By Marina Peter, Brot für die Welt, Berlin, 30.10.2019

First published in German by FriEnt

After a long period, finally there are positive developments in Sudan. The revolutionaries, first and foremost the women, who since December 2018 had demonstrated using peaceful means only, for the president to resign and for democratic change were successful in having a large number of their demands met. They remained peaceful, although rulers kept on using serious violence against them-before the fall of President Omar al Beshir, who had been in power since 1989, as well as afterwards when the military took over. They resisted all efforts to divide them, until in July the military had to give in and to agree to a 3 years transitional government (sovereign council) of military and civilian members, leading to free and fair elections.

By doing so, they became an exceptional example and symbol of hope for all those working for human rights and against oppression – on the continent and even globally.  Without doubts, the Sudanese protest movement led by the “Professionals Association” would have been a dignified Nobel Peace Prize winner this year, too.

Among the 11 members of the Sovereign Council are two women, one of them a Christian, in a rare recognition of the fact that Sudan is a multi-religious country. In the new cabinet, there are four women; for the first time ever the foreign minister and the chief justice are female. Women are happy about this achievement- but it is still far from really acknowledging their tremendous efforts in bringing about the positive changes and their important role they have to and are willing to play in reconciliation and peace work as well as in sustaining democratic changes.

The transitional government faces severe challenges

There are old Sudanese cliques consisting of the long time ruling party, military and security apparatus, but also traditional (opposition) parties and armed movements.  These groups are possibly not willing to acknowledge the fact that the next generation is taking over with the resulting loss of their own power, and therefore they are a severe danger as they might violently boycott progressive changes.   Furthermore, in a kind of  new “Scramble for Africa “ Gulf States, the Arab world, Russia, Turkey, China, USA and European countries try to secure or achieve spheres of influence and might play a negative role.  Neighboring countries also have interests, like Libya, Chad, Eritrea, South Sudan or Egypt. e.g. in extraction of natural resources (oil, Gold, rare earth) and military-strategic alliances in the Horn play a role here, but also efforts to keep on defining Sudan a pure Muslim –Arab country and by no means an African state. On the European side, the strong desire to control migration and to secure their own borders adds to the challenges.

During the revolution, the demonstrators strongly resisted all efforts to keep on dividing them in Arab and African, Muslim and Christians, or ethnic lines. Now it is important to support and encourage them not to give in, but resist all divergent interests from in-and outside, and to help them by enabling them to build their multi-ethnic, multi- religious Sudanese identity on the African continent.

As in Ethiopia before, in order to sustain the reforms announced, there is a need to change undemocratic laws and to introduce new ones immediately. The new Prime Minister Hamdok, an economist who only recently returned from exile, faces tremendous challenges. In the end, the one who will be successful is the one who is able to improve the desolate economic situation.

The “friends of Sudan”, a group of governments and international organizations including Germany, have to try everything to contribute to a peaceful future-without patronizing the sovereign state of Sudan, of course. Germany already contributed to make it possible for Hamdok to speak before the UN Security Council. Even before his French colleague, the German Foreign Minister travelled to Sudan and assured the new government of German support. Consequently, the German Foreign Office is advocating for the resumption of official development co-operation, suspended by the German Parliament in 1989.

Resumption of Government Development Co-Operation- a dilemma

Through the preceding difficult years, German NGOs have stayed in contact with their Sudanese partners and supported them wherever possible, despite all the oppression by the Sudanese authorities. Now, confronted with the possibility of the resumption of Government development co-operation, they face a nearly classical dilemma:

The future for Sudan is still very uncertain: So far, authorities are not really punishing Human Rights violations; individuals suspected of having committed the most severe human rights violations are members of the transitional government on the side of the military. Primarily, this is Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, called Hemiti, a former leader of the notorious ethnic Arab “men on horses”, the Janjaweed of Darfur. Promoted by the former President Beshir Hemiti, he has become one of the most influential figures in Sudan and holds a decisive key position for the future development of the country.  His Rapid Support Forces (RSF) constitute the biggest, most feared military power in the country. Apparently, he has access to almost unlimited amounts of money, allegedly through his mercenary troop contributions in the Central Africa Republic, Libya and Jemen; through his strong relations to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, but also through the goldmines in Darfur. Furthermore, he is alleged to be involved in the very human trafficking the former government entrusted the RSF under its command to combat. Also, due to persons like him, German, international and foremost African NGOs have for years strongly disapproved of the co-operation with countries like Sudan or Eritrea as part of migration control within the “Khartoum Process”.

