Sudan and the prospects of seeing light at the end of the tunnel
By Volker Perthes
United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Sudan
Ever since the 25 October 2021 coup, the United Nations’ primary goal has been to help facilitate an agreement on a civilian-led transitional arrangement based on an agreed constitutional framework. The purpose of this agreement is to work towards achieving the goals of the December 2018 revolution that the Sudanese expressed in their slogan: Freedom, Peace and Justice. Popular resistance to the coup has helped to convince all parties that the current situation is unsustainable, and clearly demonstrated that a comprehensive solution that restores the path of democratic transition under civilian leadership is needed. In this context, the Trilateral Mechanism was founded to coordinate the efforts of UNITAMS, the African Union and IGAD to facilitate a Sudanese agreement that leads to the formation of a civilian-led transitional government.
The Trilateral Mechanism has achieved gradual progress in this regard. A first general technical session was convened on 8 June with the participation of the military component and various civilian groups. But some key actors, notably the Forces for Freedom and Change - Central Council (FFC-CC), the Communist Party and the Resistance Committees, decided not to participate. All participants in that meeting agreed that the presence of those who were absent was essential to the success in achieving any viable solution.
One day after this session, on 9 June, the FFC-CC and the military component met publicly and face-to-face for the first time, jointly hosted by the United States of America and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The United Nations and its partners in the Trilateral Mechanism welcomed this move. It opened the door to direct interaction between two main actors who need to be part of the solution to the ongoing political crisis. But even the two of them together are not sufficient for a solution.
Lieutenant General Abdelfattah al-Burhan’s announcement on 4 July, later confirmed by Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, positively indicated that the military was prepared to accept the leadership of a civilian-led government to oversee a democratic transition. This presented a challenge for the civilian forces which we have encouraged them to accept. The withdrawal of the military from politics and the return to civilian government has been a key demand of the street and most political parties and civilian political forces. This moment is an opportunity that needs to be grasped both to address the current crisis and to answer one of the major dilemmas in Sudan since independence, namely the relationship between civilians and the military.
Almost all Sudanese now agree that the situation produced by the coup of 25 October needs to change. There are now several political initiatives that propose solutions. We have mentioned more than once that full Sudanese ownership of the political process is the cornerstone for its success. And we, in the United Nations and the Trilateral Mechanism, will continue to provide unlimited support to all Sudanese effort that aim at overcoming the deadlock and finding a way out of the crisis. To this end, we will continue to provide technical assistance and provide a space where divergent views by different parties can be bridged when needed. However, we cannot be more eager to reach an understanding than the Sudanese themselves.
It is good that relevant Sudanese stakeholders have begun to meet and talk to one another in a more inclusive manner, making progress towards bridging major dividing lines between – among others – parties that were overthrown on 25 October and other civilian forces. All these parties will now have to prioritize the larger interest of returning to a credible transition. They also must pay attention to the time factor.
Time is not on Sudan's side. The continuation of the political impasse will lead to more losses of recent national gains. For example, the Paris Club report issued on 14 June 2022, showed that progress under the current situation in the debt relief process, which amounts to US$ 56 billion would be impossible. Debt relief was one of the most prominent successes achieved by the previous transitional government. This situation also hinders Sudan from benefiting from the international development assistance, prevents the full restoration of relations with the International Financial Institutions, and also limits my ability to help mobilize international funds for the support of stabilization, development, or the implementation of peace agreements. Reports indicate that one-third of the Sudanese people will face the threat of acute food insecurity this year due to the combined effects of the current economic and political crises.
When I visited west Darfur in July, I publicly reiterated that UNITAMS and the UN family are eager to do more to support the implementation of the Juba peace agreement and help to build sustainable peace in the areas that have come out of violent conflict. But certain steps have to be made before we can offer our own technical assistance or mobilize international support. For example, we would be happy to support a Land Commission or a Disarmament, Demobilization and Re-integration (DDR) commission in Darfur. But we cannot establish such institutions – this is a sovereign issue for the Sudanese to agree upon and to decide. Or, on the national level, we would be happy to cooperate with and support an Electoral Commission, Peace Commission, Transitional Justice Commission or Anti-Corruption Commission. But they have to be established first – as part of a political agreement that needs to be implemented.
We at the United Nations also call on all parties to show more commitment and political will. We call on all major forces, political parties and grassroots movements, including the Resistance Committees, to open communication channels with one another and to think through their ideas and proposals. The comprehensive participation in the political process is something that the Sudanese political forces can achieve by ensuring the widest possible consultations with the actors and stakeholders close to them.
Other issues will have to be addressed in the context of any new political agreement. This includes, among others, the establishment of commissions (for elections, transitional justice, anti-corruption, etc.), implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement, completion and consolidation of the peace process and planning a constitutional process, or a comprehensive national dialogue to deal with structural issues left unresolved for too long - such as the distribution of wealth and the relationship between center and the margins. In order to achieve all this, the country needs an effective and acceptable civilian government.
There is also a central issue that we should not lose sight of, which is the issue of achieving justice and transitional justice. This is absolutely necessary in order to settle the foundations of stability in Sudan. Here, I remind the Sudanese of their rich history of carrying out transitional justice in ways that ensure accountability and allow healing and reconciliation on the community and national levels.
We also cannot ignore that the impact of the political vacuum in Khartoum led to devastating consequences in Darfur, Damazin, Kadugli, Kassala and other parts of the country. The sooner we find a solution, the sooner we can address major concerns outside the Sudanese capital. A peaceful political solution for Sudan will provide the fastest way to ensure the welfare and security of the Sudanese people.
It is ultimately up to the Sudanese people to embrace, rather than be set back by, their differences, and to exert every effort to urgently agree on a Sudanese-owned solution that meets their shared aspirations. The United Nations stands ready and eager to support the Sudanese parties in achieving this objective. I assure all Sudanese people that the United Nations, its partners in the Trilateral Mechanism and the international community remain committed to Sudan. If the Sudanese walk the walk to bridge these gaps, we will be at their side.