Friday,24 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1440, (25 April - 1 May 2019)
Friday,24 May, 2019
Issue 1440, (25 April - 1 May 2019)

Ahram Weekly

AU supports Sudan

The African Union is easing up on its position towards the changes in Sudan. Haitham Nouri reports on a meeting of the organisation in Cairo


Al-Sisi among African leaders and senior officials in Cairo on Tuesday
Al-Sisi among African leaders and senior officials in Cairo on Tuesday

Sudan has the solid support of its African neighbours which agreed, in a consultative meeting in Cairo on Tuesday, to give Khartoum “more time” to carry out the measures announced by the Transitional Military Council (TMC) that has been governing Sudan since 13 April.

The final communiqué of the meeting, which was held under the umbrella of the African Union, stipulated that this process “should not take too long”, which is an ease-up on the AU’s previous position on the transitional process. On Monday, the AU issued an ultimatum giving the TMC 15 days to transfer power to a civilian government or else the AU would suspend Sudan’s membership. The statement recommended that the AU Commission extend the grace period to three months.

Sudan has been swept by widespread mass protests since 19 December 2018. The uprising was triggered by rising bread and fuel prices, and a crippling liquidity crisis led banks to refuse their clients’ requests to withdraw money from their accounts or even to cash their salary cheques.

On 6 April protesters led by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an umbrella association of several unofficial independent trade unions, staged a sit-in Al-Jeish Square (Army Square), located in front of the Sudanese Armed Forces headquarters in Khartoum.

On 11 April, Defence Minister and Sudanese Vice President Lieutenant General Awad Ibn Aouf announced that President Omar Al-Bashir had been removed from office after 30 years in power.

The country is now caught in a complex tug-of-war between the TMC, which is headed by Lieutenant General Abdel-Fattah Al-Borhan, and the SPA which spearheads the demand for the handover of power to a civilian “sovereign council” and a cabinet of technocrats.

The consultative summit, which President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi had called for in his capacity as chairman of the African Union, was attended by a number of senior African officials, including Chadian President Idriss Déby, Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Congolese President Sassou Nguesso, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (also known as Farmajo), South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, and the head of the AU Commission Moussa Faki.

Delegates encouraged the head of the AU Commission to continue to engage with the Sudanese authorities and other political players in Sudan and to ask Khartoum to continue to take part in AU activities. 

In addition to calling for an extension of the transitional period and asking Faki to continue talks in Khartoum, the summit statement, in keeping with AU policies and principles, reaffirmed the need to respect the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states and the need for them to continue to exercise their roles in the fight against terrorism and illegal migration or, as the statement put it, “illicit cross-border activities... arms smuggling, organised crime and human trafficking.”

The decision to extend the deadline for the transfer of power to a civilian authority is “a major development in the continent”, according to Haidar Ibrahim, a political science professor and director of the Sudanese Studies Centre in Cairo. “Everyone knows how complicated things are in African countries, which makes it difficult to hand over power immediately. This is a precedent that can be applied to similar cases whereby the transition period can be set in accordance with the particular situation in each case.”

Ibrahim, in an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, explained that “if AU rules were to be applied, Sudan’s membership in the regional organisation would be immediately suspended and it would not be given a sufficient amount of time to sort out its complicated situation.”

Khaled Mahmoud, a writer and an expert in Sudanese affairs, described the meeting in Cairo as an “Egyptian diplomatic victory” which established a basis for the transfer of power after popular uprisings. “However, there remains an ambiguity here. The statement did not say what the AU would do in the event power was not transferred to a civilian government within three months. Still, taking the text of the statement and AU rules together, Sudan’s membership in the AU would be frozen.”

In the opinion of Ibrahim, three months is an average period of time rather than a long one as the statement describes it. But nor is it too short. “During this period, a lot can happen in Sudan where considerable sociopolitical fluidity opens the way to all possibilities.”

The SPA, along with the many political parties and organisations that co-signed the Declaration of Freedom and Change, have cut off talks with the TMC which they accuse of “procrastinating” in the transfer of power to a civilian government.

But Ibrahim believes that the results of the consultative meeting in Cairo will help. “This regional position may compel the two sides to sit together and accelerate the transfer of power.”

To Mahmoud, attendance at the consultative summit was “proof that most Africans are nervous about what could happen in Sudan. This is clear from the attendance of the Rwandan president and the representative for the Nigerian Foreign Ministry, since neither of these two countries immediately border Sudan.”

Mahmoud adds, “the attendance of the president of South Africa is an indication of Egypt’s importance as the chair of the African Union and the anxiety that has been felt throughout the continent over what could happen in Khartoum. Also, Pretoria is keen to play as extensive a role as possible.”

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