Direct, UN-sponsored negotiations between Sudan’s stakeholders to chart a way out of the political crisis engulfing the country since the military seized power seven months ago will begin next week, it was announced on Wednesday.
African Union ambassador Mohammed Belaeish made the announcement in a brief statement released to the media in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. He did not say on which day next week the national dialogue will begin.
Meanwhile, the military said a four-man team of top generals led by the deputy chairman of the ruling Sovereign Council, Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, will take part in the dialogue.
Gen Dagalo is the commander of the Rapid Support Forces, a well-armed and combat-experienced militia. It comes from the Janjaweed militia that fought on the government’s side against an uprising by mainly ethnic African rebels in the vast western Darfur region in the early 2000s.
Mr Belaeish is also the spokesman for the trio of the UN, AU and the regional IGAD group, which has been consulting separately for months with stakeholders to find common ground before direct negotiations could begin.
He did not list the parties, pro-democracy and civil society groups that will take part in the dialogue — and there was no immediate reaction from them on his announcement.
Sudan’s political deadlock began when army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan seized power in a coup on October 25. This upended the country’s democratic transition that began following the ousting in 2019 of dictator Omar Al Bashir.
A vast Afro-Arab nation of 44 million people, Sudan has since the coup been rocked by near-daily street rallies demanding civilian rule, retribution for the killing by security forces of nearly 100 protesters since October, and for the military to quit politics altogether.
Already battered, Sudan’s economic woes considerably worsened after the coup after showing small signs of recovery in the final days of the civilian-led government the generals toppled. Sudan’s western backers also suspended billions of dollars worth of aid and debt forgiveness in response to the coup.
The protesters and the pro-democracy groups behind them are refusing to negotiate with the military. They accuse the UN-led effort of treating the party that derailed the democratic transition — the military — and those advocating democratic rule as equals.
They also maintain that the UN-led process has inadvertently given the military time to strengthen their grip on power and forge alliances. The protesters say these could potentially ensure the military continues to have the final say in the impoverished country, even when not directly represented in the government.
They also dismissed, as an attempt to appease the West, Gen Al Burhan’s decision on Sunday to lift the state of emergency he declared when he seized power.
The military had initially welcomed the UN-led effort to mediate in a settlement of the political crisis, but later accused the UN representative in Sudan, Volker Perthes, of meddling in the country’s affairs. Gen Al Burhan has on at least one occasion publicly threatened to expel Mr Perthes. Hundreds of mostly Islamist protesters on Wednesday demanded the expulsion of Mr Perthes when they rallied outside the UN offices in Khartoum.
“Volker, you German, the crisis will be solved by the Sudanese,” the protesters chanted. Others called on Mr Perthes to “leave”.
In March, Mr Perthes told the UN Security Council that Sudan was heading towards “an economic and security collapse” unless its civilian-led transition was restored. The comments angered Gen Al Burhan.
“The military are now hoping this dialogue will formalise their hold on power with just a few beautifying touches here and there,” Samy Ibrahim, a Sudanese political analyst, said.
“So long as there are no concrete guarantees from the military not to pounce on power, this dialogue can collapse at any time. The street, on the other hand, has expectations that it will not budge from.”