Saturday, December 4, 2021

Sudan Tribune

Plural news and views on Sudan

Options and opportunities for SPLM-N al-Hilu to join Sudan’s transition

By Ibrahim B. Musa

Despite the initial signing of the political on July, 17th, 2019 and constitutional declaration on August 4th, 2019, as well as the previous exhausting efforts made in negotiations in Addis Ababa on July 23rd, 2019 and Juba on July 27th, 2019 to establish trust and peace paving the way to include the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) led by Abdel Aziz al-Hilu in the democratic transition in Sudan, options and opportunities for success seem very limited in the iron grip of the Rapid Response Forces and the Deep State. Many observers believe the current post-April 11th, 2019 fragile situation of the Sudanese state leaves no windows for al-Hilu’s rebel group to be encouraged to make such suicidal decision.

While some factions of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) and the Transitional Military Council celebrate the initial signing of the declaration which will function as a transitional fundamental law for the transitional government, the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) and the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) fully reject the deal. Although the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) and the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) are signatory parties to the alliance of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), they criticized the deal describing it as defective and below the demands of the Sudanese revolution which has spent so long time sacrificing many lives to reach its ultimate goals.

Withdrawing from the talks and calling for escalation, the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) has rejected power-sharing and demanded full civilian having the Transitional Military Council (TMC) overthrown describing it as “remnants of al-Bashir’s regime.” The agreement as many members of the party assert goes “against the civil state which is the demand of the masses, and the decision of the African Union to hand over power to civilians.” Accordingly, the party calls for different forms of escalation ranging from protest to civil disobedience to overthrow the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and form a fully civilian-led transitional government. Despite the risk, other opposition groups must take a similar action to elevate the ceiling of the demands.

Other opposition groups, on the other hand, regretted the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP)’s withdrawal from the talks and urged the party “to fully resume activities and cooperation with the coalition since its membership with the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) remains active. To them, escalation has become costly regarding recent experiences, therefore, they emphasize on negotiations with the Transitional Military Council (TMC) as “the only valid option to avoid civil war and to achieve a smooth transition towards a democratic regime.” The previous brutal attacks on the peaceful protesters on May 13th, 2019, June 3rd, 2019 and July 29th, 2019 have proven the risk of continuing escalation rather than negotiations.

Similar to the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP)’s rejection, the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) rejected the Constitutional Declaration signed by the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) criticizing it as “categorically rejected peace.” As the leaders of the group argue the declaration repealed the last July agreement in Addis Ababa between the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) and the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) “on a roadmap on ways to achieve peace during the transitional period.” Accordingly, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) called on adding a peace text to the Constitutional Declaration while rejecting to add new seats to the Sovereign Council.

Before this political turmoil, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) engaged in intensive talks with Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM_N) Led by Abdel Aziz al-Hilu on July 23rd, 2019 in Addis Ababa discussing the peace process in war-affected zones and participation of the movement in the transition. Such an event took place soon after the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) initially signed a power-sharing agreement on July 17th, 2019 between the Transitional Military Council (TMC). During the same week, the FFC met with the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) in Addis Ababa and reached an agreement on the transition to civilian-led government linked to peace matters in war-affected zones.

The Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) is an alliance of three armed groups, Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), Sudan Liberation Movement/Army-Minni-Minnawi (SLM-MM/SLA-MM) and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North-Malik Agar (SPLM-N/SPLA-N-MA), and signatory party to the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC). Nonetheless, the group claimed 35% quota of the transitional parliament “stressing the need to include the people of the marginalized areas in the transitional process.” Additionally, the rebel group claimed two seats to be allocated for the group in the Sovereign Council. Accordingly, a deal was made between the political and armed groups of the coalition taking the demands into consideration.

Many critics even within the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) viewed such demands as a drifting element from the obvious goals of the revolution to competition over quotas, regardless of qualifications. To them, the main goals of the revolution are to assign qualified personnel free of any political affiliations for both the sovereign and legislative council to reform deteriorated situation of the Sudanese state in all aspects, ranging from economic, political, social, educational, as well as civil service, peace and security. Nevertheless, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) to accelerate the transition process, reached a compromise on the demands of the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF).

