qualifies as internal armed conflict. However, much violence involves militia attacks on civilians suspected of supporting the rebels. Parties to internal armed conflicts are obliged to uphold Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which prohibits attacks on civilians, including violence to life and person, cruel treatment and torture, taking of hostages, outrages upon personal dignity, sentencing and the carrying out of executions without judgment by a regular court. The government of Sudan is responsible for prosecuting under national law abuses committed by all parties to the conflict.Hide Footnote

The situation in Darfur poses a direct threat to the IGAD peace talks aimed at ending two decades of civil war between the SPLA and the government. As ICG has argued, it is in part because that peace process was structured around the north/south axis -- rather than recognising the fact that the war is a national one, with grievances not limited to the South -- that other marginalised peoples of Sudan felt compelled to fight to make their grievances heard.[fn]See ICG Africa Report N°39, God, Oil and Country: Changing the Logic of War in Sudan, 10 January 2002, and subsequent ICG reporting.Hide Footnote Darfur is a stark reminder that Sudan's crisis has more to do with the structural imbalances of governance and economic development that characterise the relations of the centre with peripheral regions than with the north/south divide. Fighting in Darfur is not the only sign that Sudan's conflicts cannot be dealt with definitively within such a restricted geographic framework. For example, in mid-January the SLA, the larger of the two rebel groups in Darfur, reached an alliance with the Beja Congress, an ethnically-based armed group operating in Sudan's underdeveloped eastern states, and on 13 February 2004, it joined the umbrella opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA).[fn]The SLA decision to join the NDA was also a sign of internal divisions with the insurgency. There is unease inside the SLA about the true ambitions of the JEM leadership. "One reason why we joined the NDA was to differentiate ourselves from the JEM", an SLA activist told ICG in March 2004. For more on these internal divisions, see below.Hide Footnote

The fate of the IGAD peace process remains linked to Darfur developments. Until recently, the government has essentially had a free hand in Darfur, able to support attacks against civilians suspected of backing the rebellion while calculating correctly that the international focus would remain on the incomplete IGAD process. The international community is only slowly realising that the crisis in Darfur can no longer be ignored.

The IGAD peace talks moved closer to success when the parties signed a framework agreement on wealth sharing in January 2004. They continued for another two weeks -- without result despite heavy outside encouragement -- on the three contested areas of Abyei, the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile until the key figure on the government side, Vice President Taha, abruptly left Naivasha for a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The government used the three-week break until talks resumed on 17 February to launch a massive military offensive in Darfur it hoped would remove any reason to negotiate further with the SLA/JEM rebels. It has consistently denied that substantial political issues are at the core of the rebellion, which it dismisses as "tribal warfare" or "banditry". It periodically also tries to tie the insurgency to the agenda of domestic or foreign foes, including the SPLA, Eritrea, Chad, Israel, and Hassan el-Turabi's Popular Congress (PC) party.

In fact, the alleged link between JEM (Justice and Equality Movement) and the PC is the most worrisome for it, since it fears Turabi is using Darfur as a tool for returning to power in Khartoum at the expense of his former partners in the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). This concern, and exaggeration of the potential repercussions, lies behind its hesitancy to talk to the rebels, particularly JEM.[fn]ICG interview, 2 March 2004.Hide Footnote

The Darfur conflict has potential to destabilise the regimes in both Sudan and Chad. The situation in the region, including ethnic overlaps, has helped determine power struggles in Ndjamena for decades. The linkages -- and the Chad government's aid to both sides in the present struggle -- have made Chad's mediation efforts (the Abéché process) ineffective. A ceasefire signed by Khartoum and the SLA in September 2003 was rendered irrelevant by Khartoum's escalated support for the Janjaweed. In December, Chad's president called rebel terms for substantive negotiations "unacceptable" and unilaterally broke off the process. The government never kept the ceasefire, increasingly targeted civilians through the Janjaweed and escalated fighting with its own offensive in late December.

