Osman Mirghani

Sudan’s Problem with the 'Exclusionists'

In parallel with its vicious armed conflict, another war is being fought over the rubble in Sudan. The flames of this other war also refuse to die down, rather than stop adding to the flames of the conflict. It is true that an array of factors, domestic and external, are perpetuating the conflict and aggravating matters. However, I believe the deep divisions within Sudan and the sharp polarization among rival political forces are among the most consequential.

The rivals - the Forces of Freedom and Change (Central Council) on the one hand and the Islamists on the other - are fiercely battling it out to pin the blame on one another for everything, from the April 15 war to the failure of the democratic transition and the emergence and fortification of the Rapid Support Forces. Their quarrels also extend to how to end this conflict.

The truth is that the writing had been on the wall well before this war broke out. Indeed, many perceptive figures warned us that the persistent acrimonious disputes among rivals would inevitably lead the country to war. The divisions between civilians and the military, and within each of these two camps, were profound. Each camp is still seeking to defeat the other and exclude it from the political scene, which has led to an aggravation of tensions. This maximalist approach has also heightened political polarization, which has spread from the center to the periphery and inflamed tensions there. All of this not only left the transition faltering and toppled the civilian government, but it also ultimately contributed to sparking the war.

To catastrophic effect, these parties continue to fight these battles, instead recognizing the lesson in the cruel experience and developing their perspective for the benefit of the country at this critical juncture. In fact, they have not softened any of their positions and views, and have even hardened their stances on some issues. Some of those primarily responsible for this crisis do not see this war as a calamity wreaking havoc on the country and giving rise to unprecedented levels of suffering; they see it as an opportunity to advance narrow political interests - to exclude their rival from the political scene or to return to power. This seems clear from the discourse prevalent in the media and on social media platforms, where we see virtually nothing but intractable arguments and extremely acrimonious rhetoric, which can go as far as painting those with divergent opinions as traitors.

The Islamists have been obsessed with fears of their marginalization and exclusion from the political scene since the revolution. They see this war as their opportunity to make a comeback and believe that the left and a few other small parties hostile to them have been steering the Forces of Freedom and Change coalition since the larger parties (National Congress Party and the Democratic Unionist Party) weakened. Convinced that their exclusion is sought, the Islamists believe that compromise is impossible.

On the other side, the majority of forces in the Forces of Freedom and Change believe that after thirty years in power, the Islamists have gained control over every state institution, including the army. They see this war as a chance to curb their influence after having previously failed to do so during the transitional period because of the October 25 coup in 2021. These parties are convinced that otherwise, the country will remain unstable even after this conflict ends.

The question is, however: is that what Sudan needs at this critical juncture?

The truth is that exclusionary politics has been a problem in Sudan for decades, undermining stability, fueling wars, and precipitating military coups that ended short-lived attempts at establishing democratic governance. It would not be accurate to claim that the military first became politicized in 1989, with the Islamist coup (by the Kizan) led by Omar al-Bashir. Its politicization began earlier, and the majority of political forces, if not all of them, bear some responsibility, albeit to varying degrees.

Moreover, the politics of exclusion and marginalization that were embraced by all parties and political forces, to divergent degrees and at different stages, hindered the resolution of the country’s chronic governance crisis. This maximalism has prevented the emergence of consensus on how the country should be governed and how to address questions of identity and citizenship, and how to build a stable state and a viable democratic system.

What the Sudanese need, today, is a way out of this impasse. They need consensus instead of attempts to exclude which has led us to this calamity. The first and foremost challenge before us is ending the war. After that, we can confront the mountain of problems and challenges that would remain. Reconstruction and rebuilding the state demands a broad consensus that establishes a degree of stability, without which things will never move forward and no substantial achievements will be realized. The country could face more dangerous setbacks if not.

The majority of the Sudanese see ending this war as their priority. Before anything else, they want security and stability, to go back to their lives. The question that many are asking is: What comes first in this difficult period, disputes with the Islamists (the Kizan) or the national crisis?

Many, even those who strongly disagree with the Islamists, reply that the interest of the nation comes first and that we must reach the light at the end of the tunnel of this war, which has taken its toll and almost become an existential threat.

The dispute with the Kizan is political, and it can thus be resolved later on. Resolving the Sudanese crisis, in contrast, is beyond pressing. As for exclusion, it should be left to the people to decide through the ballot box, whenever they can access it.