Sudan after the elections - challenges and opportunities

Posted in Africa | 10-May-10 | Author: Patrick Khamadi

"It will be interesting to watch how Sudan spends oil earnings on other sectors, especially agriculture, health, education and the…
"It will be interesting to watch how Sudan spends oil earnings on other sectors, especially agriculture, health, education and the service industry"
Sudan is at a decisive crossroads.

Now that elections are over, leaders will have to make difficult choices, as will ordinary Sudanese. These choices will have a profound impact, whether one looks inside Sudan, regionally, or from an international relations perspective.

Perhaps the recently concluded elections give a taste of what is at stake. Judging from intense discussions around the country, the beginnings of democratisation seem to have added impetus to the ongoing peace process. Yet the elections appear to have brought to the surface entrenched realities of class, gender, ethnicity and resource accessibility.

In short, Sudan seems to have started dealing with unfolding nation building opportunities through peaceful resolution of past conflicts; or dealing with difficulties that may arise if North and South Sudan separate.

Yet, judging from the relative calm seen in the 2010 election and its boycott, the average, ordinary Sudanese crave peace more than ever. This lies behind the election boycott by some of the leading political parties, but also encouraged many voters to actually cast their ballots this time.

These converging voices show strongly that the Sudanese desire dignity and equality for all. In other words, they would like to see more dignity in relations, and equality in access to national resources.

Dignity and equality are core issues, and at the heart of every Sudanese. These values are important building blocks for any resolution of the many issues Sudan still faces.

There is a sense that this election (or its boycott) displayed or conveyed a fundamental demand for more political fairness. Even the voting patterns (and boycott) appear to show both deep national disquiet about the current state of affairs and apathy to political institutions in Sudan.

As a broad coalition government is formed, difficult steps lie ahead: how Sudan will be governed, how its resources will be genuinely shared, and how external relations will be pursued.

Sudan's direct neighbours, the U.S., the EU, the Middle East, China and India will all watch keenly as events unfold. It will be interesting to see how Sudan develops internally and how international partners will align themselves to its emerging realities.

Harvesting from election participation as well as its boycott

The election boycott by some political parties was part of a wider strategy to avoid social and political instability.

Given the ruling party's heavy advantages, the opposition parties chose a boycott to attract international attention to pertinent issues of fairness. Opposition parties believe the ruling party, the National Congress Party (NCP), was thoroughly prepared to use every state resource available to ensure victory.

Although this boycott received international disapproval, in retrospect it appears to have been the best choice. Why? Khartoum is the stronghold of the ruling party, but it is also where hundreds of thousands of marginalised Southern Sudanese were sure their SPLM Presidential candidate would win. Withdrawal of the SPLM candidate was more of a humanitarian move, to avert what some analysts project would have been election riots in Khartoum between the ruling party and its southern coalition partner SPLM.

Some suggest that this move by SPLM helped prevent scenes like those witnessed at the close of Kenyan general elections in 2007.

However flawed this election may have been, people's participation showed strong resolve to use the ballot box to tackle current issues.

It appears that people have voted unmistakenly for civility, regardless of whether there will be separation or unity of Sudan in the upcoming referendum. Through their votes, the Sudanese evidently chose the roots of peace in resolving their long held internal conflicts.

Specifically, the 68 per cent of the voting electorate (over 6 million) who voted for President Omar Bashir, as reported by the election commission, appear to indicate desire to give the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the ongoing Doha talks on Darfur a chance.

"However flawed this election may have been, people's participation showed strong resolve to use the ballot box to tackle current…
"However flawed this election may have been, people's participation showed strong resolve to use the ballot box to tackle current issues."
On the other hand, an overwhelming 93 per cent of votes in the South went to Silvia Kiir as President of the autonomous South Sudan. This seems to hint strongly at separation after the referendum. Kiir is a passionate supporter of South Sudan's separation from the rest of the country.

What is most interesting is President Omar Bashir's open invitation to parties that boycotted the elections. Intense behind-the-scenes negotiations have taken place aimed at forming a government of national unity.

Apparently, this rather peaceful transition in Sudan seems to have embarrassed some enviable regional democratic powerhouses like Kenya. The Sudanese political class seems serious in avoiding war while addressing internal issues.

However, this is a very difficult process given the entrenched hardliners within the ruling NCP and the figures in other parties who will be calling for rewards from the new political arrangement.

The Question of Darfur

Although progress on Sudan's political landscape appears to continue in terms of a framework of dealing with intricate issues, Darfur remains unresolved.

