US envoy heading back to Sudan to boost civilian transition

Jeffrey Feltman’s trip to Khartoum this week will be his second in less than a month

US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman met Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in Khartoum last month. AFP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman is returning to Khartoum in a bid to boost Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok's civilian government as it faces a growing crisis and calls for its dissolution.

Multiple officials told The National on Tuesday that Mr Feltman would arrive in Sudan at the end of the week, marking his second Khartoum trip in less than a month. His deputy, Payton Knopf, is already in Khartoum.

The increased US diplomatic traffic comes as support drops for Mr Hamdok's government, in large part over a tough series of economic reforms.

Hundreds of protesters on Tuesday joined a sit-in demonstration in the Sudanese capital demanding the dissolution of the country's embattled transitional government. Further protests are expected throughout the week.

Speaking to The National, a senior US official expressed concern over the fate of Sudan's civilian transitional government since the fall of Omar Al Bashir in 2019.

“The transitional government is still very fragile,” the official said.

“It's important that the international community and the United States do what we can to support, especially a country like Sudan, [which has] taken some huge steps in its democratic transition.”

A quarrel between the government and the military has highlighted the fragility of the transition to democratic rule.

The two camps engaged in a public and bitter war of words after a failed military coup last month, with each side blaming the other for the country’s many woes.

The US official stressed the need for the transition camp to unify and integrate Sudan's security factions.

Mr Hamdok has described the crisis as the most severe facing Khartoum since Al Bashir’s removal.

“The serious political crisis that we are living in right now, I would not be exaggerating to say, is the worst and most dangerous crisis that not only threatens the transition, but threatens our whole country,” he said in a televised speech on Sunday.

Experts saw the US diplomatic push as a logical step for President Joe Biden's administration to safeguard the civilian leadership.

“Mr Feltman’s repeated visits reflect both the seriousness of the political crisis facing Sudan and the administration's level of commitment to ensuring that the transition stays on track,” Cameron Hudson of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Centre told The National.

While US support has been vital, it has failed to push back against the rising influence of those trying to undermine the civilian transition, he noted.

“The US needs to start challenging the naysayers and confronting the spoilers,” Mr Hudson said.

“They should be reminded that US financial support to Sudan is contingent upon the country continuing on the path towards civilian, democratic rule.”

Alberto Fernandez, a former US charge d’affaires in Sudan, said divides between the civilian and military establishments, as well as internal divisions in the two camps, pose a serious challenge.

“Military-civilian relations have deteriorated over the past month and have done so wide open in public. It is also very dangerous that there are multiple contending factions within the military and civilian sectors,” Mr Fernandez told The National.

He commended Washington’s efforts so far in mitigating the situation, but said multiple issues remain.

“There is frustration with the pace of reform, intra-military competition, provocations by Islamists — any of which could tip the scales into a deeper crisis at any time before the 2022 [general] elections,” he said.

Mr Fernandez warned of the risk of Sudan sliding backwards, leading to the installation of “incompetent civilian governments as happened in 1964 and 1985 — both ended by military coups".

Finding an “off-ramp” for the military leadership in Khartoum would be ideal but is unrealistic given the polarisation of power brokers, he added.

For Washington, the “path forward is to try to keep things on an even keel by constant engagement, keep warning all parties — especially the military — of the risk of miscalculation and desperately try to improve both the economic situation and governance in the meantime".

Updated: October 20, 2021, 6:27 AM