Friday, April 12, 2024

Sudan Tribune

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To the President of Sudan: Third time’s the charm or the curse!

The First Time: How Would the President Deliver the Goods?

By Elwathig Kameir

1. Following the ICC’s indictment of President Al-Bashir on 14th July 2008 (before the issuance of the arrest warrant in March 2009), I wrote a series of articles entitled “A Shot in the Dark”. These were published (in both Arabic and English) in a number of Sudanese daily papers and websites, in October 2008. The main thesis of these articles was that, “if the ICC’s indictment of the President reached its logical conclusion, it would ignite the fuse of an intense power struggle, even amongst competing factions within the ruling party, with detrimental consequences for the stability and the future of the Sudanese state. I, therefore, called for standing behind the President on the basis of a national program agreed upon by all political forces that places “nation above party”. This program would serve as the electoral manifesto of Al-Bashir as a presidential candidate., so that the other political forces, led by the SPLM, the main partner in government at the time, would lend him their support based on this program, whose primary objective would be tocomplete the task of peaceful transition to democracy and political pluralism.

2. I proposed that backing up the President should, however, be reciprocated on his part by implementing a package of essential measures, namely; a) a genuine reconstitution of the “Government of National Unity” by accommodating the political forces that have the requisite political weight and popular social bases, and b) a political agreement on a national program that would bring all the political forces together with the ruling partners with the objective of preparing the ground for truly fair and free elections, monitoring and overseeing the implementation of the remaining prerequisites of democratic transformation, while reaching a just political settlement of the conflict in Darfur, and activating the mechanisms for national reconciliation and achieving social justice.

3. I had warned in those articles that the NCP, being the dominant partner in power due to its continued control over government institutions and the state executive apparatus for decades, shouldered the greater burden of achieving the conditions of the transition towards democracy and political pluralism as dictated by the Interim National Constitution (INC) and commitment to an honest implementation of the CPA. Besides, the ruling party is obliged to meet these conditions in exchange for the support and
national alignment of Sudanese political forces behind the President. The NCP is required to morally and politically, in view of the various agreements and charters signed with these forces, to bear the cost of democratic transition.

4. The President, following the singing of the CPA, was not only the President of the Republic or of the ruling party. Indeed, he was president of the country even before the formation and declaration of the NCP itself. Similarly, he is not the head of the “Ingaz” regime, but he is the primary figure responsible for the most important political transition and constitutional transformation after the country’s independence in 1956. The President is the main guarantor of the integrity of the constitutional arrangements based on the CPA. I was sure at the time that the prevailing overall objective and subjective circumstances would not allow for removing the head of state, while both the partners in power, the NCP and the SPLM, were clearly sparing no effort in order to maintain the President in power.

5. My proposition found a limited response from the leadership of the NCP. Thus, upon a request of Dr. Ibrahim Ghandour, in Cairo in September 2009, I met with him and Dr. Nafie Ali Nafie, who was the Assistant of President and Deputy Chairman of the ruling party at the time. They informed me of their perusal of the last article in the series, and the proposal it contained, which in their opinion provides objective analysis and policy prescriptions that deserved dialogue and debate, though they foresaw that they would likely be met by opposition in some circles in both of the ruling partners, the SPLM and the NCP. On the other hand, the SPLM turned a blind eye to the whole matter, as none of its leaders uttered a single word, whether of critique or praise. Knowing the hidden agenda of the SPLM, at the time of elections, the lack of reaction to my proposition was by no means surprising.

The Second Time: The Ball is in the President’s Court!

