Sudan’s Many Challenges

Sudan is currently in a dismal state of affairs. A dwindling economy, three armed conflicts in the “peripheries” and dysfunctional state institutions all but tell the whole story.

Omar al Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) came to power in 1989 in a coup that ousted Sadig Al Mahdi’s democratically elected government. The NCP came to power as the National Islamic Front (NIF) under the leadership of Hassan Al Turabi, who some hold responsible for the current situation of the country.

Turabi is the leader of the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP) after a fall out with President Bashir in 1999 that saw a split in the NIF, and eventual formation of the NCP and PCP.

Sudan’s economic crisis is partly due to the loss of 75% of its oil income after the secession of South Sudan in July 2011; and partly due to poor planning. During the oil years of 1999-2011, Sudan was exporting a maximum of 500,000 barrels a day. The government implemented a “free market” policy to attract foreign investment. During this boom, health, education and other public services were privatized, which eventually brought about the demise of public state institutions.

In the mean time, the government decided against using the oil money to revamp the agricultural sector, which employs around 70% of Sudan’s work force. After the secession of South Sudan, the government made some desperate attempts to revitalize the economy but found no promise in the agricultural sector which it had excluded from its expansion policies. This left gold as the only option, which now accounts for a significant part of Sudan’s GDP.

Sudan’s 2013 budget submitted to parliament in December 2012 allocated a meager 60 million SDG (approx. 13.5m USD) to agriculture, while ministerial affairs received a ridiculous 1.5 billion SDG (approx. 3.3bn USD). These allocations emphasize the incompetence plaguing the Sudanese government.

The Sudanese government is now engaged in three armed conflicts. The war in Darfur with the late Khalil Ibrahim’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) is still much underway, and the new conflicts in the Blue Nile state and South Kurdofan are claiming lives of civilians every day. The Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) which was signed between the government and the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) hasn’t been implemented as such; primarily because the conflict started as a rebellion by the JEM against the misrepresentation of the Darfur region in the central government in Khartoum.

The late Khalil Ibrahim refused to be at the negotiating table in Doha due to the presence of other smaller civilian movements, claiming that peace agreements are signed between warring parties, the JEM at the time being the only armed group in Darfur. The LJM is an aggregation of smaller civilian movements concerned with Darfur’s political future. Despite the JEM’s refusal to participate, the peace agreement was signed. To accentuate the failures of the DDPD, a branch of the JEM is now willing to go to the negotiation table for a new peace agreement.

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The remnants of Ibrahim’s original JEM have formed an alliance with the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army – North (SPLA-N) and other opposition parties and figures to form the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), a rebel group vowing to overthrow Bashir’s government. The SPLA-N is fighting in both the Blue Nile state and South Kurdofan, under the leaderships of Malik Agar and Abdul Aziz Al-Hilu respectively. Agar was elected governor of the Blue Nile state and eventually ousted by the government, and Al-Hilu is contesting a rigged election in South Kurdofan state that brought a pro-NCP governor to power.

The SPLA-N consists of soldiers who fought under John Garang’s SPLA in the North-South civil war, and new recruits. Constant reports of indiscriminate bombings in South Kurdofan by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) under the auspice of the Sudanese government have caused concern for many human rights activists around the world.

A recent charter signed by several mainstream Sudanese opposition parties – and several smaller ones – calls for the overthrow of Bashir’s government. The charter, termed the New Dawn charter, was ironically signed in Kampala. Some of the signatories were detained by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) on their return to Sudan. The Sudanese government was highly critical of the charter, and the NISS called for a ban on all political parties in Sudan. A pro-government religious institution, the Sudan Scholar Council, went as far as stating that the signatories of the charter were “no longer Muslims.”

Despite the efforts of the opposition parties in Sudan to make amends, it seems signing a charter is all they can do now. This is not the first, and definitely not the last charter that will be created in an attempt to get rid of Bashir’s regime. However, efforts abroad are not reflective of the opposition parties’ activities on the ground in Sudan.

A document released by a cohort of parties last September demanded changes in the central government. The document consisted of 25 points, and was three pages long. As a concerned citizen, when my government fails me, I look to the opposition, and when the opposition produces a three page document after 23 years as the “opposition,” I start to lose hope. And I think most Sudanese people have.

Moez Ali is an engineer, an aspiring writer, and Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of 500 Words Magazine. He is currently based in Southampton, UK where he is pursuing an MSc in Sustainable Energy Technologies.