On 9 February 2004, President al-Bashir announced an end to military operations in Darfur, claiming that the government had recaptured all rebel territory and had full control over the region. His statement also included for the first time a formal conflict resolution package. In an apparent bid to pre-empt any push for a wider mediation process, the government said it would guarantee unimpeded humanitarian access and safe return of the internally displaced (IDPs) and refugees, a pledge it has not fulfilled. It called for a conference within Sudan -- to which the "citizens" who rebelled would be invited -- in order to "comprehensively redress all grievances in the region", and pledged to implement its decisions. It also offered a one-month amnesty for rebel fighters to hand over weapons, and established a National Committee to focus on reconciliation, peaceful coexistence and the restoration of the "social fabric" in Darfur.[fn]"Statement by His Excellency Omer Hassan Ahmed Al-Bashir, President of the Republic of Sudan, on the situation in Darfur States", Sudan News Service, Sudan Embassy, Nairobi, 9 February 2004.Hide Footnote

Immediately following this declaration, the government announced that it would not attend a humanitarian dialogue with the SLA, JEM and the Sudan Federal Democratic Alliance (SFDA), on the pretexts that it had not been invited and that the talks, organised by the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, had become too politicised.[fn]"Sudan: Government will not attend Darfur Humanitarian Access talks", IRIN, 9 February 2004. The talks, planning for which had taken months, had appeared certain just a few days earlier.Hide Footnote  It also launched a diplomatic offensive to persuade interested international parties that while a limited outside role might be acceptable, Darfur issues could be best handled through a domestic political process.[fn]ICG interview, Brussels, 11 February 2004. The government also re-affirmed its commitment to the Abéché process. See: "Press Release", Press Office, Sudan Embassy, Nairobi, 11 February 2004.
 Hide Footnote

The government promised to open humanitarian corridors by 16 February. Initial reports from the UN and humanitarian agencies on the ground indicate that humanitarian access has improved slightly in certain areas but the majority of the population remains out of reach of relief. The UN estimates that it now has access to 25 to 30 per cent of persons in need, as opposed to roughly 15 per cent prior to the government declaration.[fn]ICG interview with a UN official, Nairobi, 25 February 2004.Hide Footnote However, relief recipients are increasingly targeted by the Janjaweed. Some IDPs, fearing such attacks, have requested humanitarian agencies not to distribute aid under current conditions.[fn]ICG correspondences, 29 February 2004, and 2 March 2004. See also "Darfur Crisis, Sudan. U.N. Weekly Humanitarian Roundup, 22-29 February 2004", Available at www.unsudanig.org.Hide Footnote

The al-Bashir announcement of victory motivated the rebels to disprove Khartoum's claims. An SLA activist said, "The government has forced us to resume activities by their rejection of the Geneva talks. They don't want to negotiate because they think they have crushed the rebellion. But we are still intact..."[fn]ICG interview, 10 February 2004.Hide Footnote

The rebels announced they had attacked the road network in Darfur on 11 February.[fn]ICG interview, 11 February 2004. See also "SLA and JEM impose total curfew on Darfur region", JEM press release, 12 February 2004, posted at: http://www.sudaneseonline.com/ anews/feb12-55747.html.Hide Footnote Although reports indicate that they did sustain heavy losses in the government offensive, they retain enough strength to launch counter-attacks, and fighting has been consistent since al-Bashir's announcement.[fn]ICG correspondence and interviews, February and March 2004.Hide Footnote

The international community has responded to the Darfur crisis largely with quiet diplomacy, fearing too much pressure on Khartoum would endanger the IGAD peace talks. It is clearer by the day, however, that the conflict there must be resolved if there is to be overall peace in Sudan. The issues behind it need to be recognised as inherently political. The international community should push for a separate, internationally facilitated, political process for Darfur. There are indications that a process focused on humanitarian access will soon begin in Ndjamena, with U.S. and EU (led by the UK and France) observation. Without the commitment to political talks, any ceasefire or humanitarian access agreements will be jeopardised, as will ongoing IGAD efforts. Reliance on Chad to lead such a process without the active involvement of the EU, U.S. and UN would doom it to failure, given the record of its past efforts and its deeply compromised role in officially or unofficially providing support to both sides.

