Sudan’s Imperilled Transition: Policy Recommendations for the U.S.
Sudan’s Imperilled Transition: Policy Recommendations for the U.S.
Briefing 43 / Africa

Pour un déploiement de l’ONU au Darfour

L’impossibilité d’envoyer une force de maintien de la paix des Nations unies au Darfour est le résultat direct de l’échec de la communauté internationale depuis trois ans à exercer une pression diplomatique et économique efficace sur le gouvernement soudanais et ses plus hauts responsables.

Synthèse

L’impossibilité d’envoyer une force de maintien de la paix des Nations unies au Darfour est le résultat direct de l’échec de la communauté internationale depuis trois ans à exercer une pression diplomatique et économique efficace sur le gouvernement soudanais et ses plus hauts responsables. À moins d’une action concertée à l’encontre du Parti du Congrès national (PCN) au pouvoir, Khartoum poursuivra sa campagne militaire, dont les conséquences sont terribles pour les populations civiles, tout en faisant semblant de tenir les nombreuses promesses qu’il a faites sur le désarmement de ses milices Janjaweed et sa coopération en général. Personne ne peut prédire ce qui marchera avec un régime aussi fort et impénétrable que le régime soudanais mais on a vu que la diplomatie, la patience et la confiance dans la bonne foi de Khartoum se sont avérées un échec patent. La communauté internationale a accepté la responsabilité de protéger les civils contre des crimes atroces lorsque leur propre gouvernement ne peut ou ne veut pas les protéger. Il faut désormais prendre de nouvelles mesures importantes pour pousser à la réflexion et provoquer un changement de politique à Khartoum.

La résolution 1706 du Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU du 31 août 2006 étendait au Darfour le mandat de la mission des Nations unies au Soudan, la MINUS, qui compte actuellement 10 000 hommes dans le pays pour contrôler l’application de l’accord de paix global Nord/Sud: elle “invitait” le gouvernement soudanais à consentir au déploiement d’une force de maintien de la paix de 20 600 hommes. Cette force élargie devait en fait prendre le relais de la mission africaine au Soudan de l’Union africaine (l’AMIS) qui, bien que menacée d’expulsion en septembre, a vu son mandat prolongé jusqu’à la fin du mois de décembre et dont les effectifs sur le terrain devraient passer à 11 000 hommes.

Le PCN continue à rejeter l’idée d’un déploiement de l’ONU. Il semble craindre de perdre le contrôle sur la région si la sécurité s’améliore. Les hauts responsables qui ont orchestré le conflit depuis 2003 semblent aussi craindre qu’une importante force de l’ONU au Darfour ne mette en œuvre les inculpations de la Cour pénale internationale (CPI), encore qu’il ne soit pas évident que ce risque soit plus grand avec une MINUS au mandat élargi plutôt qu’avec la mission actuelle.

En réponse à ce rejet, une intervention militaire de large envergure qui ne bénéficierait pas d’un consensus est à ce stade une option indéfendable et irréaliste. Mais il serait possible de persuader le PCN de modifier ses politiques et de consentir au déploiement d’une mission de l’ONU au Darfour en recourant maintenant à des sanctions ciblées contre les dirigeants du régime et leurs intérêts et en prévoyant immédiatement la création et le respect d’une zone de non-survol du Darfour qui s’appuierait sur l’interdiction non effective qui frappe les vols militaires offensifs imposée par le Conseil de sécurité en 2005. La communauté internationale devrait encore une fois clairement annoncer son soutien au rôle de la CPI et cette dernière devrait à son tour déclarer son intention de se concentrer dès à présent sur tous les crimes de guerre et crimes contre l’humanité commis durant l’actuelle offensive gouvernementale.

