Sudans National Dialogue: Continuing the Status Quo

One of Obama’s final actions in office was to lift sanctions on Sudan, a country with which the United States had nearly 20 years of hostile relations. The US government talked up progress Sudan had made on a number of fronts as a reason for the lifting, yet its future strategy in relation to Sudan remains unclear since the change in president. However, while the US talks of progress violence continues in Darfur and South Kordofan and opposition and the media are continually targeted by the security services.

While violence continues between rebel groups, the army and other actors, the government is leading a National Dialogue which began in 2014. The aim of this was to create amendments for the constitution, as well as a transitional government tasked with implementing the recommendations resulting from the dialogue. However, the National Dialogue appears to be just a government tactic to appear to be wanting to bring national reconciliation, while in fact they are using it to continue the status quo.

From afar, the idea of a National Dialogue appears a positive sign by a government progressing. The opposition involved are able to make recommendations which will be considered by the Parliament. Amongst these recommendations are limiting the power of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), promoting a culture of tolerance and the full commitment to human rights, amongst other things.

The National Dialogue was supposed to encompass rebel groups and political opposition. Some have joined, but a larger number have stayed away. Those that stayed away cited worsening political freedoms due to government crackdowns.

Omar Al-Bashir at the 20th Session of The New Partnership for Africa’s Development in 2009 | U.S Navy Photo

Even the processes of this National Dialogue highlight that it will more than likely be used to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community in order to keep the status quo. One of the major reasons for this is the role Al-Bashir and his ruling National Congress Party (NCP) will play.

Parliament decides on the recommendations, and the NCP has the majority, giving them power to decide what will have to be implemented by the transitional government. They can reject any recommendations limiting their ability to remain the dominant political party. For example, the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP) has stated that it might not participate in the National Consensus Government if recommendations on public and political freedoms are not accepted.

As President, Al-Bashir is able to choose the Prime Minister who will lead the transitional government. He chose former Vice-President Bakri Hassan Saleh, who was sworn in on the 2nd of March this year. Saleh was one of the officers involved in the 1989 coup which brought Bashir to power. The Prime Minister has no power to choose the other members of his government, as the President gets to decide the entire make-up of the transitional government. Clearly by choosing Saleh, Bashir has put a loyal friend into power, which will ensure that whatever changes are implemented by the transitional government won’t limit his power.

In a worrying development, senior officials of NISS have rejected any talks of reducing their powers, one of the amendments made for the constitution. Senior officials have called for amendments to strengthen the security services instead. Strengthening NISS, who already operate with impunity, would severely happen all aspects of opposition to the ruling party and its leader.

Protesters at the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in New York call for Omar Al-Bashir's arrest

Protests Against President Al-Bashir in New York, 2013 | Coalition for the ICC

What is therefore expected will be a Bashir and NCP driven transitional government, implementing some but certainly not all the recommendations, which will more than likely be rejected by parliament. This is unlikely to bring an end to the conflicts in Darfur and South Kordofan. Rebel groups there have already voiced their opposition to the process. The government would rather continue with its National Dialogue, where it won’t have to relinquish its tight control of the country without any concessions.

All this poses an important question, how will the international community, especially the West, react? The US approach to Sudan is incoherent, with the reduction of sanctions on one hand and travel bans on the other. Furthermore, President Trump putting America means Sudanese internal politics is unlikely to be found anywhere on his agenda.  European nations are involved in deals with Sudan in order to curb migration flows, so may also be unwilling to get more involved in Sudan’s internal politics. Curbing migration appears to be a top priority for many European nations, rather than peace in Sudan. However, that is ignoring the potential impact a peaceful and less authoritarian Sudan could have on reducing migration to Europe from Africa.

Feature Image: wagdi.co.uk | Flickr


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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