The UN's special envoy to Sudan has said he is cautiously optimistic about the prospects for an end to the political crisis crippling the country since the military seized power last year.
However, while briefing the UN Security Council in New York, the envoy — Germany’s Volker Perthes — stated his alarm about ethnic and sectarian violence in western and southern regions of Sudan as well as a worsening food shortage caused by the country’s economic crisis and, more recently, flooding.
The October 25 army takeover derailed Sudan’s democratic transition, ending a partnership between the military and pro-democracy movements in an administration that ruled after the fall in April 2019 of former leader Omar Al Bashir.
The power grab by army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan also plunged the country into its worst economic crisis in living memory and led to a protest movement demanding that the generals step down and stay out of politics.
At least 117 protesters have been killed since last October by the security forces during street rallies. At least 6,000 demonstrators were also injured.
“The overall situation will continue to worsen unless a political situation is found to restore a credible, fully functioning civilian-led government,” Mr Perthes told the Security Council late on Tuesday.
“Such a solution is by no means guaranteed. But there is a chance to reach a political agreement that would inaugurate a new transitional period towards democratic governance.”
He said a continuing debate about Sudan’s political future was showing a “degree of commonality,” although important differences remained on the institutional division of power, particularly the role of the military, whose generals led the country for most of the 60-plus years since independence in 1956.
“But the gaps have narrowed, and there is wide-ranging consensus now, among other things, on the need for a civilian head of state, an independent prime minister and a Cabinet of experts or technocrats, not party leaders,” the envoy said.
Mr Perthes earlier this year led an initiative to bring all sides together for a dialogue about Sudan's political future. The attempt was abandoned after pro-democracy movements boycotted the process, leaving the military alone with its allies at the negotiating table.
Citing encouraging signs that recently emerged in Sudan’s political scene, he spoke about the creation of an independent union for journalists and a draft transitional constitutional declaration put together by a lawyers’ union.
The declaration was welcomed by Gen Mohamed Dagalo, the powerful commander of the Rapid Support Forces, a heavily armed and battle-hardened paramilitary force that fought ethnic African rebels alongside Al Bashir's forces in the western Darfur region in the 2000s.
Gen Dagalo is also Gen Al Burhan’s deputy on the ruling, military-led Sovereign Council. He acknowledged in a recent BBC interview that last October’s takeover failed to achieve its declared aims. This was a dramatic departure from the narrative to which Gen Al Burhan has persistently stuck since last year.
Mr Perthes said the violence in Darfur and the southern Blue Nile region was of particular concern. He said his office documented 40 incidents from May to August this year of inter-communal violence resulting in the deaths of more than 300 civilians.
On the country’s food situation, he said 11.7 million people were facing acute hunger and that this number was growing.
“While the UN and partner organisations managed to reach 7.1 million people in need since January, the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan is only funded at 32 per cent, less than a third,” he said.