Les alternatives à une telle action (radicales en comparaison avec les offres peu énergiques du Conseil de sécurité jusqu’à présent) consisteraient à consacrer quelques mois de plus à essayer d’inciter le PCN à adopter une position plus ouverte, comme sont toujours en train de le faire certains dirigeants, ou se concentrer exclusivement à tenter d’étendre et renforcer la mission existante de l’Union africaine, comme certains politiques ont appelé à le faire. Crisis Group s’inquiète de ce que ces approches arrivent trop tard et ne soient pas suffisantes étant donné la façon dont la sécurité, les droits humains et la situation humanitaires se sont progressivement détériorés depuis la signature de l’accord de paix du Darfour (APD) du 5 mai 2006 à Abuja:

  • Le PCN a lancé une offensive d’envergure en août et a proposé à l’ONU son propre “plan de sécurité”, qui prévoit l’envoi de plus de 22 000 soldats gouvernementaux au Darfour pour assurer une victoire militaire;
     
  • Avec le soutien du Tchad et de l’Érythrée, les éléments des groupes rebelles qui n’ont pas signé l’APD se sont regroupés au sein du Front de rédemption national (NRF) et ont lancé une série d’attaques depuis la fin juin;
     
  • Les violences contre les femmes ont augmenté, avec plus de 200 cas d’agression sexuelle en cinq semaines rien que dans les environs du camp de Kalma dans le sud Darfour;
     
  • Le seul rebelle à avoir signé l’ADP, la faction de l’Armée de libération du Soudan de Minni Minawi (ALS/MM), agit de plus en plus comme une branche paramilitaire de l’armée soudanaise;
     
  • Alors qu’une solution politique est en fin de compte le seul moyen de mettre fin à la guerre et de créer les conditions qui permettraient à des millions de personnes déplacées de rentrer chez elles, il est devenu évident que l’ADP est tout sauf mort: il faut absolument que l’Union africaine (UA) et ses partenaires reconstituent un processus de paix viable et inclusif sur les fondations de cet accord et remédient à ses défauts mais il ne semble pas qu’elle soit prête à aller dans cette direction.

Des divisions ont désormais émergé au sein de la communauté internationale concernant l’abandon de la proposition d’une mission de l’ONU en faveur d’une mission de l’UA renforcée. Si ces divisions ne sont rapidement réconciliées, le PCN les exploitera pour neutraliser la pression internationale. La priorité est de rendre l’AMIS aussi effective que possible mais cette mission, dont la crédibilité au Darfour est en baisse, ne peut se substituer à une force de l’ONU plus robuste qui serait susceptible d’attirer des ressources physiques et financières plus importantes. La situation au Darfour exige la réponse la plus efficace possible. Celle-ci ne peut venir que par le déploiement de l’ONU, et surtout, ce déploiement doit être aussi rapide que possible.

Le PCN a habilement utilisé la confrontation avec la communauté internationale pour réduire au silence des médias indépendants et une opposition de plus en plus méfiants ainsi qu’un chœur de critiques de plus en plus présent au sein même de ses rangs, inquiets de la corruption et de la décadence morale du régime. Changer les politiques au Darfour pour permettre une transition vers l’arrivée d’une mission de l’ONU serait de toute évidence traumatisant et aurait des répercussions politiques et sociales dans le pays. Le PCN ne le fera que s’il calcule que les répercussions internationales de son refus sont plus importantes que les répercussions en interne de sa coopération. L’histoire nous pousse pourtant à croire qu’il agira s’il est soumis à une véritable pression. Mais ceci exige un changement de stratégie de la part de la communauté internationale qui, contrairement à sa rhétorique en général musclée, n’a que rarement exercé une pression significative sur le gouvernement soudanais. Ceci a donné l’impression à l’élite soudanaise qu’elle pouvait agir en quasi-impunité au Darfour.

