Boldness Required to End Sudan Misery

This piece originally appeared on CNN.com.

By EJ Hogendoorn & Ben Dalton, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: EJ Hogendoorn is Deputy Africa Program Director for the International Crisis Group. Ben Dalton is a Communications & IT Officer for ICG. The views expressed are their own.

Last month’s arrest of senior security figures for allegedly plotting a coup showed how close Sudan is to even greater violence and disintegration. Despite the indictment by the International Criminal Court of President Omar al-Bashir, South Sudan’s secession, billions spent on humanitarian assistance and numerous other international interventions, civil war continues to plague the country. Only managed but fundamental governance reform can help it escape a pattern of chronic conflict and human misery.

Bashir remains a key hurdle, and it is time for him – and the international community – to face some painful realities. He must confront the fact that the challenges he and his ruling National Congress Party face are the gravest they have ever been and threaten the state’s stability and integrity. His own personal position is likely only to become ever more tenuous. International actors need to acknowledge that there is no lasting solution to decades of civil war without the willing participation of the president and the NCP.

Sudan needs more than quick deals or piece-by-piece regional solutions. The economy is in freefall, because of NCP economic mismanagement and corruption, as well as South Sudan’s decision to stop the production of oil that is exported through the north – the fees from which are a crucial source of revenue. Meanwhile, the army is being bled and the government coffers drained by ongoing fighting with the Sudan Revolutionary Front, an alliance of major rebel groups from Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. The budget crunch has led to austerity measures and inflation, which have driven civilian protests in Khartoum.

It has also led to growing dissent within NCP ranks. Many members – and former supporters – are unhappy with the party leadership’s, citing the South’s secession, misguided policies, and endemic corruption. In response, Bashir has further concentrated power in his inner circle, in effect doubling down on the model that brought Sudan to this desperate point in the first place.

The NCP leadership may be tempted by partial fixes that have worked in the past. But getting exports of southern oil flowing once again, or cutting a deal with the weak and fractured opposition, only postpones accounting for the big questions that have driven Sudan’s decades of conflict. At root are fundamental defects in how the country is governed, and it remains to be seen whether Khartoum recognizes the need for deep, structural reforms. The window in which the NCP may yet buy some time with half measures grows narrower by the day.

Bashir and company will need to reach that realization on their own, but international actors can help steer Khartoum toward understanding that comprehensive reform is in its own best interest and not simply a selfless matter of enlightened leadership. The United Nations, the African Union and the Arab League could offer concrete incentives tied to specific reform benchmarks – carrots rather than the sticks the NCP has come to expect from the international community.

For example, if NCP elites take clear steps toward implementing a comprehensive ceasefire and creating a transitional administration, one that includes representatives of the opposition and civil society, then international actors should consider lifting some sanctions, pursuing debt relief, and normalizing diplomatic relations.

And if Bashir supports a process including SRF rebels and other marginalized groups from Sudan’s south and east to draft a permanent constitution – one that shares power and resources more evenly throughout the country – then the U.N. Security Council should consider requesting the ICC defer prosecuting Bashir for one year under Article 16 of the Rome Statute. Of course, if the process stymies or Bashir reneges, there is no obligation to extend.

There is no question that brutal human rights violations have been committed under Bashir’s rule. But there will be no ceasefire or meaningful reform process without NCP participation. The opposition is fragmented and lacks experience. The security services are split, with many still loyal to Bashir. NCP elites could act as spoilers at any stage of what is likely to be a long and complex process. International players may be able to bring the NCP leadership on board by giving them something to gain.

Regional ceasefires and deals have failed to bring Sudan stability – as soon as one deal is struck, other conflicts re-emerge. Even the secession of the South last year did not end the longstanding dynamic of north-south rancor. The only lasting solution is a comprehensive one, bringing all of Sudan’s stakeholders together to reform how power is wielded in a large and diverse country. Over the long term, the status quo is intolerable for all parties: incessant warfare, millions displaced, billions spent on aid, a litany of woes that has been Sudan’s reality for decades. If it is to be resolved for good, the NCP and international players will need to offer much more than any time in the past.