KHARTOUM - Former South African President Thabo Mbeki has called on leaders of the Sudanese opposition to meet with African Union mediators to hold consultations in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on the current protests in Khartoum.
Mbeki has long been involved in Sudan as an AU meditator and headed the African Union’s high-level implementation panel which helped ensure a peaceful solution to Sudan’s conflict.
In February, he is also holding a round of negotiations between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement’s armed wing led by Abdul Aziz al-Helu and the government in Addis Ababa under the mandate of the African Peace and Security Council.
Mbeki sent two letters to the heads of the Umma National Party, Sadiq al-Mahdi, and the Sudanese Congress Party, Omar al-Dukir, to hold consultations in Addis Ababa. Mahdi and Dukir represent, the Sudan Appeal Alliance, a coalition of opposition parties in Sudan that have been leading protests since January 6 against the latest rounds of subsidy cuts and basic commodity price increases implemented by the government.
Bread prices have more than doubled after a jump in the cost of flour due to dwindling wheat supplies, after the government decided to stop importing grain and allow private companies to do so.
On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday hundreds of protesters poured into the streets near a presidential palace in central Khartoum after the opposition alliance called for anti-government rallies.
Police fired tear gas and hit protesters with batons as they tried to break up the protests and arrested leading opposition political figures throughout the month.
A leading source in the Alliance told Al Arabiya English that the invitation was received by the leaders on Friday.
The Sudan Appeal Alliance, which includes the military and civilian opposition factions, signed a roadmap agreement with the government in March 2016 under the auspices of mediator Mbeki, but the negotiation process collapsed on Aug. 16, 2016.
Since then, Sudanese parties have been blaming the failure of the dialogue as the reason to find a comprehensive political solution to the conflict in Sudan.
The source said the leadership of the alliance have not yet taken a decision so far.
The spokesman for the opposition Sudan Appeal Alliance, Mohamed Farouk, said that the civil opposition supports the negotiations aimed at stopping the war and achieving peace.
He stressed that peace in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states are the main demand. However, he said that the civil opposition forces will continue to protest the high prices and policies of the government.
He told Al Arabiya English: “We will not accept any invitation from the mediator under the current circumstances.”
The leader of the Sudanese Baath party, a member of the leadership office of the opposition alliance, criticized Mbeki’s calls for consultation, while most of its leaders are in detention for organizing the protests over price increase, which he claimed were peaceful.
“What the Mbeki does has called for is not solving the problem and is not at the right time,” he said.
The Sudanese protests’ timeline
At the beginning of the New Year, the government announced its 2018 budget, which included measures to avoid deep economic crisis, the most prominent of these measures was devaluating the pound against the US dollar in customs transactions from 6.9 to 18 pounds, and removing the subsidies on basic commodities, including wheat, which resulted in doubling the price of bread immediately.
As a result, protests broke out in Khartoum and some cities.
- - On January 6, protests broke out in the border town of El Geneina in western Darfur, which were attacked by police using tear gas and bullets, resulting in the death of a school student, while six others were injured. Protests have also erupted in the city of Damazin, capital of the Blue Nile state.
- - On January 16, the Communist Party marched to the state headquarters in Khartoum to hand over a statement protesting against the price increase. Police turned on the protesters using batons and tear gas and arrested dozens of the party supporters and protestors.
- - On January 17, the opposition coalition organized a protest in Omdurman city (one of the three capital cities). The police raided the crowd using tear gas, arrested dozens of demonstrators and journalists ( including Reuters’ bureau chief and director of the French Press Agency office). On the same day, the security services arrested the Secretary of the Communist Party.
- - On January 18, the opposition coalition called for a protest in the revolution suburb north of Omdurman, to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the execution of political thinker Mahmoud Taha and protest against the price increase. The police prevented the activists from holding the event and arrested potential participants.
- - On January 19, hundreds of demonstrators marched out of Omdurman mosques to protest price increases. Police again attacked the crowd using gas bombs and batons and arrested dozens of those who were praying.
Who and what are the Sudan Appeal Alliance
- - The “Sudan Appeal Alliance” was established in December 2014 to unite the Sudanese opposition forces, both civil and military, to resolve the Sudanese crisis completely, with the participation of all parties.
- - When the alliance was established it included the National Umma Party, the Sudanese Communist Party, the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, the Sudanese Congress Party, the Sudanese Ba’ath Party, the Sudanese National Alliance Party and the Sudanese Civil Society Initiative, as well as the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) north, Darfur’s three armed movements which is a Sudanese liberation movement of Minni Arko Minnawi wing and the Sudan Liberation Movement Abdul Wahid Nour wing and Sudan Justice and Equality Movement.
- - Under the auspices of African mediator Thabo Mbeki in August 2016, the alliance signed a roadmap to have a plan with the Sudanese government to reach peace, a cessation of war and a comprehensive solution to the political conflict in Sudan.
- - Some parties separated from the alliance due to the signing of this roadmap. These parties are the Sudanese Communist Party, the Arab Baath Socialist Party and the Nasserite Party. However, the coalition has maintained coherence and continued the efforts in cooperation with the government.
- - But the dialogue process between the government and the Sudan Appeal Alliance based on the road map signed by the two parties collapsed after the failure of the first round of talks between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement on August 16, 2016 to discuss suspending hostilities with the armed militants.