Eventually, a delegation consisted of members from the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Forces for Freedom and Change headed to Juba, capital of South Sudan where they met with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North led by Abdel Aziz al-Hilu (SPLM-N) and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North led by Malik Agar (SPLM-N) on July, 27th, 2019 to discuss peace issues and participation in the transition process. The meeting as reported on July 28, 2019, was requested and facilitated by President Salva Kiir. During the meeting, Agar’s rebel group and the delegation discussed several basic concerns raised by the group and reached a convincing agreement to both parties.

The agreement emphasized on establishing confidence and renewing the suspension of hostilities, as well as opening a corridor for “humanitarian access to the civilians in the war-affected areas.” Additionally, the agreement emphasized on dropping “the death sentences against Agar and the Movement’s deputy chairman Yasir Arman.” In contrast, al-Hilu’s group demonstrated its unwillingness to engage in discussing peace issues with the joint delegation of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the opposition Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC).” Instead, the delegation headed by General Gagod Mukwar, the Vice-president of the group expressed willingness to engage in such discussion only with a transitional power “supported by the Sudanese people.”

Nevertheless, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM/A) reaffirms its strong willingness and commitment to negotiate peace issues with an authority that proceeds “from the agreement between the FFC the military junta, accepted and supported by the Sudanese in order to achieve a comprehensive and just peace by addressing the root causes of the crisis and rebuilding the Sudanese state on a new basis.” Additionally, the rebel group renewed maintaining “ceasefire for another five months.” Following such development, the joint delegation of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) returned to resume talks on the constitutional declaration and form the transitional government having the technical team finalized its duties and paved the way for the sessions to start on Thursday, August 1st, 2019.

Nonetheless, the recent attacks of the Rapid Support Forces on high school students’ demonstration on July 29, 2019, killing six students and injuring more 60 others have left another dark cloud on the trust between the FFC and TMC. Such bloody day broke out in the centre of the controversial results of the investigations on the recent massacres of May 13th, 2019 and June 3rd, 2019 against the peaceful sit-in in front of the Sudanese Armed Forces Headquarter proving the failure of the TMC to protect the rights of peaceful protesters and their lives. Such frequent failure has made many people doubt on the efficiency of the transitional power shared between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC).

If so, should the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North led by Abdel Aziz al-Hilu (SPLM-N) trust the transitional government to negotiate peace matters and joint the democratic transition process? To many observers, the answer seems no leading to a more complicated posed as to why the al-Hilu’s rebel group should not trust the transitional government to negotiate peace matters and join the democratic transition process? In response, there are many reasons and interwoven issues that require the rebel group to exercise caution argued by observers. These reasons and issues are partly related to the trustworthiness of the Transitional Military Council (TMC), and partly related to the lack of unity storming the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) as discussed earlier.

Among the many observers, Luka Biong Deng Kuol for instance, in his article “Why Sudanese should cautiously celebrate the political declaration?”, published on July 21st, 2019, warned the Sudanese people on to exercise caution since the signing of the political declaration on July 17th, 2019, and people started to celebrate. To him, while there are many reasons to celebrate the event, there are many other reasons to remain cautious, as well. Concerning the changing position of the TMC in many instances over “the transitional legislative assembly, he doubts whether the Transitional Military Council (TMC) is genuine in transferring powers to the civilians.” Furthermore, he excepts the emergence of new power calculus that may affect the agreement and lead to the same issues that caused the uprising.

Additionally, Kuol raises fears over the Rapid Response Forces controversial position, and their commander, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo ‘Hemedti’s growing power politically, economically and militarily. Such fears rest on the ability to control Hemedti, the dominant figure in the Sudanese political arena, along with economic resources generated from smuggling gold and deploying troops to participate in the Yemen war. Using his coercive troop controlling the state security, the general may seize power waging a coup at any time if laws and regulations imposed by the transitional government go against him. For instance, the government imposes laws that regulate the gold mining industry, or “the findings of the national investigation committee implicated him in the atrocities committed on the 3rd of June.”

Furthermore, Kuol raises concerns about the threats of unsettled peace issues in war and conflicts affected peripheral areas. The Darfur crisis, for instance, involves several interwoven complications to address in terms of peace and reconciliation matters as many observers have stressed. First, the forcibly displaced indigenous people should be enabled to return to their lands which have already been occupied by new settlers. Having their homes, properties and livelihood destroyed, these indigenous people to return to their lands, need compensations, comprehensive reconstruction and bringing those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity to justice. This means violators should be held accountable and prosecuted, regardless of their ranks and political status.

