We join the international community to condemn the massacre of 108 peaceful protesters and the wounding of hundreds more on June 3 in Khartoum by the Sudanese soldiers. These desperate actions were taken in an effort to disperse and end the protests. Shooting into a crowd of unarmed peaceful protesters has always been considered a barbaric act. The Sudanese military must, therefore, fish out the perpetrators and let them face the law.
We commend the African Union (AU) for its swift response in suspending Sudan from the Union pending its restoration of a civilian-led transition government in Khartoum. The non-violent protests in Sudan commenced in December 2018. The protesters achieved one of their aims, the ousting of President Omar al-Bashir, which eventually materialised on April 11 when he was removed after 30 years as president and subsequently arrested by the Sudanese military.
That was where the understanding of the peaceful protesters and the Sudanese military ended. They could not advance more and the military seemed to break that stalemate by expelling the protesters from their sit-in positions in Khartoum. The disagreements were fundamental. Following the ouster of al-Bashir, his defence minister and second-in-command, Lt.Gen. Awad Mohamed Ibn Auf, stepped in. But the protest coalition was right to object to Gen. Auf, saying its action was directed against the al-Bashir’s regime, and that the removal of one man did not change the essential character of the regime. Even when the director of the notorious National Intelligence and Security Service, Gen. Saleh Abdulla Mohammad Saleh, also resigned on the urgings of the protesters, the Sudanese groups continued to object to a military-led transition government.
Thus, the resignation of al-Bashir’s successor, 24 hours later and a few other members of the military high command was probably a good faith, confidence-building effort. Yet it is difficult to fault the Sudanese Professional Association and the Coalition of Peace and Change that the removal of these members of the junta amounts to not much of a change in the context of a regime that has been entrenched for 30 years.
The Transitional Military Council (TMC) should, therefore, see the wisdom of a civilian-led transition government. Africa should pay close attention to what is happening in Sudan. This is the first truly social media, disciplined, political protests in which the protesters seem better informed and are conscious of history. The Arab Spring is a recent experience and they don’t want to repeat the mistakes of past protests.
The issue of how long the Sudanese transition should last has divided the two sides. The military’s nine-month transition will yield the same kind of result as the one in Egypt which was catastrophic. A short transition merely re-cycles and returns the most recent regimes players. That is a natural result. It does not permit fresh faces or untested hands. It precludes detailed discussion of the envisaged democratic dispensation, much less its pre-testing.
The Sudanese are trying to lay credible foundations for democracy, and seem to think three years would enable them do so. They have so far tried to discourage religious fundamentalism, seeing that religion is the antithesis of democratic politics which, when mixed with culture, circumscribes the establishment and development of democracy, which is well demonstrated by the Arab world.
It is no surprise that al-Bashir’s foreign friends are hovering in the horizon to sabotage the revolution if they can. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and their friends should respect the will of the Sudanese people and help them establish a more credible people’s democracy. They should not undermine it. The statement issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry following the killings last week was truly disappointing. Its emphasis on subjugating the protesters seems a confirmation of a CNN reported actual Russian plot to use massive force to clear the protesters from the streets of Khartoum.
It also tallies with Russia’s obstruction of a Security Council draft statement jointly sponsored last week by UK and Germany simply to condemn the killings. China and Russia’s stand on Sudan, Venezuela and Syria seem now more preoccupied with the juntas as opposed to the people, which looks like a reversal of their traditional roles. It is making the task of maintaining international peace and security much more difficult.
The TMC should conclude its discussions with the protest groups so that the actual transition process can begin. The AU Commission should assist in the negotiations by sending a peace group to Khartoum to moderate the discussions, making sure that everything is done to prevent what happened recently from repeating itself.