International partners will need to remain involved in ensuring that a neutral process emerges for inter-tribal reconciliation. Initially, this will require making certain that refugees and IDPs can return to their home towns and villages. The government should be required to compel the Janjaweed to withdraw from areas it seized by evicting the original inhabitants. Once these conditions have been met, donors and the government will need to support development programs that counteract the deteriorating ecological situation, such as by increasing water sources for agriculture and human and livestock consumption.

Complicating the picture, fighting between the government and the SPLA has resumed in several areas since the end of January 2004 despite the cessation of hostilities agreement. In the Western Upper Nile oilfields, the trigger was defection to the SPLA of two commanders of the pro-government South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF), Tito Biel and James Lieh Diu.[fn]ICG interviews, February 2004. The SSDF is the umbrella organisation for government-aligned southern armed groups.Hide Footnote  Reports from the area are somewhat contradictory but this is indicative of trends that could threaten any peace agreement. SPLA Chairman John Garang's insistence on negotiating one-on-one with individual SSDF commanders means the government can promote new commanders from within the same movement, while feeding internal divisions with money and arms.[fn]Khartoum apparently named Peter Dor to command Diu and Biel's SSIM (South Sudan Independence Movement – a faction of the SSDF) forces who stayed loyal. ICG interview, 23 February 2004.Hide Footnote  Combat likewise flared between government-aligned militias and the SPLA in Shilluk Kingdom in the south east where Dr Lam Akol's former government-aligned SPLM/United had merged with the SPLA in November 2003.[fn]For more on the fighting in Shilluk Kingdom, see the press statement of the Fashoda Relief and Rehabilitation Association, 18 March 2004 and "Sudan: Fighting escalating in Shilluk Kingdom", IRIN, 19 March 2004.Hide Footnote Khartoum has also begun a concerted effort to reassert control over its southern allies, including by promoting 58 southern militia leaders to high ranking positions in the national army (six as major-generals) in 2004 and imposing travel restrictions over those suspected of talking with the SPLA.[fn]ICG interviews, February 2004. The government's strategy also includes continuing support to the Lord's Resistance Army from Uganda. These issues will be further addressed in forthcoming ICG reports on northern Uganda and Sudan.Hide Footnote

Nairobi/Brussels, 25 March 2004

Sudan’s Imperilled Transition: Policy Recommendations for the U.S.

In a 1 February 2022 hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Crisis Group’s President & CEO Dr. Comfort Ero testified on the escalating situation in Sudan and outlined four main recommendations for the U.S. to help restore the civilian-led transition to democracy.

Good morning/afternoon, Chairman Menendez, Ranking Member Risch and distinguished members of the Committee. My name is Dr. Comfort Ero, and I am the President and CEO of the International Crisis Group. Previously I served as the organization’s Africa program director and I have spent my professional and academic career focusing on peace and security issues in Africa. The International Crisis Group is a global organisation committed to the prevention, mitigation and resolution of deadly conflict. We cover over 50 conflict situations around the world and our presence in Sudan dates back more than two decades.[fn]Crisis Group Africa Report N°281, Safeguarding Sudan’s Revolution, 21 October 2019; Jonas Horner, “After the Coup, Restoring Sudan’s Transition”, Crisis Group Commentary, 5 November 2021; Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°168, The Rebels Come to Khartoum: How to Implement Sudan’s New Peace Agreement, 23 February 2021.Hide Footnote

I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak to you about the deteriorating situation in Sudan today. The country is at a dangerous crossroads. Not for the first time in its history, the military has turned its back on the demands of the Sudanese people for more just and representative rule by violently seizing power. The coup on October 25 brought a sudden halt to a civilian-military coalition that since 2019 has been charged with steering Sudan toward elections and full civilian rule.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Safeguarding Sudan’s Revolution, op. cit.; Horner, “After the Coup, Restoring Sudan’s Transition”, op.cit. It was a major reversal in a transition that had brought hope to so many in the Horn of Africa and beyond. I will share with you my analysis of the current situation in Sudan and recommendations for steps the United States might take to help guide it back on the path toward greater democracy and stability.