If so, this will be a threatening and a worry driving situation for some members of the Transitional Military Council (TMC), such as the head and his deputy who were deeply involved in the Darfur crisis. Such threats may create tension and foil the transition period as they may resort to power consolidation resisting prosecution by any means necessary. Similarly, President Omar Bashir resorted to the same policy as the only means to flee the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant and prosecution. Likewise, the same process applies to the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile, in terms of compensations and reconstruction, though the issue of land occupation by new settlers does not apply to these areas. These pre-peace and reconciliation issues are valid reasons that drive Kuol’s worries.

Despite reflecting such gloomy image, Kuol still could argue several reasons for Sudanese people to be optimistic. Among them, the strong determination of the Sudanese people for freedom and civilian-led government serves as an irresistible safeguard for the survival of the implementation of the 5th July Agreement and political declaration. A worth mentioning point of strength in such determination is the readiness of all Sudanese to sacrifice even their lives to protect the goals of their revolution, which strove 30 years to overthrow the world’s most brutal regime. The peaceful protests and demonstrations held by the Sudanese people facing machine guns was a strong indicator to their vigilance to quell any “temptations for the military to forge coups.”

If finds a proper setting Kuol continues, the transitional government may establish a strong foundation for stability, sustainability “and inclusive economic growth.” As mediators by backed international support, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Union (AU) are expected to oversee the implementation of all agreements providing strong guarantees. Similarly, if the transitional government sets a proper economic recovery plan, “the Gulf countries, some Islamic Countries, European Union, China, and Troika will be willing to support.” In terms of the grievances of the conflict zones, Kuol believes in many potential opportunities to dress them embracing diversity and avoiding “the exclusive Arabo-Islamic identity-centric.”

Supporting Kuol’s pessimistic arguments, Kate Almquist Knopf and Payton Knopf in their article “Sudan faces an inflection point — and needs US leadership”, published in the Hill on July 30th, 2019, describe the agreement as a cursory power-sharing deal similar to that of South Sudan, which “failed to prevent upwards of 400,000 people from dying in the conflict that broke out in that country in late 2013.” To them, the Transitional Military Council (TMC) is not expected to bring security rather than a catastrophe yielding a flow of smuggled weapons, refugees and terrorists into the neighbouring countries such as Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Chad and Libya. Thus, will be the image of the Sudanese state gripped by General Hemetti and his militia, along with some generals internationally well-known for their war crimes in the war affected-zones.

Their atrocities and violations of human rights committed in Darfur, Nuba Mountains, the Blue Nile, and recently in Khartoum on June 3rd, 20019 provide valid evidence supporting Kuol’s calls for “Sudanese people to be cautious.” Likewise, the current the crisis in Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile provides strong evidence supporting Kate Knopf and Payton Knopf’s arguments raising worries about the future of the agreement referring to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005. Both areas during the second civil that continued over 20 years, were fighting with Southern Sudan against the North; nevertheless, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in its peace deal, addressed their destiny separately. The peace deal enabled Southern Sudan to exercise rights of self-determination following an interim period of six years and a referendum, which ended in 2011 leading to the independence of South Sudan.

In contrast, the destiny of the two areas was left for the ill-defined popular consultation, which resulted in the current crisis. More importantly, besides separating peace issues of the two areas from Southern Sudan and ill-defining their destiny, the implementation of the agreement was handled poorly and carelessly without monitoring and supervision of the mediators. Such negligence gave Khartoum greater leverage to downplay the process and drag the two regions into a vicious war. Kate Knopf and Payton Knopf fear the occurrence of similar evil destiny to the power-sharing agreement between the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) and the Transitional Military Council (TMC). Such fears seem valid since the agreement legitimizes the junta and the security system of the Islamist’s regime.

