Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 1 May 2019

With Egypt at the Helm, the African Union is No Longer an Impartial Actor on Sudan


By Osman al-Hassan

On 15 April, the African Union Peace and Security Council (AU-PSC) issued a communique condemning and rejecting the seizure of power by the Sudanese military. This raised expectations that the African Union will play its rightful role in upholding the aspirations of the people of Sudan, and African citizens more broadly, for democratic governance, peace and prosperity. The communique demanded that the Sudanese military hand over power to a transitional civilian-led political authority by 30 April 2019, and that if it fails to do so, the AU-PSC will automatically suspend Sudan’s membership in the AU. Today, however, the AU-PSC did not suspend Sudan’s membership in the AU and decided to give the Transitional Military Council (TMC) two months to hand over power to a civilian authority.

This represents a grave violation of the African Union’s own legal framework adopted in response to military coups or more broadly unconstitutional changes of government. The Lomé Declaration, which is the main legal text that governs the AU-PSC’s response in these situations, calls for the immediate suspension of the concerned member state and states that “A period of up to six months should be given to the perpetrators of the unconstitutional change to restore constitutional order.” The Lome Declaration also states that “At the expiration of the six months suspension period, a range of limited and targeted sanctions against the regime that stubbornly refuses to restore constitutional order should be instituted, in addition to the suspension from [the AU]”.

What transpired between 15 and 30 April?

On 23 April, the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is also currently the Chair of the African Union, convened a meeting of selected African Heads of State which “recommended” an extension of three months for the TMC to hand over power. Since then, there has been sustained pressure on members of the AU-PSC to take up the recommendation of the Cairo meeting. While the meeting itself had no legal basis to take decisions, it has interfered with and undermined the role of the AU-PSC as the principal AU decision making organ on matters of peace and security on the continent.

An impartial player?

The Cairo meeting demonstrated how some powerful African countries can instrumentalize the African Union in pursuit of their own narrow national interests. The military government in Egypt- for obvious reasons- is not interested in genuine democratic transformation in Sudan, and therefore, supports and maintains strong ties with the current leadership of the TMC.

Furthermore, given numerous influences on the African Union Commission, the credibility and integrity of its assessments and reporting on developments in Sudan has become highly questionable. Therefore, any African Union engagement to mediate between the military council and the Declaration for Freedom and Change, the main opposition coalition spearheading the peaceful movement, can no longer be viewed as credible, impartial, nor guided by the aspirations of the people of Sudan.

While the trajectory of Sudan’s historic political transition will ultimately be determined by developments on the ground and the will of the Sudanese people, engagement with key regional and external actors will remain critical. Unfortunately, the African Union, through its unprincipled actions, has undermined its own legitimacy in the eyes of the Sudanese people and can no longer be an effective interlocutor on Sudan.

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