As seen in the Doha talks, regional and international goodwill remains focused on reaching a conclusion acceptable to all parties. The U.S., the UN and even the EU have thrown their weight behind this Qatari initiative. The world is watching keenly to see what potential peace agreement will be reached.

However, intractable issues still stand out.

April's violation of the Doha ceasefire witnessed armed conflict between the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels and the Sudanese Army in Southern Darfur. An intense military conflict took place between Sudanese forces and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) rebels in Jabal Mara Mountains in March. Scores died on both sides in.

Although the SLA is not part of the Doha initiative, there is general good feeling from most of its followers towards the process.

The main challenge in the Doha discussions is how Darfurians can be genuinely represented in mainstream politics. No agreement has been reached, and also in contention is how to share Darfur's resources fairly.

Hard liners in the ruling party seem to have consolidated their positions after the recent election victory. Moderate voices are accommodated because party hardliners do not want to disappoint powerful Middle Eastern countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

President Omar Bashir is also aware that Darfur is critical to strengthening his legitimacy as well as his legacy. There is every indication that he intends to resolve the Darfur conflict to bolster his legacy.

It also appears that Bashir will support a peaceful referendum in southern Sudan as part of concluding the CPA. It is clear within Sudan that Darfur is not keen on independence but rather increased representation in Khartoum and equitable resource sharing. But that may change depending on how the CPA progresses.

President Bashir's difficulties in Darfur lie with his own strong allies, specifically discord among Arab tribes within Darfur, who are no longer united. This is creating concern in both Khartoum and the UN peacekeeping force in Darfur. Some Bashir supporters have fought among themselves, for example in early April near Nyala, the state capital of South Darfur. In early May two Egyptian UN Peace keepers were shot dead in the same state by unknown gunmen. These are setbacks for President Bashir's intentions to solve the Darfur conflict.

Internationally, some think France needs to play a clearer role. This would accelerate the process and help bring the France-based rebel movement to the Doha talks.

Although France denounces the reported injustices that have led to population displacement in Darfur, her actions remain ambiguous. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs and the president's powerful advisors on international affairs often strongly disagree on Darfur. This leads to unclear diplomacy, and lost opportunities to pursue the SLA or even position it to work more closely with Chad, a country critical to solving Darfur's problems because over 250,000 Darfurians have fled there. Chad also has problems with Sudan, who hosts Chadian rebel groups.

The Doha talks are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. It remains unclear whether the international community will abandon Darfur or stay the long course this process may require. Unfortunately the Sudanese government and rebels are still fighting, and this obstructs progress in Doha. The future is unclear but all stakeholders are tired of war and desire peace and development.

Emerging external alignments and interests

"Unfortunately the Sudanese government and rebels are still fighting"
"Unfortunately the Sudanese government and rebels are still fighting"
Judging from business trends, bilateral and regional agreements, there is convergence among external partners on their dealings with and expectations of Sudan.

The growing need for long-term peace and stability is driving this convergence, in a country often regarded as a complex conflict zone. The U.S., China, and the EU now understand that Sudan's problems are complex, interconnected, sometimes explosive, and driven by historical injustices.

Other countries are becoming more concerned about the Darfur question and the peace 'road map' for North and South Sudan.

Most diplomats, especially those from the EU and Turkey, increasingly realise that dealing with Sudan calls for patience, commitment and time. The EU has focused on the humanitarian situation in Sudan, while Turkey is aggressively positioning itself in Sudan as a humanitarian brother and investor. Turkish businesses are growing fast in all major Sudanese cities.

The U.S. was very supportive of the recently-concluded elections despite allegations of U.S. bias from most opposition parties.

U.S. policy interests in Sudan are clear: they include avoiding any political process that would accelerate the radicalisation of Islam in Sudan. Thus it is in U.S. interests to work with Bashir's coalition government, including the autonomous South Sudan. Also crucial for both the U.S. and Bashir's government is the need to sustain the development achieved with the oil boom. This has liberalised Sudanese society to some extent. Sudan, part of Sunni Islam, is a potential U.S. ally in any future conflict with the radicalised Shia views espoused by Iran. In other words, the U.S. wants Northern Sudan to become a moderate Islamic country like Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt.

The U.S. believes it must be at the centre of peace initiatives and issues of freedom. Both the U.S. population and key members of Congress are demanding more from the U.S. administration on Sudan.

