How the military harnessed the African Union in the UNITAMS process to legitimize the coup
by Khalid Mukhtar Salim
On January 8, 2022, when the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for Sudan and the Head of UNITAMS, Volker Perthes, announced the launch of a United Nations initiative, calling for a political process after the ominous October 25 coup, many were optimistic about it, as a glimmer of hope for restoring the path of civil democratic transition in Sudan. It was seen as a concrete expression of the commitment of the International Community and the United Nations towards a democratisation process in Sudan with actions rather than just words. The hoped-for objective of the UN initiative was perceived as stopping the progress of the coup and reversing its course towards a consensual civil democratic transition. It came after the failure of many domestic initiatives that did not gain sufficient traction and resulted in the resignation of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. The resignation, popularly welcomed, confirmed the death of the November 21 agreement, and the categorical refusal of the Sudanese to accept the authority and sovereignty of the putschists. However, more than four months after the launching of that initiative, it seems to still be in the first square and has moved only in a circular path. The process seems to be an actual representation of Lenin’s statement in describing the impact of the organisational obstacles in hindering any political processes; one step forward and two steps back.
The major organisational obstacle that hindered the initiative and pushed it back, was a lesson that the United Nations did not learn from the experience of UNAMID. Although UNITAMS announced the end of the first phase of the political process on February 14, and issued an excellent report, which was reasonably welcomed by the Sudanese, summarizing the results of the wide consultations it held with a large range of political and social stakeholders in Sudan, it has not yet been able to announce the initiation of the next phase of the political process. The main reason for this is that UNITAMS is not anymore alone in deciding the fate of the implementation of its mandate. The political process is now facilitated not by UNITAMS, but by a trilateral mechanism that includes the IGAD and the African Union.
The absurdity of this situation comes from the time and effort lost in prioritizing and focusing on the tools rather than the objectives. UNITAMS is the political framework that the Sudanese themselves asked the United Nations (instead of the AU or IGAD) to establish in order to help in the political transition in their country. This includes a priori facing such current coup circumstances to assist in protecting the Sudanese transition from regression. In a perfect world, such a partnership would have been a wonderful example of international and regional cooperation in support of democracy and the rights and aspirations of peoples, but the current leadership of the African Union seems to have other intentions to serve. An agenda that constantly worked in transforming AU mechanisms from a peoples’ organization to a club of dictators that supports the thriving of tyranny, allowing tyrants in Africa to scratch each other’s backs and provide services to each other’s regimes. This became more evident in the current Sudanese situation, where the coup is using the current African Union apparatus to legitimize itself.
The AU leadership used the fine print about the subsidiarity principle in the UN charter against the undeniable will of the Sudanese people. This was in contrast to what it did in 2019, when the same people in the leadership of the African Union hijacked the initiative of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, claiming the primacy of the African Union’s mandate over the member states and IGAD . The AU Commission used all means of Afrocentric and xenophobic discourse to crowd out the UN and to force becoming a partner in a complicated framework that is assigned to facilitate the Sudanese political process. It was a clear case of adopting Westernphobic tactics to serve personal interests against what the Sudanese people chose for themselves in their country. It was reported that after UNITAMS informed the AU about the intentions of the UN to launch a political process in Sudan, even before the announcement, the chairperson of the AU Commission, Mr Moussa Faki contacted the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, who was meant to announce the process, several times in order to intimidate the UN not to launch this process. This blackmailing succeeded in forcing the Secretary-General to abandon the announcement of the political process from UN headquarters and to reduce it to his special representative in Khartoum. It also had a chilling effect within its headquarters on fully backing their mission’s political efforts in Sudan, opening a door for additional space for the AU to undermine the UN’s good offices’ effort. This lack of support was further augmented by the war in Ukraine which left no bandwidth for the international organization to focus on much else.
Of course, this served the military putschists’ agenda well. They did not want a heavy-weight process that has international backing at the level of UN leadership. Instead, they preferred a toothless local process with only cosmetic engagement from the outside that can give some sort of legitimacy, that they might be able to manipulate. Something they got with thanks to Moussa Faki.
