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Sudan's National Dialogue: A major step in the right direction

Image of Prime Minister, General Bakri Hassan Saleh (L) and Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir [N. Sam Wroth/Twitter ]
Image of Prime Minister General Bakri Hassan Saleh (L) and Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir [N. Sam Wroth/Twitter ]

The two-year process of Sudan's National Dialogue culminated last week with the appointment of the Prime Minister, General Bakri Hassan Saleh. In a few days, it will become clear which prominent opposition group leaders will be appointed to the new government of reconciliation.

The process of the National Dialogue has been long and drawn out. It included almost 9,000 participants, took more than 300 meetings, 325 working papers and 648 committees deliberating in almost 1,200 hours of meetings. The process also brings to an end the political marginalisation of over 80 political parties, some members of which were imprisoned or have waged war against the 28-year rule of President Omar Al-Bashir.

1,200

    hours of meetings were held as part of the National Dialogue

The dialogue, which declared "Sudan is a homeland big enough to accommodate all", provided a political and economic road map for political pluralism under a pseudo-presidential system but within a defined Sudanese identity.

At the top of the country's agenda are attempts to end the violent conflicts raging in the Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan, which continues to drain its meager $97.2 billion gross domestic income. The release of 127 prisoners by the Sudan People's Liberation Army/North was welcomed by the government who claimed it as a response to its unilaterally declared ceasefire. However, the conflict which has led to the displacement of millions and to the loss of tens of thousands of lives is by no means settled.

Heading the Peace and Unity Committee set up by the National Dialogue is the president himself, who called on the commission to officially "abstain from either prosecuting the President of the Republic so as not to impede his full role in achieving peace or arresting and committing for trial any Sudanese abroad." This was a clear reference to the warrant for his arrest for war crimes in Darfur issued by the International Criminal Court.

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As part of the peace process is a recommendation that tribal militias be demobilised and disarmed. The aim is to prevent a repetition of the clashes between opposition and government militias in Darfur. In addition, the National Dialogue recommended the creation of a land commission with clearly stated legal functions to arbitrate and settle land disputes such as the differences over nomadic grazing and arable farming rights that precipitated the Darfur conflict.

Provision for weapons to be carried only by the military and security forces is also another priority to combat the illegal private possession of weapons. The dialogue therefore called for "the declaration of a general amnesty and the release of individuals and military personnel and civilians who have been tried or imprisoned because of conflicts". That has resulted in yesterday's announcement by President Al-Bashir that 259 prisoners involved in conflicts have been set free.

Given that the government appears to be fulfilling its promises, the opposition parties are clearly optimistic about the direction the country is heading. Leader of a faction of the Ummah party, Mubarak Al-Fadil, welcomed the changes but warned that the government also had to consider several key issues, "improving living conditions of the average citizens, alleviating their suffering and developing the economy by combatting corruption and preventing the squandering of public funds."

259

    prisoners were released by President Omar Al-Bashir

A report by Transparency International, published after the secession of the South, blames Sudan's decades of political turmoil for the challenges including corruption, fragile state institutions, low administrative capacity and weak systems of checks and balances that the country faces. Last year, Transparency listed Sudan in 14th position out of the 100 most corrupt countries in the world.

In addition, concerns about the direction of foreign policy have also been expressed by the opposition, if the new government could usher a new era of cooperation and stability there are hopes of substantial change. "Peace in the country is an important entrance for the normalisation of foreign relations," said Al Fadil.

He underlined the importance of taking advantage of the cordial ties with Saudi Arabia and UAE to assist economic and human development; implying that the two countries could be important in offsetting the damage caused by US economic sanctions that Sudan's Finance Minister, Badr Al-Din Mahmoud, confirmed had cost Sudan nearly $45 billion.

It remains to be seen whether the Trump administration will reinstate the sanctions imposed in 1993 when Sudan was designated as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Sudan's inclusion in the US travel ban and Trump's statement that Sudan 'still had more to do' suggests a complete lifting of sanctions is a long way off.

Sudan's strong commitment to the Palestinian cause, the right for Palestinians to return and the right to establish an independent state remains unchanged. Despite this, voices during the National Dialogue seem to favour the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel. It has been reported that sections of the opposition on the Foreign Relations Committee supported the idea, but the motion was not adopted as policy in the National Dialogue Document released in September 2016.

The on-going meetings between the opposition and the government are expected to result in the announcement of a cabinet of ministers that will be officially appointed by President Omar Al-Bashir. Reports suggest that the final appointments should be concluded within the next ten days.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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