La récente nomination d’Andrew Natsios en tant qu’Envoyé spécial des États-Unis au Soudan et le durcissement de ton de Washington sont les bienvenus mais il est probable que l’on pourrait obtenir davantage de résultats encore par la mise en œuvre et l’élargissement de la portée de certaines des mesures qui ont déjà été adoptées au Conseil de sécurité et dans d’autres instances. De même, les États-Unis, l’ONU, l’Union africaine et l’Union européenne, agissant ensemble autant que possible mais également, le cas échéant, en groupes plus petits voire de façon unilatérale, devraient maintenant:

  • appliquer des sanctions ciblées, comme le gel des avoirs et l’interdiction de voyager, aux principaux dirigeants du PCN qui ont déjà été identifiés par les enquêtes financées par l’ONU comme étant responsables d’atrocités commises au Darfour et encourager des campagnes de désinvestissement;
     
  • mandater par le biais du Conseil de sécurité une société comptable ou un panel d’experts afin d’enquêter sur les comptes offshore du PCN et les sociétés liées au PCN afin de préparer le terrain pour des sanctions économiques contre les entités commerciales liées au régime, qui sont le principal canal de financement les milices alliées au PCN au Darfour;
     
  • réfléchir à des sanctions concernant certains aspects du secteur pétrolier soudanais, principale source de revenu du PCN pour financer la guerre au Darfour, qui incluraient au moins des interdictions sur les investissements et sur l’approvisionnement en équipement et en expertise technique; et
     
  • commencer immédiatement à planifier la mise en application d’une zone de non-survol au-dessus du Darfour, dont le respect serait contrôlé par les troupes françaises et américaines dans la région avec le soutien de l’OTAN; obtenir le consentement du gouvernement tchadien au déploiement d’une force de réaction rapide à la frontière de ce pays avec le Soudan; et prévoir un plan pour l’éventualité d’un déploiement non consensuel au Darfour si les efforts politiques et diplomatiques ne permettent pas de modifier les politiques gouvernementales ou si la situation sur le terrain empire.

Nairobi/Brussels, 12 octobre 2006

I. Overview

The impasse over deploying a major UN peacekeeping force to Darfur results directly from the international community’s three-year failure to apply effective diplomatic and economic pressure on Sudan’s government and its senior officials. Unless concerted action is taken against the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), Khartoum will continue its military campaign, with deadly consequences for civilians, while paying only lip service to its many promises to disarm its Janjaweed militias and otherwise cooperate. No one can guarantee what will work with a regime as tough-minded and inscrutable as Sudan’s, but patient diplomacy and trust in Khartoum’s good faith has been a patent failure. The international community has accepted the responsibility to protect civilians from atrocity crimes when their own government is unable or unwilling to do so. This now requires tough new measures to concentrate minds and change policies in Khartoum.

UN Security Council Resolution 1706 (31 August 2006) extended to Darfur the mandate of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), which presently has 10,000 personnel in-country monitoring the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement: it “invited” the consent of the Sudanese government to the deployment of 20,600 UN peacekeepers. This expanded UN force was in effect to take over the African Union’s overstretched African Mission in Sudan (AMIS), which – although threatened with expulsion in September – has now been extended to the end of December, with its numbers on the ground expected to grow to 11,000.

The NCP continues to strongly reject the proposed UN deployment. Its primary motive appears to be a fear that improved security would loosen its grip on the region. Officials responsible for orchestrating the conflict since 2003 also appear to fear that a major body of UN troops in Darfur itself might eventually enforce International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments, although it is not obvious why that risk should be decisively greater for them with an extended UNMIS deployment than it is with the present one.

In responding to this rejection, full-scale non-consensual military intervention by the international community is not at this stage a defensible or realistic option. But it may be possible to persuade the NCP to alter its policies and consent to the UN mission in Darfur by moving now to targeted sanctions against regime leaders and their business interests – and immediately planning for the establishment and enforcement of a no-fly zone over Darfur that builds on the ineffective ban on offensive military flights the Security Council imposed in 2005. International support for the role of the ICC should be again clearly expressed, with the Court in turn declaring its intention to focus immediately on any war crimes or crimes against humanity committed during the current government offensive.