1. Of course, a lot of water has passed under the bridge during these four years, in terms of new developments and variables that have appeared in the meantime, particularly after the 2010 elections. Since the end of the interim period and the secession of the South, Sudan has been witnessing a tense political climate and a series of perpetual crisis (es) reaching an unprecedented scale. Currently, there is sharp “vertical” polarization separating the government, on the one hand, and both the political and armed opposition, civil society organizations, and clusters of young citizens, on the other. In addition, there are “horizontal” rifts and divisions within political parties. This includes the ruling party and the Islamic Movement (IM), (which, ironically, was responsible for bringing this very party to power), and the armed movements, the reported grumbling and restlessness within the military, together with the escalation of tribal and ethnic loyalty feuds, and the rise of Jihadists and Muslim extremist groups. This acute political polarization is manifest in the raging armed conflict and escalating deterioration of the security situation in Darfur, the ongoing war in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, the declining economy, combined with rampant corruption, the strained relationship with the South, not forgetting the looming spectre of war between the two Sudans. In addition, there is the lingering issue of how to deal with the ICC.

2. Thus, in January 2013, in a published paper entitled; The Ball is in the President’s Court, I posed the question: do the ideas presented in my proposal remain relevant and viable? Or are there new variables rendering them irrelevant and unfeasible? On my part, I am inclined to think that these new developments only serve to increase the pertinence of my proposal compared to the situation four years ago. The historical evolution of the “Inqaz” regime has proven that the President is the only person who enjoys the approval and acceptance of all the factions in the NCP, and its’ affiliated Islamic Movement (IM). Despite this accepted understanding, there are some who perceive him more of a liability, in particular following the ICC arrest warrant. However, the alternative names being floated around to occupy his position, do not seem to have a sufficient base in the party or the military to allow people to rally around any of them. Thus, the President remains the symbol of the army and its Supreme Commander. He also wields the reigns of power and fully controls the internal power struggle among the NCP’s competing factions. This was demonstrated by the observed power struggle between these factions, which surfaced in the wake of the official announcement of the President’s health condition and surgical operations he underwent during the last quarter of 2014. Moreover, in addition to being at the helm of the ruling party, the President has now become chairman of the High Leading Bureau of the IM.

3. Therefore, Al-Bashir retains the golden opportunity to play a historic role, which would turn him into a national political leader, if he sheds partisan allegiances and puts the “nation above the party”, thus leading a process of consensus on a national program that would respond to the daunting challenges of the unfolding national crisis, and on the mechanisms of the program’s implementation. The President has the constitutional powers to develop a package of the requisite measures that would avert a crisis scenario leading towards the disintegration of the Sudanese state, which I consider the most likely scenario in view of current circumstances. On top of these measures, the President should: First, devote the remaining period of his term in office to leading a process of completing the unfinished tasks in the CPA implementation and embodied in the Interim National Constitution, with the objective of ensuring a peaceful transition to multi-party democracy. Second, initiate and embark on a direct, frank, and serious dialogue with all the political forces in the opposition in order to reach a national consensus and political agreement on the basic elements of a national program, whose genuine implementation would confront the multiple challenges faced by the country at this critical juncture of its modern history. Thirdly, broaden the governance base by forming a genuinely participatory government comprising the forces that have political weight and a popular base of support to implement the national consensus program, regardless of their participation in the elections.

4. This time, the response to my proposal came from the President himself, according to a very reliable source in Khartoum, in February 2013, immediately after the publication of the aforementioned article. The source told me that the President had read the article in the newspaper, and one of his close confidants said, jokingly, to him: “it seems that even the “communists” like Dr. Elwathig Kameir (an affront and slander) propose solutions for resolving the national political crisis, what initiative do you propose?” The President replied: “I have already read the article in question, but my initiative is: the elections”! This response did not come as a surprise to me. On the contrary, the President’s response confirmed my conviction that the ICC decision had been instrumental in urging the NCP to intensify its efforts to prepare and poise itself for the elections. The ruling party sent some messages and signals, though these were mistakenly understood by the opposition, which thought that the NCP is in a weak position and is, thus, susceptible to pressures of the international community, and the demands of the civil and military opposition, to postpone the already announced April 2015 elections. This is particularly true since the party has a complete monopoly over power without the headache of elections. There is no doubt, the preparation and organization of elections has remained the strategy of the NCP almost since the CPA-premised interim period officially come to the end in July 201

Third Time’s the Charm or the Curse!

