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Sadiq al-Mahdi on the future of Sudan

By Lisanne Boersma

On Friday the 16th of October, we had the honour to host an evening with the former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi about the future of Sudan. He has been elected prime minister of Sudan twice, and has been the only democratically elected leader of Sudan so far. Currently he is the leader of the Umma party, which is the largest party in Sudan. Although he is the head of Sudan Call (the organized opposition in Sudan) the Sudanese diaspora present didn’t simply accept his leadership, but presented him with pointed questions.

At times, al-Mahdi sounded like Mandela when he talked about the end of dictatorships, wars and poverty. But how do we know these aren’t simply hollow phrases? Like those of our mealy-mouthed leaders during the general assembly of the United Nations, bragging about peace, equality and prosperity, while their politics back home often show a different story. (see this video from 4:30 onwards)

Sadiq al-Mahdi believes in non-violent change and plays an active and important role in establishing the conditions for a democratic transition of Sudan. He wants to enact regime change through dialogue or peaceful protest. Regime change was a topic that popped up several times during the discussion. ‘What is needed for that?’, ‘With whom does one work together?’ etc. Another hot-button issue was of course what should happen to Al Bashir, the current president of Sudan. In March 2009, al-Bashir became the first sitting president to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), for allegedly directing a campaign of mass killing, rape, and pillage against civilians in Darfur. Should he be extradited to the ICC in The Hague, or not?

Al-Mahdi felt that this, at least for the moment, should not be the priority of the opposition. He agreed that al Bashir had committed crimes, but what Sudan needs is a reconciliation program, much like South Africa. Some of the people in the audience opposed this standpoint by stating that in order to reach a stable situation of peace, justice needs to be done first. Are these voices too impatient and perhaps no longer well informed about the complexity of the situation on the ground, or are they righteously fed up with the same empty promises that they have been hearing for decades?