Raising the same concerns argued by Kuol, Kate Knopf and Payton Knopf, Justin Lynch in his article “How Sudan’s Military Overcame the Revolution”, published on August 5th, 2019, by the FP Group, discusses how the Transitional Military Council (TMC) kidnapped the revolution, which aimed to uproot the Islamists’ regime. Buying time for months as Lynch argues, the junta successfully forged the goals of the revolution using diversified tactics involving “slaughter, diplomacy, and deception.” The game finally came up with a deal falling far short of the expectations of the Sudanese people who sacrificed their lives a full civilian-led transitional government. Instead, “the agreement calls for a joint civilian and military council to lead the country for more than three years until elections in 2022.”

The most tragic deal of such agreement, “the military holds veto power over decisions in the country’s top body, and the junta remains free of civilian oversight.” Alex de Waal, the director of the World Peace Foundation believes “Hemeti’s leadership makes Sudan more unstable than it was under Bashir’s regime.” Despite such facts, there is no way out other than power-sharing with him, as long as the security system is in his grip, as well as the destiny of the Sudanese state. Cameron Hudson, the senior fellow of the Atlantic Council argues, Hemetti and the members of his Transitional Military Council “who kept killing up to the moment this deal was initialled are going to change their behaviour overnight because of words on a page.”

Lynch continues his assertions believing that the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) was not prepared to manage and carry out such negotiation as “they rarely reached a consensus and had no negotiating strategy.” Additionally, he argues, negotiators “accused another of secretly working with the military and passing sensitive information about internal tactics.” With such a poorly handled negotiating strategy, the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) have desperately fallen in the grip of the junta. This does not mean that the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) lack qualified negotiators who would fully achieve the goals of the revolution. In fact, they do have highly qualified and versed negotiators incomparable to those of the Transitional Military Council (TMC).

Nevertheless, the regional influence on both parties has defeated such a great revolution. The Transitional Military Council (TMC) for instance, protects the personal interests coming from the Saudi Arabia Emirates and Egypt to its members in return for protecting the interests of these states in Sudan by any means necessary. Saud Arabia and Emirate as Lynch asserts, boost millions of Dollars to the junta to mutually have Sudanese fighters trooped to fight in Yemen. Their ally, Egypt on the other hand, provides “diplomatic cover for the junta at the African Union.” In return, the junta supports Egypt’s security tracking and disrupting the activities of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist group residing in Sudan. Additionally, if the democratic transition in Sudan fully succeeds, it will inspire Egyptian people to revolt to achieve the same goals.

Similarly, some opposition groups within the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) are driven by mutual interests, some with the Axis of Saudi Arabia, Emirates and Egypt and other with the Axis of Qatar and Turkey. For instance, some members of Sudan Call Group allegedly reported having managed suspicious relationships involving the Axis of Saudi Arabia, Emirates and Egypt, as well as the Transitional Military Council (TMC) based on mutual interests, probably on shaping the structure and policies of the transitional power. These groups are named, the Umma National Party (NUP), the Sudanese Congress Party (SCoP), Sudan Liberation Movement-Minni-Minnawi (SLM-MM), and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North-Malik Agar (SPLM-N Agar), the rebel groups forming the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF).

At a time, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel group, the member of the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) manages similar suspicious contacts with Qatar, the which led the Ethiopian authorities to arrest and attempt to deport the leader of the group, Gibril Ibrahim last July. While the delegation of the group was in Addis Ababa last July discussing peace issues with some members of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), the Ethiopian secret service frequently tracked suspicious contacts between Ibrahim and the Qatari diplomatic mission in Addis Ababa. Accordingly, the Ethiopian security services had assessed the situation and decided to deport the group before the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) and the Ethiopian Prime Minister intervene and stop the action.

Thus, is the issue creating distrust and accusation in the coalition indicated by Lynch. If not the strength, honesty, unity, determination, popularity and patriotism of the Sudanese Professionals Association, a member of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), the revolution might have not achieved the current achievements falling far short of the expectations. Nonetheless, the most outstanding achievement so far, the revolution has achieved the strong unity of the Sudanese people, regardless of their, religious, regional, ethnic and political affiliations against the corrupt Islamists regime, which consolidated power for 30 years utilizing such divisive elements. Additionally, the Sudanese people have discovered the Sudanese Professionals Association as the most reliable entity that should take over the leadership of the Sudanese state replacing all political parties.