It was no secret to many in Sudanese political circles, the close relationship between the putschists’ camp to the arrival of the African Union to intervene in the political process. The civilian putschists represented in the National Charter coalition continued to stress in their statements that they only want African mediation. But the organic link became very clear when the authorities intervened to pressure UNITAMS to cancel its press conference  to announce the end of the first phase of the consultations and release its summary report, at the direct request of the African envoy.
Moreover, the pro-coup media circles that saw the great success of the AU tactic in using Westernphobic and xenophobic discourse against the UN continued, even after the establishment of the trilateral mechanism, to use a similar tactic against UNITAMS. For the past few months, official government platforms and high government officials including the chairperson of the Sovereign Council, Lt. General Abdelfatah Al Burhan, launched their attacks against the UN mission and the UN SRSG Volker Perthes, with no mention of the other two envoys of the AU and IGAD, accusing the UN of foreign interventions and crossing lines, although the three envoys conduct their activities jointly. The official daily newspaper of the Armed Forces went as far on the 17th of April to accuse SRSG Perthes of spreading chaos and terrorism and being a Nazi . A cheap attempt to imitate the political jingoism adopted by the Russians in their war in Ukraine.
As a result, the initiative is now being held hostage by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, the Chadian politician Moussa Faki Mahomet, with his own related political ambitions now carried out through his chief of staff, Mohamed el-Hacen Lebatt. Lebatt was the facilitator of the unpopular and now aborted political deal between the civilian and the junta in 2019, wherein he hijacked Ethiopian PM, Abiy Ahmed’s, initiative in a similar fashion, ironically, using the principle of the superiority of the African Union’s mandate over IGAD and other member states at that time.
The explanation for this contradiction and actions appears more clearly when looking at the personal motives of the AU leadership. Chairperson Moussa Faki looks at the political crisis that is taking place in Sudan after the October 25 coup through the lens of what is happening in his home country, Chad. Since the death of President Idriss Deby and his son Mohamed Deby taking over the reins of power, Faki’s ambitions to take over power in Chad have emerged in sharp focus. Faki, (62 years old) is a seasoned Chadian politician who comes from the same Zaghawa tribe to which Idriss Deby belongs. This has significant linkages with the armed movements in Darfur, particularly the Sudan Liberation Movement – Minawi, and the Justice and Equality Movement – Jibril Ibrahim, (both movements are composed primarily of the Zaghawa tribe) that both sided from the beginning with the October 25 coup leaders. Prior to his appointment in March 2017 as chairperson of the AU Commission, Faki served under Idriss Deby as Prime Minister of Chad from 2003 to 2005 and Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2008 to 2017. Having all this domestic and international experience, many compare him to the current sitting president; the young and relatively unexperienced son of Deby, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno (38 years old), and consider Faki’s presidential ambitions as the biggest real threat to the continuation of the presidency of Deby Jr., the current president of Chad . Faki – an expert in Chadian foreign relations – knows perfectly well that since Chad’s independence in 1960, no president has come to power in N’Djamena without Khartoum’s support. In fact, the coup that brought the former president Idriss Deby to power was launched from within Sudanese borders in 1990 with the direct support of the Bashir regime. Faki is also a member of the “Patriotic Salvation Movement” founded and presided by Deby until his death. Faki also well understands that the existence of a democratic civilian government in Sudan is likely to distance it from interfering in the internal political affairs of neighbouring countries. This is what happened during the last Ethiopian crisis when the Sudanese military, who have now seized power in Khartoum, tried to rush to support one party against another, while the civilians in power resisted, preferring to keep Sudan neutral. The presence of a military regime in control of affairs in Khartoum will directly serve the interests of the presidential ambitions of Moussa Faki. Especially if it comes as a return of favours in exchange for previous services.