Background

By way of background, the transition that was interrupted on October 25 followed 30 years of rule by the notorious strongman Omar al-Bashir.

  • After coming to office in a coup in June 1989, Bashir maintained his hold on power by repressing political opposition, fighting costly counter-insurgencies in the country’s peripheries and underwriting his factious security sector with patronage-driven expenditure that ate up, by some estimates, 70 per cent of the national budget.[fn]Shortly after taking office, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who was mandated to lead the civilian-military transition in August 2019, listed as an ambition driving down military expenditure to 20 per cent of the national budget. He said in some years, that budget line had stood at 80 per cent. “Sudan PM seeks to end the country’s pariah status”, AP, 25 August 2019.Hide Footnote
     
  • The patronage system that Bashir built eventually bankrupted the country and contributed to the strongman’s ouster. A small cabal of favoured cronies including Bashir’s Islamist allies from the National Congress Party, senior military officers (many of them drawn from the tiny riverine elite that has dominated Sudan’s military and politics for decades) and newly minted allies such as the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which was blamed for some of the worst violence in the western region of Darfur, benefited substantially from Sudan’s rigged, lopsided economy.[fn]“Who are Sudan’s RSF and their Commander Hemeti?”, Al Jazeera, 6 June 2019.Hide Footnote These same actors continue to try to preserve their privileges atop Sudan’s political, economic and security establishment.
     
  • Popular frustration over political repression, rising prices and a sclerotic economy that could not absorb Sudan’s ranks of unemployed youths helped trigger the protests that eventually drove Bashir from power. The uprising began in the south-eastern towns of Damazin and Sennar, where crowds took to the streets on 13 December 2018 in response to a tripling of bread prices. By the time the protests reached Atbara, the historic bastion of unionism in Sudan, demonstrators were demanding regime change. Against long odds and despite heavy repression, the protesters eventually overwhelmed the security forces, who staged a palace coup against Bashir on 11 April 2019.  
     
  • The military tried to maintain the upper hand but was forced under pressure both from the protest movement and external actors to compromise and accept to share power with civilians. International revulsion over a 3 June 2019 massacre of protesters encamped outside the military headquarters was particularly important in forcing the generals to cede to the will of the Sudanese people.[fn]“Sudan commemorates the June 3 Massacre”, Dabanga Sudan, 3 June 2021.Hide Footnote Under the terms of a 17 August Constitutional Declaration, the country would be governed by a hybrid civilian-military coalition for 39 months leading up to elections.
     
  • The task before that coalition was enormous. The new cabinet headed by the technocrat and diplomat Abdalla Hamdok was charged with breathing new life into Sudan’s anaemic economy, reforming political institutions to lay the ground for elections and delivering justice to the many Sudanese victims of atrocities during Bashir’s rule – and in the weeks following his fall. Despite the formidable obstacles the authorities faced, that coalition represented the country’s best hope for emerging into a stable, prosperous and democratic future and was a source of hope for those supporting democratic renewal in other countries in the region.
     
  • Always reluctant participants in the alliance, the generals barely disguised their opposition to the Hamdok administration’s reforms and were particularly opposed to efforts to deliver justice and to reshape the country’s economy. In defiance of the United States government and others who warned them against doing so, they seized power and ousted the civilians.

