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Sudan: Critics slam fresh dialogue as disingenuous

Jennifer Holleis | Kersten Knipp
June 8, 2022

Sudan's military leadership is embarking on talks with civilian groups. But critics warn that the supression of opposition to military rule continues and that the country's economic crisis is getting worse.

Sudanese demonstrators take the streets in Khartoum
Sudan has seen waves of protest since the 2021 coupImage: AFP

Following eight months of political stalemate, the Sudanese military leadership on Wednesday embarked on talks with civilian opposition groups.

The fresh dialogue comes after military ruler General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan last month  lifted the state of emergency which had been in place since the 2021 coup that brought him to power.

He also recently released 125 protesters and called for "a fruitful and meaningful dialogue that achieves stability during the transitional period."

This appears to be in contrast to his earlier position that he would only step down once a new elected government was in place.

Sudan's General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan
Is General Burhan changing his political direction due to political and economic pressure?Image: Mahmoud Hjaj/AA/picture alliance

Despite the easing of the military's grip, more than 70 activists remain in detention and only last weekend, another unarmed protester was shot dead by the military, making him the 100th fatality in anti-coup demonstrations, according to the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors.

'A glimmer of hope'

The UN's Integrated Mission for the Support of the Transition in Sudan (UNITAMS) has welcomed the new attempt at dialogue.

"This is a glimmer of hope. It offers the various Sudanese stakeholders an opportunity for constructive dialogue," the UN wrote in a statement ahead of the talks and emphasised that the UN, the African Union (AU) and the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) were open for a tripartite dialogue with civilian groups such as the main civilian group Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC).

However, while the FFC confirmed that it had received an invitation from the UN-AU-IGAD trio for a meeting with the military on Wednesday, the group "conveyed its apologies" and said they would not attend. According to news agency Reuters, the main reason was that the talks would include parties that supported the coup.

"Most people, especially activists, are quite suspicious of these [dialogue] claims, particularly because there is a perception that the international community seems to be insisting on some kind of negotiated settlement with those who conducted the coup," Mohammed Elnaiem, a Sudanese activist based in London, told DW.

Critics slam talks as disingenuous 

Mohamed Yousif Almustafa, a Sudanese activist in Khartoum, also doesn't regard a tripartite dialogue as a realistic option.

"We cannot consider any talks with Burhan under the current circumstances because he is trying to ensure he remains in the driving seat of the government," he told DW.

Protesters in Khartoum are held back by tear gas
Sudanese security forces often react with with tear gas and live ammunition to the protestsImage: Mahmoud Hjaj/AA/picture alliance

Almustafa believes that the "ultimate objective of any dialogue with the military is to reproduce the partnership with them, to guarantee their immunity from being accountable for the crimes they have committed."

Since the military coup in October 2021 when the army deposed the transitional government under Abdalla Hamdok, and replaced it with a Sovereign Council under military rule, civilians have been taking to the streets, calling for democracy and for the military to return "back to the barracks". During those demonstrations, 100 protesters have been killed so far and more than 5,000 have been injured.

"No one has been held accountable for these crimes. And the repression shows no sign of abating," Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned in a recent statement on Sudan.

Adama Dieng, the UN's designated expert on human rights in Sudan, said at the end of a visit to Khartoum last weekend that "there can be no justification for firing live ammunition at unarmed protesters. There is no justification and I insist on that."

Vegetable stand in Khartoum
Inflation and price hikes due to the war in Ukraine have made food almost unaffordableImage: ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP

Mounting economic pressure

Aside from the increasing domestic and international criticism, Sudan's rapid economic decline will likely also have added to Burhan's readiness for talks.

Since his declaration of a state of emergency in 2021, the international community has frozen aid funds. As a result, national debt has skyrocketed and the population of 45 million is facing massive economic pressure.

Last year's average inflation rate stood at a staggering 359% and the official unemployment rate is above 30%.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has recently warned of a worsening food crisis in 20 so-called "hunger hotspots," including Sudan and South Sudan. The organization expects that 30% of the population, or 10.9 million people, will be needing "lifesaving support this year — the highest number in the past decade."

The crisis is further exacerbated by the COVID pandemic and the effects of the Russian attack on Ukraine.

Political strategy

"The government is giving up its previous intransigent position for two main reasons," Ashraf Abdel Aziz, a political analyst in Sudan, told DW.

First, resistance in Sudan itself is growing.

"And second, the military has not been able to solve the economic crisis," he added.

The analyst suggests that General Burhan could be counting on a new political solution simply in the hope of retaining power.

Map of Sudan

Activist Elnaiem believes that "if the military wants to have any kind of say, it should figure out how it's going to give up its domination over significant sectors of Sudan's economy and pass it into the hands of the people, investigate the crimes and establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the crimes that the military and the Rapid Support Forces and the police and various other bodies of the country have committed. " He also insists that the military "should draw a roadmap of demobilizing all of the militias and its exit out of politics."

However, as of now, he does not see this is happening.

"It doesn't seem that that's what the military is interested in, nor does it seem that this is what the trilateral mechanism is about."

Edited by: Andreas Illmer

Jennifer Holleis
Jennifer Holleis Jennifer Holleis is an editor and commentator focusing on the Middle East and North Africa.
Kersten Knipp
Kersten Knipp Political editor with a focus on the Middle East
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