Sudanese Political Parties Meet With the AU Panel: “This Should Be the Last Panel.”
The national Sudanese political parties active inside the country rarely meet together in the same forum. I asked a number of Sudanese political leaders when it last happened: some said not for twenty years. Earlier today, fourteen parties met together in a public hearing in Khartoum convened by the African Union Panel headed by President Thabo Mbeki. It included every party in the National Assembly and several others too. Parties that had boycotted the Sudan People’s Initiative last year, such as the Popular Congress Party and the Sudan Communist Party, participated. The fact that so many parties turned out, discussed the whole day until nightfall is a testament to the sense of urgency shared across the political spectrum over the Darfur crisis.
The AU Panel had earlier circulated a list of questions for the participants, under four headings: peace, reconciliation and healing, justice and accountability, and Darfur and Sudanese national politics (including the elections). Little of the discussion was focused on the past; most of it was concerned with what needed to be done. President Thabo Mbeki asked, “can the Sudanese political parties overcome their partisan agenda and face the common challenges facing the country? Is there a unified vision on a solution?”
On the details, opinions and proposals diverged. But none was in doubt about the importance of a rapid resolution of what all agreed to call “the Sudanese problem in Darfur.” No-one disputed that there needed to be a political settlement and not a military one, and that it should be a comprehensive national solution.
Imam Sadiq al Mahdi, president of the Umma National Party, chided me that he was far from exhausted. True to form, he presented an eleven point memorandum and a fourteen point declaration of principles for peace in Darfur which should, he argued, be adopted by all political parties, armed movements and civil society. Perhaps echoing his own experience of premiership which was forcibly curtailed twenty years ago, he said “elections are vital but cannot be viable without peace.” The next year, he said, is “the last chance for Sudan to avoid catastrophe.”
The NCP was represented by a delegation headed by one of its most senior figures, Ahmed Ibrahim Omer. He strongly defended the government’s plan of action, arguing that elections should not be held up and that the obstacles to a peaceful solution were to be held elsewhere. On this issue, he confirmed truth and apology as “authentic principles” and said that “accountability is part of justice and we are for it.” He acknowledged the principle of compensation, the importance of Darfurian representation in the central government, and sustainable and equitable development.
The SLM-Minawi delegation argued that the African Union initiative was late and complained of a “lack of the culture of implementing agreements.” They argued that justice was a transcendental issue that went together with peace. We have a vision, they claimed, and the solution to Darfur’s crisis lies in the hands of the Sudanese people, which can be found if people are ready to sit together. Citing its concerns over the electoral process, the SLM-Minawi has not yet registered as a political party. In a note of caution, the SLM’s Ali Tirayo said, “Concerning homegrown Sudanese solutions, I appreciate the idea. But if these are so good, why is it necessary for this forum to be organized by the AU Panel? We need a neutral body to organize around, without subtracting from the consensus we shall reach as Darfurians and Sudanese.”
The SPLM delegation explained its efforts in trying to seek unity among the Darfur armed movements, and reconciling among the Darfurians. Elias Nyamyell suggested a three step approach: first reaching agreement among the Sudanese political parties, then obtaining unity among the movements (before going into the details for an agreement) and then using the CPA as a model for a settlement. “Everything is there in the CPA,” he said, “we just need to implement it.”
Speaking for the Popular Congress Party, Bashir Rahma demanded an apology from the highest level of the government for what had happened in Darfur, especially apologizing to the displaced people, and a general amnesty for those arrested or convicted on the basis of events connected to the problem of Darfur. On this basis, he said, it would be possible to move towards forgiveness and negotiate a solution.
The Sudan Communist Party representative Siddiq Yousif castigated the NCP for its shortcomings in implementing agreements already entered into. He also located the Darfur crisis in the failure of successive development projects in Darfur, and identified numerous contributory problems including partisan state intervention in tribal affairs, the proliferation of modern weaponry, inequities in land tenure, and the immigration of foreigners who were settling on vacated land.
Eight other parties were represented, including the DUP and one of its splinters, three other groups that had split from the Umma Party, SANU and SSDF, and the Democratic Salvation Front.
All were concerned with elections, with a consensus around the twin issues of national democratization and the importance of Darfur in the national democratization process, with most parties arguing that free and fair elections would not be possible in Darfur without a peace agreement first. The issue of development was also stressed, including the need to make sure that financial transfers from central government to Darfur actually occurred rather than remaining paper commitments. Rashid Dau el Beit, a DUP member from Darfur, urged that the AU Panel “should be the last panel to consider Darfur.” Too many earlier initiatives had failed: “we are going to hell because of this crisis. A solution cannot wait any longer.” Dr. Yousif Bakheit Idris continued, “There are now 230 initiatives on Darfur. Yours should be the last one. You have listened to us. Now the question is how we can move to a solution, step by step.”
In his summation, President Mbeki picked up this point. “This should be the last panel. We agree. But in reality, whether this is the last panel or not, the last initiative or not, depends one hundred percent on this leadership that is sitting here in this room. If you do not act to solve the problem, there will be panel number 231. The matter is in your hands.” He went on to emphasize that there has to be peace, which requires negotiations, which must be inclusive. What we have heard, Mbeki said, is that the conflict in Darfur is a reflection of a larger problem in Sudan, and that the problem in Darfur can only be solved as an integral part of resolving the Sudanese problem. He concluded, “We take note of everything that has been said. We take note of the bottlenecks. There is no point in us making a recommendation that cannot be implemented. We want to ensure that whatever we recommend gets implemented.”