Sudan: Political Turn - Sudan's Opposition Groups Reject Any Engagement With Government

In what amounts to a big shift in Sudanese politics, the opposition group Sudan Call declared last week, while meeting in Paris that it has decided to withdraw from the African Union's roadmap for a comprehensive settlement for the country's multi-faceted problems. That declaration was followed by a decision by two Darfur rebel groups, Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and Sudan Liberation Movement-Minni not to engage in any talks with the regime. The two groups were originally scheduled to meet with Khartoum in Doha last January following a German mediation.

Though this development was welcomed by another umbrella group, the National Consensus Forces who oppose any engagement with the regime, but it leaves only the SPLM/A-N headed by Abdel Aziz Al-Hilu as the only one still keeps the talks option on the table. The third Darfur rebel group led by Abdel Wahid Nur has a well-established position over the years not to engage in any form of negotiations with the regime.

For the first time in decades almost all opposition groups shun the idea of talking to their adversary, the government. It was late SPLM/A leader John Garang, who coined the strategy of negotiating with the de facto government of the day in Khartoum and to keep on talking and fighting at the same time.

This Paris declaration puts in effect to rest, for the time being, all regional and international mediation efforts. It was actually the AUHIP led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been actively mediating for years between Sudan and South Sudan as well as between Sudan government and its domestic opponents, to no avail.

The opposition decision closes this window so far and at the time there is very little international interest to undertake a mediation role. It is a clear sign of what has been termed as Sudan Fatigue, where those interested in Sudan for whatever reason are showing signs of weariness and fatigue as nothing gets achieved over decades of engagement. Moreover, it shows how marginalized the country when seen from regional and international prisms.

This development is a direct result of what has been going on for more than four months of anti-government demonstrations that has taken the initiative and forced its agenda on other opposition groups. It is this domestic dynamics that has changed the political narrative from some kind of a negotiated settlement into a completely new route of radical regime change.

However, in the absence of a negotiation and mediation process things are going for a zero-sum game, which brings to the fore the central question of how to effect change. Since opposition is now united on its goal of regime change it needs to work more on how to advance its cause now that it has something to build on in terms of changes taking place domestically and even within the regime set up.

In just three months of political turmoil, led by the Professionals Association, it succeeded in achieving more than what has been achieved in 30 years by various opposition groups, including those carrying arms. Under the pressure of new realities the regime is now open for change and a new settlement more than at any time throughout its tenure.

But to make such potential change a reality it depends more on what opposition can or will do more than what the regime's plans since the room for conciliation has been closed so far.

Two steps ought to be taken to help boost the domestic movement centered on anti-government demonstrations, namely the rebel groups need to renounce violence and resort to civil and peaceful activity inside the country and second to end opposition from exile and return back to the country to operate from within. After all there is currently a state of unilateral ceasefires that has been in effect for more than two years, though it has not been turned into a formal one, but it became very clear that resorting to arms did not help much in efforts to overthrow the regime.

Moreover, if the intention is to replace the current regime with one more democratic and responsive to human rights the way to that is definitely not through resorting to violence that will impact the way the post-change regime operates.

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