The world took note last year when youthful protesters in Sudan forced the ouster of a longtime dictator, Omar al-Bashir. Yet just as noteworthy was their use of nonviolence and democratic unity – a direct rebuke of Mr. Bashir’s divide-and-rule tactics in an African nation splintered by ethnicity, religion, and regionalism. Now that approach is paying off in Sudan’s slow transition to democracy and a possible election in 2022.
On Monday, most of the rebel groups that fought the Bashir regime inked an agreement that would give them a large slice of power in their regions and in the capital, Khartoum. Resource wealth would be more evenly distributed. The spirit of the protests – building national identity around a culture of peace and inclusion – was baked into the pact.
The peace talks took longer than expected in part because Africa’s third-largest country has been in civil conflict for most of the 70 years since independence, leaving millions killed or displaced. Two rebel groups in fact did not sign the agreement out of demands for even more change, such as ensuring secular government in a country that is largely Islamic. Sudan, a nation of 40 million, is where the Arab world meets sub-Saharan Africa.
The negotiations also needed to be nudged along by foreign powers. “This is the time for all Sudanese stakeholders to set aside their differences and to look for the greater good of the country and of all Sudanese,” commented Josep Borrell, the European Union’s envoy for foreign affairs, after the pact was finished.
The pro-democracy protests that began in December 2018 put Sudan on a path toward creating an identity built on equal citizenship and shared ideals. The atrocities of the past still need to be addressed. Rebel groups must be integrated with a reformed military. And Sudan’s entrenched patronage networks must be dismantled. Much of the nation’s wealth, for example, is centered around Khartoum, making the regions highly dependent on the capital’s elite.
Yet young Sudanese now know they no longer must accept rulers who stay in power by trying to convince them they have enemies. Power in Sudan has shifted to those who embrace the basic dignity of their fellow citizens.