Sudan's Hamdok calls for divided factions to work together or face devastating civil war

Prime minister says growing divisions among pro-democracy groups could tear Sudan asunder

FILE PHOTO: Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in Berlin, Germany, February 14, 2020. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok on Tuesday pleaded with pro-democracy groups to work together again and avoid a “devastating civil war”.

Mr Hamdok said the groups behind an uprising that removed autocrat Omar Al Bashir in 2019 must close ranks again for the good of Sudan.

In a televised address, he also tried to reassure Sudanese that the ambitious but harsh reforms introduced by his transitional government would eventually turn the economy around.

Hours earlier, peace talks between the government and a major rebel group were suspended, ostensibly to give both sides time to review the process and find compromises.

The talks took place in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. No date was announced for a resumption.

Mr Hamdok’s comments reflected the gravity of the political, security and economic situation in Sudan, 26 months after the removal of Al Bashir after months of deadly street protests against his 29-year rule.

Mr Hamdok, a career UN economist, took office in August 2019 as part of a power-sharing agreement between the generals who removed Al Bashir and the pro-democracy groups who organised the protests.

Tension has been simmering between the civilian and military wings of the transitional administration over the boundaries of each side’s authority.

The country is also dealing with a surge in violent crime, shortages of basic items such as bread and petrol, and consumer price rises as it moves towards democratic rule.

“Our country is facing harsh circumstances that threaten its unity and cohesion, along with the spread of hate speech and divisions,” Mr Hamdok said.

“These divisions could lead us to chaos, empower criminal gangs and disputes between segments of the population. This can lead to a devastating civil war.”

There were violent street protests in Khartoum on Thursday and Friday, sparked by a steep increase in fuel prices as part of the government's drive to remove state subsidies.

Angry crowds in the low thousands closed major roads in the capital, burnt tyres and destroyed private property. Shops were looted in parts of the city.

Mr Hamdok said the violence and crime gripping Sudan was mostly the result of divisions among the pro-democracy groups who led the uprising.

He also blamed “enemies of the revolution” and supporters of Al Bashir’s regime.

“The divisions among the forces of the revolution give room to its enemies to operate and conspire,” Mr Hamdok said.

There are fractures in the alliance of political parties, trade and professional unions and student and women’s organisations who led the protests against Al Bashir’s regime.

Mr Hamdok acknowledged the “cruelty and toughness” of the reforms his government introduced.

“But it is the only remedy for our situation,” he said. “The realistic solution lies in productivity and the potential of the agricultural sector.”

Sudan has in recent weeks had much of its $60 billion foreign debt forgiven and secured hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from international agencies including the World Bank.

Its removal last year from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism qualified it for financial assistance from donors and international financial agencies.

Its efforts to end long-running conflicts in its western and southern regions led to a peace deal with several rebel groups last October.

Most of those groups wielded little power and held no territory.

But the government last week began peace negotiations with one of the major rebel groups in the country, the Sudan’s People’s Liberation Movement-North, but they were abruptly suspended on Tuesday.

The group controls large areas of territory in Sudan's western and southern regions.

Delegates said the two sides were in agreement over most of the issues discussed but more work was needed to iron out remaining differences.

“The government delegation will return for the next round once the right conditions are in place to discuss the remaining outstanding issues,” said Gen Shamseldeen Al Kabashi, the chief government delegate.

Sudan has suffered civil strife since it gained independence in 1956.

Those conflicts, which killed and displaced millions, devastated the economy and contributed to military coups that ousted democratically elected governments and put generals in power.

Sudan’s economic woes, possibly the worst since independence, are largely caused by the 2011 secession of the oil-rich south of the country after more than two decades of civil war.

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