The alternatives to such action – radical by contrast with the limp offerings from the Security Council so far – would be additional months of trying to entice the NCP into a more forthcoming position, as some leaders are still trying to do, or total concentration on trying to extend and reinforce the existing African Union AMIS mission, as has increasingly been urged by various policymakers. Crisis Group’s concern is that either of these approaches will be too little too late, given the way the security, human rights and humanitarian situation has steadily deteriorated since the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was signed on 5 May 2006 in Abuja:

  • The NCP launched a major offensive in August and offered the UN its own “security plan”, involving sending more than 22,000 government troops to Darfur to secure a military victory.
     
  • With support from Chad and Eritrea, elements of the rebel groups that did not sign the DPA have regrouped as the National Redemption Front (NRF) and since late June have launched a series of attacks.
     
  • Violence against women surged, with more than 200 instances of sexual assault in five weeks around Kalma camp in South Darfur alone.
     
  • The lone rebel signatory – the Sudan Liberation Army faction of Minni Minawi (SLA/MM) – increasingly acts as a paramilitary wing of the Sudanese army.

It has become clearly apparent that, while a political solution ultimately is the only way to end the war and create the conditions allowing millions of displaced persons to go home, the DPA is all but dead: there is a desperate need for the African Union (AU) and its partners to reconstitute a viable, inclusive peace process that builds on its foundations while addressing its flaws, but there is no sign of that happening.

Divisions have now emerged within the international community over whether to drop the UN mission proposal in favour of a strengthened AU-led mission. Unless these divisions are quickly reconciled, the NCP will exploit them to neutralise international pressure. It is an immediate priority to make AMIS as effective as it can be, but that mission, whose credibility in Darfur is decreasing, is not a substitute for the more robust UN force, which would be able to call upon greater physical and financial resources. The situation in Darfur demands the most effective response possible. That can only come through the full UN deployment, and efforts need to be concentrated to bring it about as rapidly as possible.

The NCP has skillfully used the confrontation with the international community to silence an increasingly defiant opposition and independent media and a rising chorus of critics from within its own ranks who are upset with the regime’s corruption and moral decay. Changing policies in Darfur and allowing the transition to a UN mission would clearly be traumatic, with serious domestic political and security repercussions. The NCP will only do so if it calculates that the international repercussions for non-compliance outweigh the domestic costs of cooperation. History does offer grounds for belief, however, that it will respond if confronted with genuine pressure. But that requires a change of strategy for the international community, which, in contrast to its generally strong rhetoric, has only rarely brought meaningful pressure to bear on the Sudanese government. This has given Sudan’s ruling elite the belief it can act with virtual impunity in Darfur.

The recent appointment of Andrew Natsios as U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and tougher talk out of Washington is welcome, but it is likely that even more could be achieved by implementing and expanding the reach of some of the measures that have already been agreed in the Security Council and elsewhere. Accordingly, the U.S., UN, African Union and European Union, acting together to the greatest extent possible but as necessary in smaller constellations and even unilaterally, should now:

  • apply targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans, to key NCP leaders who have already been identified by UN-sponsored investigations as responsible for atrocities in Darfur and encourage divestment campaigns;
     
  • authorise through the Security Council a forensic accounting firm or a panel of experts to investigate the offshore accounts of the NCP and NCP-affiliated businesses so as to pave the way for economic sanctions against the regime’s commercial entities, the main conduit for financing NCP-allied militias in Darfur;
     
  • explore sanctions on aspects of Sudan’s petroleum sector, the NCP’s main source of revenue for waging war in Darfur, to include at least bars on investment and provision of technical equipment and expertise; and
     
  • begin immediate planning for enforcing a no-fly zone over Darfur by French and U.S. assets in the region, with additional NATO support; obtaining consent of the Chad government to deploy a rapid-reaction force to that country’s border with Sudan; and planning on a contingency basis for a non-consensual deployment to Darfur if political and diplomatic efforts fail to change government policies, and the situation on the ground worsens.

Nairobi/Brussels, 12 October 2006

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.

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