1. True to his word, the President went on with the elections. As in 2010, however, these elections were held in an atmosphere engorged with tensions and festering political polarization between the government, on the one hand, and the opposition (civil and military), on the other hand, in the light of regional blessing (AU and LAS), and the expressed reservations of the international community, all of this against the backdrop of a popular elections boycott and categorical rejection of its results by many political forces and constituencies.

2. Although, the elections page has been turned, we continue to exist in a political climate characterized by discord and polarization between all the political forces, susceptible to further escalation, especially if we add more burning issues, including the crisis in Darfur, the war in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, and the ICC decision.

3. However, I remain inclined to believe that the matter is still in the hands of the President.

Only he can approach and resolve the complex Sudanese crisis in the context of a comprehensive historical settlement, especially in the wake of the elections and their results, despite the low turnover. This, is in addition to what the President wields in terms of wide constitutional powers. Thus, the President has a menu of two options, only one of which is a viable choice.

The First Option:

1.Take advantage of the renewed legitimacy, gained through the elections, to consolidate his powers in order to preserve the status quo by effecting minor and superficial window- dressing-type changes in some government faces, positions, and policies, both in response to incessant calls for reform and the desire to appease the increasingly disgruntled membership and supporters of the ruling party and the Islamic Movement, at large All this without making any major change in the power structure, leaving the ruling party to continue its monopoly of political power and control over state institutions. The advocates of this approach, from within and outside the NCP, stand against the inclusive national constitutional dialogue on the pretext that the priority should be accorded to backing up the armed forces’ efforts in crushing the rebellion. Indeed, it is as if they are calling for ending the war by waging more wars! However, in light of the critical and complex conditions, which the country is currently undergoing, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to sustain the prevailing situation. Thus, I deem maintaining the status quo to be a short-lived scenario, regardless of the length of time it takes.

2. In fact, the embarrassing and humiliating incident to which the President was subjected, during his participation in the 25th AU Summit in South Africa, in June 2015, has clearly demonstrated the futility of, and the risks associated with, the old approach in dealing with the ICC. The policy of confrontation, and the attempt to score points against the Court, will not help the President in achieving the objectives of his promised “new era” of opening up to others, but will complicate the country’s international relations, and may further erode the expressed solidarity with him at the regional level. Above all, this approach would cast a dark shadow on, and adds a new dimension to the fissions and splits within the ruling party. Undoubtedly, the South African High Court order, of detaining the President in Johannesburg, brought joy to the hearts of many in the ruling circles, especially among the angry and disgruntled victims of recent reshuffles in both the party and the government, who saw in the incident a window of opportunity to regain their previous power positions.

3. Most importantly, will the perpetuation of the current situation, without any tangible change, as the enemies of dialogue are betting, enable the President to meet the requirements and challenges of his promised “new era”, as he himself articulated in his inaugural address to the National Legislature? Realistically, would the maintenance of

the status quo allow the President to deliver his “new era”, leading to 1) national political consensus, 2) a permanent constitution, and 3) achieving peace in Darfur, South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile.

4. I strongly believe that neither the preservation of, nor the attempt to sustain, the old policies, would enable the President to deliver his “new era”, and the fulfillment of its above-mentioned conditions. The exclusion of the other political forces from effective participation in national decision-making, coupled with the country’s weak institutional setup and fragile state institutions, its complex political configuration, the absence of a unified counterweight to the NCP dominance at the centre, the lack of unity of cause and methods between the political forces, and an unfolding political polarization between the various contenders for power, can best be described as a “zero-sum-game”, which will most likely degenerate into bloody conflict and costly confrontation, thus pushing towards the disintegration of the state.

The Second Option:

1. President Al-Bashir still has the golden opportunity to play a historic and decisive role, at this historical juncture in the history of Sudan, particularly in the wake of the elections and the late constitutional amendments, thus leading a process of national consensus based on a national program that would respond to the daunting challenges of the unfolding national crisis, and on the mechanisms of its implementation. Though the South separated during the reign of the President, history might afford him an excuse since secession was a response to the popular aspirations of Southerners in a transparent and fair process and by an overwhelming vote in the self-determination referendum. However, if the scenario of the state’s disintegration were to take its course, it would be recorded in history that he was the one responsible for sowing the seeds of this fatality.