In particular, the tremendous amount of money Hemiti is using strategically to secure his already large influence by pulling the strings within the military group of the sovereign country, is an almost tragic reason as to why the Transitional government must receive substantial financial assistance as soon as possible.  The dilemma and the tragedy is, that this very man – most likely guilty of severe human rights violations – is a member of this very transitional government, and new attempts to misuse money cannot completely ruled out.

The country is economically so weak, that without massive support from outside a peaceful, democratic development most likely has no chance at all. The civilian parts of the government need to deliver now in order to avoid any military, anti-democratic forces from completely taking over again.

When no other way forward is possible, Germany has to start a conditional official development co-operation again. It is important not to concentrate support in the capital, but to contribute substantially to development in the states, to help enabling the reconstruction of the country from the grass-root level- in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and the East of the country. In addition to all other problems, the fatal effects of climate change have severely affected the people in these regions and have been a cause of conflict for years already.

German, European and international support to Sudan – what to do, what to avoid

The transitional government aims to secure peace with the long time rebel groups and to incorporate them in the transitional phase of government until the end of the year (2019). If they succeed, it will be possible to cut military and security spending, currently around 70-80% of the National budget, and to appoint the members of the Legislative Council –the third pillar to secure transition besides the Sovereign Council and the Cabinet- as well as governors. Rebel leaders see a chance to secure positions for themselves here. Germany and the EU need to keep on supporting the peace process, which started in October in Juba, not least as in case of a failure to do so leads to these leaders being able to spoil any positive processes.

All local measures on Transitional Justice need to start immediately and internationally supported, in order to bring those responsible for severe human rights violations in the past and even more recently to justice.

Debt relief is as essential as lifting the sanctions – delete Sudan from the US terror sponsoring list – to enable economic reforms and to stop the devastating inflation rate (IMF prognosis for 2010: 62%).

The IMF shall not use its usual methods of cutting state subsidies and privatization. People who are anyway poor have become victims of the first. The cutting of subsidies for bread was a main trigger point for the start of the revolution. Privatization substantially contributed to the fact that today, the main branches of trade are in the hands of members of the NCP, the ruling party of Beshir, including the military/security. According to all information available, they transferred billions to accounts abroad. This will be another difficulty the transitional government is facing in their efforts to rebuild the economy.

Germany and the EU have to help freezing accounts abroad and to enable the transfer back of illegal funds.  Another main demand of civil society members are transparency and control of any money transfers and public expenditures, of course.

As the EU and Germany have some experience with security sector reform processes they shall offer to assist here- but only, if they do not do so to guarantee the maximum benefit for their own migration control projects in the first place.

Comprehensive support for the work of democratic Sudanese NGOs and like-minded representatives of the civil population is essential. A prerequisite here is not only to help raising their voice but to really listen to them. This also means to recognize fully that they are the drivers of their own future – nobody from outside. They clearly showed that they are very able to do so. And they are ready to keep on, that is for sure.

The new “scramble for Africa” and the current crisis of multilateralism do not seem to provide much room for hope that outsiders are interested to work together for the interest of people in the long run. Nevertheless, the example of the Sudanese revolution clearly shows, that Africans are very able to peacefully work rather lonely for something others even do not seem to defend any longer:  democracy and human rights. Against all odds.

Wherever they wish so: Let us contribute, so that the civilian forces in the transitional government at least have a chance to succeed in working for the benefit of all.

Further information: Marina Peter, Brot für die Welt

Links und Literatur: in English)


[1] Khartoum Prozess: Dialogplattform zwischen der EU und den Ländern am Horn von Afrika, die beim EU-Gipfel in Malta 2015/ mit dem Migrationsmanagement in der Region beauftragt wurde; die Einbindung der Länder am erweiterten Horn in das europäische Grenzmanagement. Näheres siehe