This means the U.S. administration supports the Qatari-led Darfur Peace Talks. Qatar is also a key U.S. ally and is respected by both the Sudanese administration and the rebel movements in Darfur. Should South Sudan secede, the U.S. would press for a peaceful separation. Although the U.S. may not have direct oil interests in South Sudan, their oil giants may be interested in the future. And U.S. companies lead in oil extraction technology so will benefit in any event.

Sudanese diplomats must decide how Sudan can optimise its situation given U.S. interests.

China, however, is active in commercial dealings with Sudan, both in the South and the North. The Chinese are involved in oil exploration and most Sudanese oil is exported to China. China is therefore strategically positioning itself to be at the heart of any change or progress in Sudan.

Chinese firms are well positioned in Khartoum and have been known to finish contracts in record time, like the construction of the oil pipeline from South Sudan to Port Sudan. China's National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) was recently awarded contracts for oil exploration and drilling in the Red Sea.

The Chinese strategy for Africa is more economically robust. Kenya and China are already in the final stages of funding of a new sea port in Lamu, Kenya, which will bolster trade with South Sudan and Ethiopia. The target here is really oil from South Sudan. Kenya and South Sudan's leadership are in negotiation with the Japanese on the funding of an oil pipeline between Kenya and South Sudan, although a Chinese company may be sub-contracted to undertake the work. Overall, the Chinese strategy is to work closely through Sudan's neighbours.

How Sudan (North and South) approaches relations with China will affect how many Sudanese will have jobs in the near future. There is growing concern that Chinese projects do not transfer technology or skills to local Africans. It will be exciting to see how Sudan addresses this growing concern. Such concerns are emerging in most African countries where China is advancing its commercial interests.

The challenge of growing oil dependency

"It will be interesting to see how Sudan develops internally and how international partners will align themselves to the emerging…
"It will be interesting to see how Sudan develops internally and how international partners will align themselves to the emerging realities"
Oil exports now account for over 43 per cent of Sudan's foreign exchange earnings.

Although there is talk in Khartoum of economic diversification, oil dependency has increased. In 2009, 98 per cent of South Sudan's non-aid income came from oil, while the corresponding figure for northern Sudan was 60-70 per cent.

In 2009, Sudan's oil earnings stood at US $ 2.5 billion compared to US $ 6.5 billion in 2008, according to a report published by the government in South Sudan. Although this drop was triggered by the global financial crisis, Sudan still invests heavily in, and increasingly depends on, oil as a major source of economic expansion.

Clearly, the momentum in Sudan is skewed towards massive oil exploration projects around the country.

Although well drilling has increased in South Sudan, some now seek oil in the Red Sea and others have even started explorations in southern Darfur. These explorations are driven largely by two factors: proven reserves in Southern Sudan are geologically tilted towards the south, which means any drilling further south may tap oil from the proven oil field with rigs in mid south Sudan.

Although oil revenues have increased, other sectors especially agriculture, health and education have been adversely affected. Sudan's food import bills have significantly increased over the last decade largely due to declining local production.

Yet, the fertile Nile valley with its alluvial beds is potentially the largest food basket in Africa according to UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation.

As Sudan consolidates its oil sector, it will be interesting to watch how it spends oil earnings on other sectors of the economy, especially agriculture, health, education and the service industry.

Across Sudan the question on peoples' minds is how Sudan will use its oil resources to jump start other sectors. This is a real concern of the citizenry; it remains to be seen how the political leadership confronts these issues.


The process of peace and democratic transformation in Sudan will increase African and wider international support. Internally, initiatives to form a broad based government of national unity will need support.

President Bashir has an opportunity to use Sudan's diversity and its regional leadership to strengthen institutional mechanisms and confront the challenges facing Sudan. Sudan will also need to strengthen other sectors of its economy to energise the job market.

Externally, goodwill is needed from the international community. Efforts to restore peace and development will demand sustained regional and international diplomatic support. In particular, France will need to play a central, supportive role in the Doha talks.


1. Sudan's national leadership has the opportunity to de-escalate potential regional and ethnic differences through empowered committees within the Parliament that deal with trouble spots. They must prioritise the upcoming North - South referendum.

2. Qatari efforts will require the sustained support, especially from the U.S. and the EU, because the pace and interest has slowed after the elections. The Obama administration and the new EU Foreign Office play a significant role in bringing negotiations to a workable conclusion. This may require working much more closely with the Arab league and Qatar

3. Sudan needs support in its economic diversification process. International, multilateral agencies like the World Bank and Middle Eastern investment institutions can help Sudan redirect its oil wealth towards wider economic development. An international Sudan Development Summit needs to be organised by such agencies to help put Sudan back on the global development agenda.