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Roadmap to Sudan's revival
Published in Ahram Online on 22 - 10 - 2019

A breakthrough in negotiations was achieved between the Sudanese government and armed groups after more than a week of talks supported by neighbouring countries and international powers. The negotiations aimed at closing the long chapter of conflicts that flared between the two parties during the rule of ousted president Omar Al-Bashir.
In Juba, capital of South Sudan, the two parties signed a political agreement focusing on “halting hostile activities” and laying out a roadmap for direct negotiations, international news agencies reported head of the Revolutionary Front Al-Hadi Idriss as saying.
The Sudan Revolutionary Front comprises the armed groups that fought against Al-Bashir's regime to the west, in Darfur, south of the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains, nearby South Sudan.
Juba, in the vicinity of the location of armed movements, hosted peace talks. The opening session was held in the attendance of Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his Egyptian counterpart Mustafa Madbouli. The talks were headed by President of the Sudanese Sovereign Council Abdel-Fattah Burhan and South Sudanese leader Salva Kiir.
The negotiating government delegation was led by Vice President of the Sovereign Council Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hemedti, while Abdel-Wahed Nour, the leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement fighting in Darfur, was a no-show.
The negotiation halls were filled with an air of optimism. The armed movements have a lot in common between them, on the one hand, and with the Alliance of Freedom and Change, on the other.
The new government of Abdalla Hamdok is working tirelessly to remove Sudan from the US list of countries harbouring terrorism. But this will not happen unless sustainable and just peace is achieved in the country that has been worn out by decades of civil war.
Observers are noting regional and international interest in Sudan's affairs, first among which is making peace.
The Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry tweeted on its official account that Riyadh was working towards “lifting Sudan off the terrorism list”, in addition to “establishing a number of promising investment projects… and upgrading existing projects”.
This is in line with Hamdok's statement that his visit to the kingdom and the United Arab Emirates earlier this month was not “to ask for aid from anyone. We want our brothers to come to Sudan to invest.”
The current investment climate in Sudan is not suitable, said Fayez Al-Salik, editorial advisor at the Sudanese Change website. “We need a long time to rehabilitate the investment climate, starting with halting war, adjusting the legal structure and upgrading the infrastructure,” Al-Salik said.
“Nonetheless, there are fair investment opportunities in Sudan in the agricultural and livestock sectors that need marketing and promotion. But these also need a lot of time and effort,” he added.
The main obstacle, however, is the name of Sudan on the terrorist list, according to Al-Salik. This prevents Sudan from applying to receive loans from the World Bank and denies it large investments it desperately needs to give its ailing economy a boost.
Sudan was put on the US terrorist list in 1993 a few years after the Islamists rose to the helm following Omar Al-Bashir's military coup in 1989, orchestrated by late Islamist leader Hassan Al-Turabi.
Neighbouring African and Arab countries are pushing for the success of the Juba talks for various reasons. Africa wants to stop the migration of refugees and arms between its countries. The first step to do this is to stop the war in Sudan.
The Arab countries want to save Sudan from the dangerous Islamist hegemony. Many Arab countries are at war with Islamist terrorist groups.
As Sudan prepares to launch direct negotiations between the government and armed movements, the head of the Sovereign Council announced a ceasefire across the country, after negotiations faced a stumbling block on 16 October.
The Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) hinted at withdrawing from negotiations if government forces didn't withdraw from fighting zones in the Nuba Mountains, claiming the Sudan army attacked its lands the days prior, despite the unofficial ceasefire.
The two parties, however, resumed negotiations to reach a political settlement, which lays the groundwork for the armed movements to propose their five demands and formulate them in articles when the time comes to sign a peace deal.
The five demands are: the management of religious and cultural diversity; achieving social justice; instating citizenship; adopting democracy as a governing system and building a unified national army that is not subject to political polarisation.
Despite the prevailing optimism, the absence of Nour from negotiations was “unfortunate”, according to UN Undersecretary General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix in his statement to the UN Security Council.
“Our negotiators are sorry about Nour's rejection of the transitional process, the new government and joining peace talks, despite Abdalla Hamdok's initiation to meet with Nour in Paris on 30 September. In our opinion, all possible efforts should be exerted to convince concerned groups to seize the opportunity to instate peace,” Lacroix said.
Nour refused to acknowledge the civilian government formed after the toppling of the former regime. He demanded a referendum be held on the legitimacy of the new regime before entering peace talks.
The meeting between Hamdok and Nour in the French capital was “a personal meeting based on the request of the government leader”, said Al-Salik.
According to Lacroix, Nour's forces are still attacking Sudanese forces, kidnapped local employees working at international non-governmental organisations for ransom, and stole trade vehicles and items belonging to local humanitarian and medical organisations.
The Sudan Liberation Movement was founded in 2003, before it soon split into two groups under the leadership of Nour and Arcua Minnawi. The latter inked a deal with Al-Bashir's government according to which he was appointed senior assistant to the president of Sudan. Then he re-joined his armed group.
Meanwhile, the Islamist-leaning Justice and Equality Movement, supported by the opposition National Congress Party founded by Al-Turabi in 2000, is still active, but its power is waning.
At the same time, the SPLM-N is enforcing its position after the reconciliation of its armed wings south of the Blue Nile, spearheaded by Malek Aqar, and in Nuba Mountains, led by Abdel-Aziz Al-Helw.
There are still two vacant seats in the transitional government, which Hamdok said are reserved for the armed movements.
But the clock is ticking for Sudan to achieve peace due to the short life span of the transitional period — three years — during which the Sudanese need to feel hopeful about a future not governed by dictatorship.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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