2. In my opinion, the President should inaugurate his new mandate by extending his hands, combining this with an open heart and mind, to all political forces to resume the process of national dialogue and engagement to build a “national partnership”, in order to appropriately face the country’s multiple political, economic, and social challenges and achieve the goals that he underlined in his inaugural address. The promise of “a new era”, as he pledged in the inaugural speech, is contingent on the political will of the President for the completion of two, intertwined and overlapping, tasks, namely; to stop the war and achieve peace, and launch the comprehensive national dialogue on the constitutional national issues. This is the entry-point for correctly addressing the deepening national crisis, and the exit for the country from the current bottleneck. The proper launch of these two tasks lies in undertaking the following measures:

First: The Promises of the “New Era”

1. In inaugurating his “new era”, the President is obliged to announce a series of bold decisions and actions aimed at reassuring his opponents and adversaries , the Sudanese people, and as a positive message to the international community (in the spirit of his inaugural address). This step would, in turn, entail: lifting unconstitutional restrictions on public freedoms, especially freedom of expression, in light of the daily violations and abuses to which the press and journalists are exposed, and the release of political detainees and prisoners. Of course, all laws that contravene the spirit and principles of the 2005 Transitional Constitution, and particularly with the provision of the Bill of Rights and Freedoms, and how to align them with the Constitution, will be subject to discussion and deliberation at the table of the prospective national dialogue.

2. As much as these measures are responsive to the demands of large sectors of the Sudanese people, they will also help in healing the wounds of the civil political opposition, while reigning in the impulse of the armed movements to continue fighting. This would, in turn, assist in easing the state of tension, confusion, and political polarization, unfolding in front of our eyes, thus peacefully facilitating the transition to peace, national reconciliation, political stability, and social harmony. While it is true that the CPA-premised interim period officially came to an end following the independence of South Sudan, a number of important outstanding and post-secession issues are still under negotiation. Thus, provisions of both the CPA and the Cairo Agreement, between the NCP and the NDA, regarding democratic transformation are yet to be implemented. With this understanding, the CPA outstanding issues are not only confined to the conflict in the three transitional areas (South Kordofanm the Blue Nile, and Abyei), rather, the transition to democracy is in itself an outstanding CPA issue.

Second: Ending the War

1. The President must, as a priority of first order, seek by all means available to stop the war and reach a just and sustainable peace, particularly when all the Sudanese political forces, and the regional and international community, have lent their support to negotiations as a legitimate political tool for reaching a peaceful settlement of the conflict.

2. Adherence to negotiations’ terms of reference and draft frameworks, in accordance with the resolutions of the AU and the AUPSC, under the guidance of the AUHIP, and the Doha peace agreement. Indeed, the government and the SPLM-North came close to reaching a framework agreement in the 9th round of negotiations, in December 2014.

3. Commitment to the roadmap adopted by the AUPSC in its communique No. 456, endorsing a number of steps, on top of which: a) convening negotiations on cessation of hostilities, immediately leading to a comprehensive security arrangements agreement, between the government and the SPLM – North, and Darfur’s armed movements, to be each separately convened, albeit in a synchronized and coordinated manner, b) a meeting of the Sudanese parties, at the AU Headquarters in Addis Abaca, to discuss relevant process and procedural issues in order to pave the way for National Dialogue in Khartoum. On the other hand, the Council requested the Government to expedite its efforts towards implementing the agreed confidence-building measures (referred to above as Promises of the New Era). Ironically, these are the same enabling environment measures that were approved by the NCP as part of the 7+7 mechanism’s roadmap, which was endorsed by the General Assembly of the political parties to the national dialogue, and was chaired by President Al-Bashir himself.