The October 25 Coup and Its Aftermath

Today, unfortunately, the picture looks grim. The military violently applied the brakes on the transition in the early hours of October 25 when they placed Hamdok under house arrest, rounded up numerous other civilian officials in the administration, declared a state of emergency and dissolved key institutions including the cabinet. Since then, Sudan’s military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has taken a series of steps to reverse the reforms the civilian-led administration had rolled out, including by disbanding a committee charged with reclaiming public assets, by packing the Sovereign Council, which serves as the country’s executive, with his allies and by appointing Bashir-era figures into key posts including in the judiciary and security forces.[fn]Crisis Group EU Watch List 2022, 27 January 2022.Hide Footnote The military attempted some window dressing when it reinstated Hamdok on 21 November, a move Sudanese protesters rightly dismissed as an effort to legitimise their power grab. Some efforts to stimulate talks among Sudanese actors to find a way out of the crisis continue although the prospects of a resolution appear dim.

[Sudan] has been on a downhill trajectory since the coup.

Overall, the country has been on a downhill trajectory since the coup. On 2 January, Hamdok resigned in frustration after failing to persuade the generals to stick to their commitments under the August 2019 constitutional charter, and in particular to give him a free hand to appoint a new cabinet. In the meantime, the public’s frustration has been growing. For the past few weeks, Sudanese people across the country have taken to the streets to signal their revulsion at the military’s power grab. The general’s response to the protests has come right out of the Bashir playbook. The security forces have repeatedly fired into crowds, killing dozens, according to human rights groups and the UN.[fn]“Bachelet condemns killings of peaceful protesters in Sudan”, UN, 18 November 2021.Hide Footnote A late December decree by military chief Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan gave the police effective immunity for their actions. Still, the Sudanese people continue to risk their lives by staging protests, work boycotts and other strike actions.

While it is not yet clear who will come out on top in this contest between the security forces and the street, there is evidence to suggest that the generals have gravely miscalculated the strength of their hand. This is a different Sudan from the one in which the army captured control of the state at least five times in the past, including in 1989 when Bashir took office.[fn]"A history of Sudan coups”, Statista, 25 October 2021.Hide Footnote Sudan has one of the youngest populations in the world.[fn]“After the Uprising: Including Sudanese Youth”, Chr. Michelsen Institute, 2020.Hide Footnote Six in ten Sudanese are aged between fifteen and 30 – and the current generation rejects the notion that the country should go back to being governed by an unaccountable, out-of-touch elite.[fn]Sudan’s Political Impasse”, The Horn (Crisis Group podcast), 26 January 2022.Hide Footnote This mobilised, youthful population showed its power at the end of 2018 when it rose up in protest at Bashir’s repressive, kleptocratic rule. The protest movement captured the imagination of pro-democracy campaigners well beyond Sudan with its diversity, with the prominent role that women played – sometimes outnumbering men in demonstrations – with its tenacity, and ultimately with its success. Against what many viewed as tall odds, it brought a halt to Bashir’s rule. Since the coup, this movement has again shown its strength by mobilising millions of Sudanese to take to the streets and send a clear signal to the generals that they will not, as past generations of officers did, get away with imposing their will on the Sudanese people.[fn]“Deaths Reported in Sudan as ‘March of Millions’ Demands Restoration of Civilian Rule”, Voice of America, 30 October 2021.Hide Footnote

Getting the transition back on track would serve both the people of Sudan’s democratic aspirations and the interests of the United States.

Getting the transition back on track would serve both the people of Sudan’s democratic aspirations and the interests of the United States and other regional and international actors in the strategically important Horn of Africa – where Sudan sits between major regional powers Ethiopia and Egypt and shares a border with seven countries, several in the throes of conflict themselves. Support for Sudan’s transition would comport with the U.S. government’s stated commitment to champion democratic values and to “demonstrate that democracies can deliver by improving the lives of their own people”[fn]“President Biden to Convene Leaders’ Summit for Democracy”, White House, 11 August 2021.Hide Footnote . It would also be the surest pathway to medium- and long-term stability in the country.

