Boldness required to end Sudan misery
December 12th, 2012
01:22 PM ET

Boldness required to end Sudan misery

By EJ Hogendoorn & Ben Dalton, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: EJ Hogendoorn is Deputy Africa Program Director for the International Crisis Group. Ben Dalton is a Communications & IT Officer for ICG. The views expressed are their own.

Last month’s arrest of senior security figures for allegedly plotting a coup showed how close Sudan is to even greater violence and disintegration. Despite the indictment by the International Criminal Court of President Omar al-Bashir, South Sudan’s secession, billions spent on humanitarian assistance and numerous other international interventions, civil war continues to plague the country. Only managed but fundamental governance reform can help it escape a pattern of chronic conflict and human misery.

Bashir remains a key hurdle, and it is time for him – and the international community – to face some painful realities. He must confront the fact that the challenges he and his ruling National Congress Party face are the gravest they have ever been and threaten the state’s stability and integrity. His own personal position is likely only to become ever more tenuous. International actors need to acknowledge that there is no lasting solution to decades of civil war without the willing participation of the president and the NCP.

Sudan needs more than quick deals or piece-by-piece regional solutions. The economy is in freefall, because of NCP economic mismanagement and corruption, as well as South Sudan’s decision to stop the production of oil that is exported through the north – the fees from which are a crucial source of revenue. Meanwhile, the army is being bled and the government coffers drained by ongoing fighting with the Sudan Revolutionary Front, an alliance of major rebel groups from Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. The budget crunch has led to austerity measures and inflation, which have driven civilian protests in Khartoum.

It has also led to growing dissent within NCP ranks. Many members – and former supporters – are unhappy with the party leadership’s, citing the South’s secession, misguided policies, and endemic corruption. In response, Bashir has further concentrated power in his inner circle, in effect doubling down on the model that brought Sudan to this desperate point in the first place.

The NCP leadership may be tempted by partial fixes that have worked in the past. But getting exports of southern oil flowing once again, or cutting a deal with the weak and fractured opposition, only postpones accounting for the big questions that have driven Sudan’s decades of conflict. At root are fundamental defects in how the country is governed, and it remains to be seen whether Khartoum recognizes the need for deep, structural reforms. The window in which the NCP may yet buy some time with half measures grows narrower by the day.

Bashir and company will need to reach that realization on their own, but international actors can help steer Khartoum toward understanding that comprehensive reform is in its own best interest and not simply a selfless matter of enlightened leadership. The United Nations, the African Union and the Arab League could offer concrete incentives tied to specific reform benchmarks – carrots rather than the sticks the NCP has come to expect from the international community.

For example, if NCP elites take clear steps toward implementing a comprehensive ceasefire and creating a transitional administration, one that includes representatives of the opposition and civil society, then international actors should consider lifting some sanctions, pursuing debt relief, and normalizing diplomatic relations.

And if Bashir supports a process including SRF rebels and other marginalized groups from Sudan’s south and east to draft a permanent constitution – one that shares power and resources more evenly throughout the country – then the U.N. Security Council should consider requesting the ICC defer prosecuting Bashir for one year under Article 16 of the Rome Statute. Of course, if the process stymies or Bashir reneges, there is no obligation to extend.

There is no question that brutal human rights violations have been committed under Bashir’s rule. But there will be no ceasefire or meaningful reform process without NCP participation. The opposition is fragmented and lacks experience. The security services are split, with many still loyal to Bashir. NCP elites could act as spoilers at any stage of what is likely to be a long and complex process. International players may be able to bring the NCP leadership on board by giving them something to gain.

Regional ceasefires and deals have failed to bring Sudan stability – as soon as one deal is struck, other conflicts re-emerge. Even the secession of the South last year did not end the longstanding dynamic of north-south rancor. The only lasting solution is a comprehensive one, bringing all of Sudan’s stakeholders together to reform how power is wielded in a large and diverse country. Over the long term, the status quo is intolerable for all parties: incessant warfare, millions displaced, billions spent on aid, a litany of woes that has been Sudan’s reality for decades. If it is to be resolved for good, the NCP and international players will need to offer much more than any time in the past.


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Topics: Human Rights • Sudan

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Joseph McCarthy

    Here is another place in the world ripe for Communism, but the right-wing news media will never say that. Instead, they'll try to tell us that the only answer here is unlimited U.S. and European foreign aid and influence!

    December 12, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Reply
  2. mohamed elamin

    waht you wrote my be represnt soluation but so long as the sward of the icc is over the neck of the president nothing will work.the change will come by the will of the sudanese people.

    December 13, 2012 at 4:21 am | Reply
  3. tinsleyrc

    Thank you for this wise article. Sadly the international community has double standards when it comes to mass human rights abuses. The lives of black Africans don't seem to be as valuable as those of people suffering violence and racism elsewhere. How else to explain why hardly any of the UN resolutions on Sudan have been implemented? There is no political will to hold the NCP to account for their ruthless policy of ethnic cleansing,not to mention their corruption and supression of free debate within Sudan. We could start by implementing UN resolutions, signalling to Khartoum that they can no longer enjoy impunity when ethnically cleansing their country of people who are not Arab.

    December 13, 2012 at 4:40 am | Reply
  4. Hate Wins

    Joseph McCarthy:

    The largest Communist country in the world, China and is becoming the most Capitalist country in the world. China should be called China, Inc. The current Communist leader ship is the board of directors and the head man the CEO they are in their heart of hearts businessmen. So China is not the anti Capitalism country some wish to believe.
    China also is becoming the largest polluter in the world and from reading it is not trying to correct its polluting.
    Please name a non Capitalism government that is really prospering today or in the past?
    Capitalism for all its claimed faults has over time proven to be the only system which allow anyone to prosper under it umbrella.
    Like you play on words by naming your self after Congressman Joseph McCarthy the author of McCarthyism a very dark time in our history. How may of the current readers do you think will get it?

    December 13, 2012 at 9:38 am | Reply
  5. USN Ret.

    The west has spent BILLIONs trying to help these people and like anything the U.N. dose it’s a failure. The U.N. will not do what is needed and that is allowing the peace keepers to keep the peace. Warlords rule in this country and until the U.N. cleans out those nest of snakes the people will never feel safe from their wrath they will not know freedom.
    This can not happen because to many of the U.N. programs will cease to exist if the wars and faming in Africa stopped. Just follow the money.
    A very good friend of mines C-130 (the 2nd one in 10 days) was shot down over Angola in 1999 while caring medical supplies for the U.N. The U.N.s response they named their worker that was killed and made no mention of the two crews (8 men) who died trying to help others.

    December 13, 2012 at 9:53 am | Reply
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    December 14, 2012 at 4:22 am | Reply
  7. j. von hettlingen

    Bashir is the root of all evils. Two rounds of north-south civil war cost the lives of 1.5 million people, and a continuing conflict in the western region of Darfur has killed more than 200,000. The grievances of the northern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile remain unaddressed. South Sudan had gained independence, perhaps South Kordofan and the Blue Nile States should break away as well.

    December 15, 2012 at 6:43 am | Reply
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