4. Compliance with the carefully designed sequencing of the steps (and synchronizing of a & b) that would eventually allow the participation of SRF in the national dialogue in Khartoum, together with the rest of the stakeholders. The African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) has intentionally ordered the steps to start first with reaching an agreement to cease the hostilities, leading directly to a comprehensive agreement on security and military arrangements, in preparation for the holding of the preparatory meeting for all stakeholders in Addis Ababa, thus paving the way for the armed movements to participate in the inclusive national dialogue in Khartoum (if not for the intervention of the German initiative and the rushed call for the (aborted) Addis Ababa meeting). Convening the preparatory meeting, before reaching an agreement on a ceasefire, or at least cessation of hostilities, is akin to ploughing in the sea, since the agenda items of the meeting are purely procedural. Indeed, if the positions of the conflicting parties around the table are far part, on many dialogue and constitutional issues, how would they be able to agree on procedures and process matters? Similarly, the chances of successfully concluding the national dialogue and building national political consensus on the meeting’s outcomes, in the absence of a comprehensive cease-fire and an agreement on security arrangements, seem very small, if not non-existent. The strategic disagreement between the government and the SPLM-North, and the rest of the armed movements, on what should come first: the national dialogue or the security arrangements agreement, must be urgently settled by the parties to the negotiations, and mediation.

Third: National Dialogue

1. Bringing all the political forces to the table of the national constitutional dialogue, thus transcending the impediments of, and obstacles that have obstructed the dialogue process, since its inception in January 2014, a step confirmed by the President in his inaugural address.

2. Transcending the petty differences over formalities, associated with the composition of the dialogue mechanism. There is no harm in revisiting and debating the formation of the mechanism, especially when the armed movements are supposed to participate in the national dialogue (following the agreement on a comprehensive ceasefire).

3. Agreeing on the agenda and issues of the national dialogue, its management and criteria of participation, and the binding commitment of everyone, especially the ruling party, to its outcomes, and mechanisms of implementation.

4. Defining the ultimate objective of the national dialogue in reaching a political national consensus on all related constitutional and governance issues, which would lead to conducting free and fair elections, thus laying the foundations for the peaceful exchange of power.

5. I tend to believe that the major obstacle for reaching an agreement with the Government is divergence, of the two parties to the talks, as regards both the scope and the expected outcome, or the “end-game” of the negotiations. Therefore, the national dialogue will be an exercise in futility and its findings will not lead to a national consensus on how to move the country forward in the direction of a better future, unless all Sudanese political parties and strong engaged societal forces agree on the “scope of change” required in the institutional and political structure(s) of the Sudanese state after more than a quarter a century of one-party rule. It is obvious that the NCP, on the one hand, and the rest of the political forces, on the other are not reading from the same page with regard to the results and expected outcomes of the national dialogue.

6. The opposition forces aspire to full-fledged transitional arrangements, leading to the immediate deconstruction and dismantling of the entire political system, modelled on the earlier transitional situations succeeding popular uprisings and revolutions. In my opinion, this is far-fetched, and an unrealistic demand that cannot be accepted or met
by the Government. Alternatively, each of the political and armed opposition, and the government, must come forward with their respective but realistic visions and conceptions, of change and restructuring of state institutions, to the table of the inclusive national dialogue.

Conclusion: I have twice ventured to place, the ball in the court of the President. Perhaps, this time it might hit the target, as the American idiom goes “third time’s the charm”. Otherwise, the word will be to a similar popular Sudanese proverb, though, to the contrary, it envisions a “curse” to happen on the “third time”!!

Elwathig Kameir (Ph.D) Former university associate professor of Sociology and consultant with numerous regional and international organizations .He coordinated the Ambo workshop in February 1989 that brought together leaders of the SPLM with intellectuals and trade union activists from North Sudan. He edited and introduced a book on the Vision of the New Sudan, published both in Arabic and English. He has also published a number of articles on current political developments and the SPLM between 1986-2006. He can be reached at [email protected]

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