As long as this entity in leadership, hopes may not die as they are still expected to play a critical role to safeguard the goals of the revolution, though Lynch’s arguments on the type of transitional power being formed cause worries. Sarcastically commenting he argues; “Sudan’s new authority was evident at the signing ceremony. Hemetti, Lynch continues, “the head of the country’s feared Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group, which is accused of a slew of atrocities, hinted at his commitment to rule of law as he showcased the final document.” Then surprising Lynch draws the scene of the signing moment arguing, “Hemeti held the new constitution upside down.” Reading between the lines of these arguments, one can imagine the size of calamity Sudan may face.

Superficially, Lynch’s arguments seem to draw sarcastic images reflecting the scene of signing ceremony; however, they support the fears raised by Kate Knopf and Payton Knopf earlier. Power-sharing involving this Transitional Military Council (TMC) as they argue, would not bring security rather than a catastrophe yielding a flow of smuggled weapons, refugees and terrorists into the neighbouring countries. Besides all, Sudan has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1993 for its critical role in harbouring and supporting both international domestic terrorist groups. Despite expelling Osama Bin Laden and many of the terrorist groups affiliated with his al-Qaeda Organization in 1996, there are still many sleeper cells inside Sudan ready to reemerge capitalizing on security vacuum.

Moreover, some observers allegedly argue that the controversial Rapid Response Forces include some members from West Africa, who might be affiliated with Nigeria’s Boko Haram Group. Accordingly, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North led by Abdel Aziz al-Hilu (SPLM-N) has expressed deep frustration and pessimism reacting to the August 4th, 2019 constitutional declaration signed by the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) and the Transitional Military Council. General Abdel Aziz al-Hilu, the leader of the rebel group describes the entire agreement as the bottling of old wine in new bottles and an introduction of a broader civil war than the previous ones. To him, both the political and constitutional declarations are a prescription for another totalitarian regime.

As a result, self-determination will always remain the ceiling demand of the rebel group unless a voluntary unity is achieved as al-Hilu stressed. In this sense, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), al-Hilu’s group very difficult options to exercise. Among these, rejecting the agreement and prepare for a new phase of war with the new regime. Despite the cost, this measure seems a better option for the group to fully achieve its goals, as long as the group is now controlling 80% of South Kordofan State and the Blue Nile State. Otherwise, accepting the agreement as it is, join the democratic transition to achieve peace from within, working with the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) and causing pressure on the junta.

The danger of this measure is the growing distrust gap decaying the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) on one hand, the distrust gap between the junta and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) on the other hand. Deciding to join the democratic transition to achieve peace from within, in the centre of such political turmoil and security gap, would be a suicidal move for al-Hilu and his group, especially the political figures and military commanders. With reference to the causes of war in 2011, probably, the rebel group would be aware of such danger based on its previous experience with tactics and scenarios carried out by the former regime, and especially the junta is perceived as an extension of the ousted regime.

The only safest option is the international community decides to exercise its moral responsibility towards the Sudanese people and avoid the mistakes of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). In this case, the United States, the European Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Union (AU) cause pressure on the junta exercising all means necessary to hand over power to civilians. Furthermore, these powers strictly disrupt the influences of Saudi Arabia, Emirates, Egypt, Qatar and Turkey in Sudan to enable Sudanese people to their future. Accordingly, al-Hilu’s group would decide to join the democratic transition reconsidering the demands for self-determination.

Nevertheless, Lynch had earlier expressed fears about the United States ability to suppress Saudi Arabia, Emirates and Egypt. According to him, the American strategy is aligned with the interests of this axis as the American senior official, Steven Koutsis expressed earlier in Khartoum. Koutsis, as Lynch asserts, stated in an official meeting that “the United States should share the values of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, according to six people in the room. The meeting was held last May in Washington involving some “government officials and experts at the Atlantic Council.” If so, even the third option, described as the safest, seems too difficult to yield peace between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), al-Hilu’s group and the junta.

To conclude, despite ambitious and optimistic stance expressed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), al-Hilu’s group in Addis Ababa and Juba last July, when the group expressed its support to the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), along with the decision to halt hostilities for five months, its ambition and optimism have suddenly been dumped by the August 4th, 2019 constitutional declaration between the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) and the junta. Last July the rebel group expressed willingness to negotiate peace issues with a transitional power supported by the Sudanese people. Nevertheless, the constitutional declaration has delivered a premature born. Accordingly, the group would rather escalate demanding self-determination.