Sudan gropes to form transitional government

More than a week after a popularly backed military coup overthrew former President Jaafar Nimeiry, Sudan is groping to form a transitional government. In a news conference Monday, the new leader, Gen. Abdel-Rahman Swareddahab, said he would be willing to incorporate into his government a representative of a rebel faction from the south.

General Swareddahab said it was his understanding that one of the Cabinet seats being reserved for the Sudanese south was being offered to the Sudanese People's Liberation Army. The SPLA, under the leadership of Col. John Garang, has been conducting a guerrilla war in the south for the past two years.

Swareddahab added that there is still no decision whether the new military rulers will ``form a government by representing all the political parties or perhaps agree on neutral government.''

Civilians in Sudan are persisting in their efforts to form an administrative cabinet to function alongside the new 15-man military council.

Since the April 6 coup, members of the military council, which will retain veto powers during a transitional government expected to last 12 months, have been meeting constantly with trade union and political leaders.

However, a divergence in views on the composition of the Cabinet has slowed progress. Most of the 80-odd unions now registered with the Allied National Forces for National Salvation, the umbrella organization of unions and political parties, have been pushing for a transitional government of highly qualified technocrats. These, union spokesmen say, should remain neutral and be without party affiliations or ties with the previous regime.

The politicians, on the other hand, including members of the communist party and a faction of the Muslim Brotherhood, have been clamoring for inclusion. But many of the professional and educated elite feel that bringing in the politicians at this stage is a luxury the country cannot afford. The fear is that during the interim period the politicians will act in the interests of their parties rather than in those of the nation.

So far, the council appears to have agreed to the formation of a 15-man, largely civilian cabinet. Only the Defense Ministry would remain in the hands of the military with the Interior portfolio to be agreed upon by both the military and the police.

All other ministerial posts, including that of prime minister, would be civilian. Three posts would be given to representatives of the south. These would be decided upon by the southerners themselves.

Added to concerns about the final shape of the new government by those involved in the decision process are equally serious concerns about its eventual foreign policy.

In Monday's news conference, Swareddahab said he wanted improved relations with the Soviet Union. ``We have sent a message to the [leader] of the USSR to say that we would like to see our relations be far better than under the past regime,'' he said. ``To these steps we are receiving a positive response.''

Meanwhile, both Sudanese and Western sources point out that the ``new'' Sudan has much to gain from improved ties with the African and Arab world.

``Under the previous regime, Nimeiry tended to pursue a policy of confrontation,'' says Muhammad Ahmed Taisier, a trade union representative and a lecturer in economic development at the University of Khartoum.

``Indications of our foreign policy are that it is going to be a rational one instead of the irrationality and inconsistency of the one that existed under Nimeiry. Nimeiry's foreign policy was directed toward his own self-survival.''

Given Sudan's economic problems, which include a foreign debt of more than $9 billion, many here realize that it is in the country's interests for the United States and western Europe to continue their assistance.

``On the whole, I think Sudan will seek to maintain its traditional trading and donor partners,'' a European diplomat says.

Sudanese have also stressed that much will depend on outside attitudes:

``In the past, the United States often failed to heed our cultural and political identity, but were more concerned with regional strategy. The Europeans, in contrast, have been far more sensitive, and I believe that this will be reflected in our future policy,'' says Sadiq Mahdi, a respected leader of the Umma party, one of Sudan's two main political organizations.

Mr. Mahdi, a politician who did not compromise himself with Nimeiry as did so many other politicians, is often touted as a possible prime minister for a future post in the transitional government.

There appears to be a remarkable sense of determination and consensus among the Sudanese to lift the country out of its economic doldrums and put it back on the road to democracy. But it is a job cynical observers describe as an ``impossible task.''

Overall, there appears to be little dramatic change in Sudan's position toward the West. The new leadership may adopt a more nonaligned posture, notably with regard toward superpower issues fostering, in turn, possibly better relations with other Arab and African countries including Libya and Ethiopia.

At present, the US is furnishing Sudan with some $400 million in aid of which $45 million is military. According to State Department figures, US aid is also directed toward providing food for 6 million Sudanese.

At the same time, the International Monetary Fund, Saudi Arabia, the European Economic Community, and other contributers are also helping Sudan with substantial assistance.

Although Sudan has had a bit of a rapprochement with Libya and Ethiopia, most sources feel that it should not be seen as a signal for the two nations to start exerting influence over Sudan.

Historically, the sources point out, Sudan always maintained good relations with both and was considered a bridge between Africa and the Arab world. When dealing with these two countries, Nimeiry had a tendency to cry wolf.

Nevertheless, some foreign relief organizations have expressed fears that an accommodation with Ethiopia might affect the status of the hundreds of thousands of Tigrean and Eritrean refugees who have fled or are fleeing to Sudan.

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