As for the mediator, Mohammed el-Hacen Lebatt (69 years old), who is Moussa Faki’s chief of staff, the Sudanese are still suspicious of his handling of the political process, after the disastrous manner in which he managed the negotiations in 2019 . Moreover, many were disturbed by his publication of a book on the 2019 negotiations only a few months after its conclusion, in which he significantly exaggerated his role and listed events that were questionable if not entirely fabricated . It is not known of the man whether he supports democracy or civil rule. On the contrary, Lebatt built his political career in his own country (Mauritania) by siding with the rule of military coups. The man supported the 1984 coup of Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya in Mauritania, which continued to rule until 2005. Lebatt served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mauritania in the mid-90s during his regime. It is widely perceived in Mauritanian political circles that his appointment was a reward for his disclosure and handing over of his leftist comrades to whom he belonged before siding with the coup. In summary, the man who Faki appointed against all international norms to help in facilitating the restoration of the democratic path in Sudan, has nothing in his history of accomplishments to show that he is pro-democracy.
Since the first day of his inauguration as a partner in managing the Sudanese political process, Lebatt worked hard to support the agenda of the military putschists, giving undeserved political weight to their civilian agents, whether from the new alliance represented by the National Charter Coalition, or the political leftovers from the remnants of the previous regime, such as Al-Tijani al-Sisi and Mubarak al-Fadil.
The most bizarre thing about the enforced AU intervention is that Moussa Faki insisted that Sudan’s portfolio be taken out of the hands of the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC), which is the body responsible for resolving political disputes in the African Union, and from its Commissioner, Mr Bankole Adeoye, a seasoned Nigerian diplomat elected to this post by the member states and handed it over to his questionable Chief of Staff, Lebatt. This happened even though the AUPSC has a functional mechanism that were active in addressing Sudanese affairs, such as the Panel of Wise  and the AU High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan (AUHIP) . Both mechanisms included respected African leaders who have a great deal of experience and knowledge and previous pro-democracy interventions in Sudan such as former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, and former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo. It is a contradiction that can only be explained by looking at the self-interests of Moussa Faki in dealing with the Sudanese situation.
Anyone looking at how the current political process in Sudan is being recently managed can clearly see the impact of the multiplicity of centres of power and directions of managing the political process. The goal and course of the political process have gradually shifted from addressing the causes of the coup, stopping its expansion and reversing its course, to addressing and solving the problems caused by the coup and the foolishness of the military who committed it. The four objectives of the political process that were announced on April 12, by the African Union’s ambassador to Sudan, Mohamed Belaiche, after meeting the head of the coup council, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, are serving the enabling and consolidating of the coup instead of addressing the unconstitutional intervention of the military in politics by expelling those they do not like and installing those they can control in constitutional and political positions as they wish.
It is sad that the current leadership of the African Union harnesses its institution to play this role of legitimizing the coup after the globally inspiring revolution such as the one which occurred in Sudan. A revolution that could have been a great example for the establishment of popular democracies in Africa in the twenty-first century. The international community and the member states of the African Union must not fall into the trap of surrendering to this deleterious situation that serves no purpose but the personal advancement of a few in the AU leadership. In order to safeguard the trilateral mechanism efforts from the AU’s hijacking that only serves the interest of consolidating the coup, there is a need for establishing a diverse international panel to advise in directing the process. This panel should include strong and respected pro-democracy figures from Africa and beyond and includes the direct involvement of envoys who will not only reflect their country’s commitment to democracy in Sudan but also give the process more weight and leverage and dilute if not completely abolish any tendencies of using the political process in Sudan to serve self-interests that are not related to the Sudanese revolution and the aspirations of the Sudanese people.
One of the complications of the current ongoing coup in Sudan is that many regional neighbours have had their fingerprints in its manufacture and implementation. Now, in order to resolve the political crisis that the coup caused, all other interests not related to Sudan and the aspirations of its people must be removed from this process. The slogans of the Sudanese revolution, represented in freedom, peace and justice, are slogans that should be supported, adopted and protected, despite all circumstances and challenges, not only in Sudan, but throughout Africa and the world.
Source: Sudan Tribune