Sudan races for peace, then democracy

An incomplete democratic revolution has wisely focused on talks to end armed movements to unite Africa’s third-largest country.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, left, and the Sudan Liberation Movement-North leader, Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu, hold up their hands in Kauda, Nuba Mountains, Jan. 9.

In a country once known for genocide, Islamic dictatorship, and terrorism, Sudan is busy these days trying to be a model of peacemaking. Last week, for example, its new civilian prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, was in Darfur trying to end that region’s violent tribal conflicts. Yesterday, he led a peace mission to the Nuba Mountains, a rebel stronghold for more than three decades, “to end the suffering of our people in these areas.”

“This is the start of the new Sudan,” he told The Associated Press. “Together, we will make miracles.”

Sudan, which is Africa’s third largest country, is in the midst of a democratic revolution, the result of a nationwide uprising a year ago that led to the ouster – and later conviction for corruption – of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir. An interim ruling council, which includes still-distrusted military figures, promises democratic elections in 2022. Yet that goal is hardly achievable without peace across a divided land of 40 million people.

Mr. Hamdok, who holds a Ph.D. in economics, took office in August and quickly set an ambitious target of negotiating “comprehensive” peace agreements with five armed movements by mid-February. Last September, all groups signed on to a “Declaration of Principles” that lays out a pathway for talks. So far, with the help of Western countries as well as Ethiopia and South Sudan, most of the negotiations are largely on track.

The reason, claims Mr. Hamdok, is that the armed groups are responding positively to his promised “pillars” for peace. These include economic growth, better security, accountability for human rights abuses, uplift of marginalized groups, and a focus on root causes for conflict, such as land grabs and religious repression.

“You have here a change that is peaceful, that will give hope to that region of the world,” he told NPR last month.

Reversing the destructive policies of the Bashir dictatorship will not come easy. Mr. Bashir himself, along with many of his former colleagues in the armed forces, must still be tried for alleged atrocities in Darfur and elsewhere. And Sudan’s economy is weighed down by $60 billion in debt. 

Yet Hamdok says his first priority is spreading a culture of peace, bringing reformers and rebels together. Only then, after shaping a common Sudanese identity, can the country’s democratic revolution be complete.

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