Sudan reforms should be under civilian authority, US says

Washington has warned Sudanese leaders that deviating from the transitional order risks harming bilateral ties

Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, right, meets US special envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman in Khartoum. Photo: AFP
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The US State Department has warned Sudan that its continued support in the post-Al Bashir era depends on whether the country's army generals and civilian politicians adhere to the transitional order agreed by both sides.

After the high profile visit to Sudan last week by US special envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, the State Department said: “It will be critical in this regard for the Sovereign Council to function as a collective body in discharging the duties assigned to it in the Constitutional Declaration.”

These duties, it added, include reaching a consensus on the date of the transfer of the chair of the Sovereign Council to a civilian, holding free elections and setting up clear measures to redress a legacy of human rights abuses and do justice to the victims.

Mr Feltman’s visit came amid tensions between the army and civilian politicians after a failed coup against the fledgling transitional council, the joint military-civilian group that has been tentatively leading the country towards democracy since the downfall of long-time dictator Omar Al Bashir in 2019.

Some senior civilian Cabinet officials say the coup attempt was a ruse orchestrated by army generals to strengthen their hand more than two years a power-sharing deal was signed following the mass protests that led to Al Bashir's ouster.

The fractious relationship between the members of the transitional council has been characterised by mistrust since the removal of Al Bashir.

Some civilian leaders believe that the army only toppled the Islamist despot when it became clear he would fall in a country that has witnessed repeated military takeovers since its independence in 1956.

The army, in turn, denies this. Its leader, Lt Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, said last Sunday the army would always protect the revolution and admitted that the army needed to purge its ranks of Al Bashir loyalists.

There have been mounting calls on civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to end the civilian-military partnership, which is described by young revolutionary activists as an unusual model.

Both sides have traded barbs publicly and blamed each other for Sudan’s difficulties.

US aid at risk

During his visit, Mr Feltman met Mr Hamdok, Sovereign Council Chairman Al Burhan and a cohort of politicians and representatives of the Forces of Freedom and Change Alliance, an umbrella group for opposition parties that negotiated with the army before inking transitional agreements.

“Deviation from this path and failure to meet key benchmarks will place at risk Sudan’s bilateral relationship with the United States, including significant US assistance, as well as the prospect of security co-operation to modernise the Sudanese armed forces and US support in the International Financial Institutions and for debt relief,” Mr Feltman warned the Sudanese leaders.

The US and Sudan are working together to remove sanctions and unfreeze assets after Sudan agreed to compensate victims of Al Qaeda attacks in Africa carried out with the support of Al Bashir.

The former dictator is in a prison in Khartoum and has been convicted of corruption. He is also wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity during the conflict in Darfur, western Sudan.

In an exclusive interview with The National in Khartoum last week, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam Al Mahdi said that the ruling military and civilian parties were divided over how to implement the handing of Al Bashir to the ICC.

Ms Al Mahdi said US-Sudanese relations had greatly improved since the removal of Al Bashir. She discussed the current administration in a positive light, nine months into Joe Biden’s presidency.

Sudan is facing a number of crises and transitional representatives have been trying to sign accords to end long-running civil and ethnic conflicts in the country, to bring peace and divert state funds devoted to security towards fixing the struggling economy after decades of international and US sanctions.

They are also in dispute with neighbouring Ethiopia over borders and the construction of the $5 billion Grand Renaissance Dam project, which Khartoum fears will cause flooding and water shortages without live information sharing and a legal mechanism for dispute resolution — two things Addis Ababa has refused.

Updated: October 03, 2021, 3:09 PM