Recommendations

The United States is one of Sudan’s most important external partners. It provides about half a billion dollars in assistance annually and was a champion of efforts to reconnect Sudan’s economy with international financial institutions. Given these ties and the United States government’s relations with all the main regional actors, the U.S. is well positioned to support efforts to reverse the military’s power grab and set Sudan back on a path toward elections and representative government. Specifically, it could:

  • Press the generals to immediately halt violence against protesters and coordinate targeted sanctions to hold them to account: As outlined, Sudan’s security forces have responded to peaceful protests by indiscriminately shooting into crowds and sometimes reportedly even pursuing fleeing and wounded demonstrators into hospitals.[fn]“Sudanese security forces ‘hunt down’ injured protesters in hospital”, France 24, 25 January 2022.Hide Footnote This pattern of behaviour, on top of its grave human cost, threatens to poison relations between the parties and render a resolution even further beyond reach. In coordination with partners including the African Union (AU) and the European Union, the United States should make clear that the generals will face consequences including asset freezes and travel bans if they continue to kill unarmed demonstrators. The White House should simultaneously convene an interagency process to design a targeted sanctions programs aimed at key figures in the military and outline that it is willing to deploy these against individuals that continue to sanction the killing of protesters or obstruct progress toward elections more broadly.
     
  • Support Sudanese-led efforts to rerail the transition: The United States has already signalled its backing for efforts to stimulate negotiations among the generals and civilian groups including the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the coalition that spearheaded the protest movement and neighbourhood resistance committees, which play an integral role in the day-to-day organisation of protests and have proved a particularly effective channel of resistance to the military coup. The United States should warn the generals against taking precipitous measures that could derail these potential talks, including refraining from unilaterally appointing a new prime minister. It should further insist that these talks are maximally inclusive and in particular that they should take on board the views of the resistance committees. The 2019 power-sharing agreement should be the blueprint for a compromise that could restore civilian-military governance and lead to elections.
     
  • Withhold financial assistance until the military reverses its coup: In the immediate aftermath of the military takeover, the United states suspended $700 million in assistance to Sudan. This was the right step given the generals’ brazen decision to terminate the power-sharing agreement. The United States should make clear to the generals that this support will not resume unless they accept to return to the path toward elections laid out in the 2019 power-sharing agreement. In the meantime, the United States should advance with efforts to repurpose some of its support to civil society groups and also to work with partners including the UN to offer direct assistance to Sudan’s long-suffering people.
     
  • Urge all regional actors to back a return to a civilian-led dispensation: Many on the Sudanese street perceive some external actors, namely Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as tacitly backing military rule.[fn]Sudan’s Political Impasse”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Such perceptions will ultimately be damaging to those countries’ standing in Sudan if it is able to reinvigorate its transitional process. But it is still possible for these key regional actors to play an important role in helping Sudan return to a civilian-led transitional process, thereby protecting their relations with the Sudanese people. Given his strong background in regional diplomacy, Special Envoy Satterfield should be well positioned to engage these actors and urge them to use their privileged relations with Sudan’s generals to convey to them that the power-sharing agreement they torpedoed remains Sudan’s best and perhaps only chance for stability, a goal they all profess to share. With the welcome appointment of a new ambassador to Khartoum, the United States could play a key role in marshalling a coalition of actors within and outside Sudan that can help steer the country back toward the path to elections.


Sudan is at a historic hinge-point. The military’s power grab has derailed a transition that was an inspiration well beyond Sudan, and still could be, if the generals step back and allow Sudan’s civilians to steer the country to elections. With a piling set of challenges – not least an economy in deep distress, resurging violence in Darfur and elsewhere, and a tottering peace deal with armed groups – the generals can hardly afford to stonewall the Sudanese people’s demands for change. The world – and the United States – should stand with Sudan’s people in their quest for a more democratic and accountable government, an outcome that represents the country’s best hope for achieving long-run political, social and economic stability.

Contributors

Former Program Co-Director, Africa
Former Research and Advocacy Manager

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