Democracy or one party?

Sudan after the election

In June, Al-Bashir, Sudan’s leader since 1989, was sworn in for another five years as president. Few if any experts had expected any other outcome of the 2015 election. But will the 71 year old ex-military leader, who is accused by the ICC of war crimes in Darfur, continue his initiatives for national dialogue and overcome the country’s major economic and security hurdles?

In a new policy note from the Nordic Africa Institute, senior researcher Redie Bereketeab analyses the challenges facing the Al-Bashir government. Of these, the state of the economy following the secession of South Sudan and the loss of oil revenue is the most serious.

– Diversification of the economy, especially in relation to agriculture, is necessary. Pervasive youth unemployment, one of the main sources of instability, also needs to be addressed, says Bereketeab.

EU support may backfire
Another hurdle is the country’s security situation. Settling the conflicts in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile is crucial.

– The process of reconciliation should begin in earnest. Western involvement in mediation needs to be prudent, because external involvement in relation to South Sudan has tarnished the image of the West. The EU’s active support for the opposition may backfire, Bereketeab warns.

Sanctions complicate relations with the West
The UN, US and EU have had sanctions against the Sudan for decades. Bereketeab recommends lifting or easing them to reinvigorate the Sudanese economy.

– Sanctions not only hurt the economy by depriving it of external investment, but also complicate the country’s relations with the West, he says.

Uncertain future for national dialogue
In March 2014, President Al-Bashir called for a national dialogue that would encompass all political actors. Invitations were extended to the political opposition as well as armed rebels. The president spelled out five areas around which the national dialogue would revolve ‒ identity, peace, democratisation, the constitution and the economy. After some uncertainty about what these issues meant, certain political parties accepted the invitation to participate in the national dialogue and began engaging with the government in negotiations. However, the armed groups set conditions for their participation and continued to attack government forces. A committee consisting of seven members from the government and seven from the opposition ‒ the 7 + 7 formula ‒ was struck to lead the national dialogue.

The weakness of the opposition parties means that they are increasingly reliant on external intermediaries such as the AU and EU to put pressure on the Bashir government. However, the government is allergic to external involvement and has adamantly refused to participate in a national dialogue held outside the country. It’s uncertain what will happen to the national dialogue now that Al-Bashir has five more years to run the country.

– National dialogue needs to begin in earnest and be pursued seriously. Both government and opposition must have a realistic understanding of what national dialogue can and cannot achieve. Recognising the domestic nature of conflict resolution and peacebuilding is of paramount importance, says Bereketeab.

Read more in the full version of the NAI Policy Note No 8:2015 (opens in new window): Democracy or One-Party System: Political Development in the Sudan after the 2015 Election 

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