Sudan opposition leader woos Museveni to save country

From left to right: Ugandan lawyer Edgar Tabaro, former Vice President of Sudan Mubarak Abdullahi El-Fadil El-Mahdi, and the managing director of Pearl Meat Industries Ltd, Mr Idris Ali Elgadhi, at Munyonyo on June 27. Photos / Abubaker Lubowa

What you need to know:


  • Sudan’s Opposition leaders, including former Vice President Mubarak Abdullahi El-Fadil El-Mahdi, jetted into the country  late last month to meet with President Museveni on the transitional politics of the country. For more than three years, the country has been under military rule after the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in 2019.

Sudan’s Opposition leaders, including former Vice President Mubarak Abdullahi El-Fadil El-Mahdi, jetted into the country  late last month to meet with President Museveni on the transitional politics of the country. For more than three years, the country has been under military rule after the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in 2019. Derrick Wandera talked to the former National Umma Party executive on wide-ranging issues.

For a start, Your Excellency, what brings you to Uganda?

 Well,  I’m in Uganda to see a presidential motivity briefing on the outcome of the last rounds of dialoguing. And because President Museveni is now the senior president in Africa, a member of the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (Igad), they got him involved in the mediation.

 Homeopathy has been proposed as a solution to the problem. Now, we need his good offices to push for a conclusion of that dialogue because the issues are clear. But, you know, these regional and international organisations tend to prolong issues that have a shortcut to move to the former government and move to an election.

 The purpose of my visit is to update President Museveni and to ask for his good office to push for a conclusion as this issue has now gone for eight months and the meditation is now on for several months. And it seems that there is no end to this dialogue and we need experienced leaders like him to help us and to help these regional organisations to [reach] a conclusion.

 The leader of the interim sovereign and the chair of the Supreme Commander of the Army [of Sudan] he was [in Uganda]. President Museveni has been very instrumental in helping to [remove] Sudan from the list of [state] terrorist [sponsors] and that he arranged a meeting between [former Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and General [Abdel Fattah al-Burhan]. Museveni was instrumental in convincing the United States and President Trump [ex-US President Donald] to remove Sudan from the terrorists’ sponsor list.

 The banking, the investment and everything [stopped when Sudan was on the blacklist]. And the process [of removal] was very difficult to achieve, and if it had not been for the help of President Museveni, and the link he made with Israelis, the [would not have been the] incentive for the United States [to removed Sudan from the state sponsors of terrorists list].

 So that was incentive for President Trump to get Sudan off the list of terror sponsor states and to recommend so to the international financial organisations. It was actually a breakthrough done by President Museveni.

 Had it not been for President Museveni making this meeting happen, we wouldn’t have reached where we are now because all Western diplomats visiting Sudan were saying that this process will need about three years to happen. This shortcut was only helped by fast-tracking normalisation of relations with Israel and it was President Museveni who made the breakthrough possible. So, he has been very much involved in Sudan issues.

 … Sudan and Uganda and their president really had been very close on regional issues and bringing peace to South Sudan after the civil war in 2017.

Have you briefed the president yet?

 When we came in, he wasn’t in the country. I briefed him in March, this year about what is happening in Sudan and said we need to meet again which is why I am here on his invitation.

 I have read reports that say you’ve been holding secret meetings with President Museveni and that you want him to support you to get to power.

 I have been talking to President Museveni even before today and the papers said the same, but there is no secret in the meeting that is why Aljazeera [news outlet] has reported about it.

How true is the report that you want him to help you become the president of Sudan?

 We can’t really come to power now unless there are elections. We need stability in Sudan. We need to bring back Sudan to the interim process so that it can carry us to elections.

I’ve been in South Sudan. Also, 10 days ago, I met President Salva Kiir [of South Sudan] on the same issue because they have also been involved in mediation in the groups.

Now, on coming out of this impasse in Sudan, there is need for dialogue, and for South Sudan and Uganda to help and we have the African Union on the mediation. We need interested influential leaders to help these civil servants sitting there [in negotiations] because, otherwise, we will be bogged by bureaucratic [red tape].

Do you think an outsider can help to make a breakthrough on the issue on the table in Sudan?

 Unless we have some experience and leaders to push these regional organisations to have a breakthrough. We have continued on this [internal path] for eight months without the government, seven months, which is deviation and no conclusion when the set goals are very clear; that we need a government, a neutral government with a realistic programme to take the country into elections in 18 months.

Now three years have passed and we are still fighting on how to run the interim government. But also, a small part is fighting to exercise power during the interim because they have [no way to] win elections.

They don’t have the social and political support to be elected. They want to prolong and use the interim administration to exercise power forever. They have done it for three years, but they landed in huge problems. They split and we have received one of two and they are at loggerheads with the army.

 Yes, I am looking to come to power through elections, but if I don’t help the situation now so that the interim [arrangement] is straightened, and we are going into elections [next year], Sudan itself is not going to be stable.

So, that is very important for the stability of the Horn of Africa. Because now we have a war, no state in Libya, which is our northern neighbour. We have unrest and civil war in Chad. These are all our neighbours. You have war and unrest in Ethiopia and then we have South Sudan. We have five neighbours that have problems.

What does that mean?

 If Sudan goes into turmoil, insecurity will spill over into East Africa. And then it will spill to Egypt. Sudan is now part of stopping the immigration to Europe. Migrants from the rest of Africa come through Sudan, they go to Libya and from Libya onwards to Europe.

Sudan is very pivotal in terms of maintaining security for the regions. If it is left to break, then you have a very big security problem in the region. This small elite parties [in Sudan] are stopping elections with the help of the African Union and the western powers who agree to this formula of partnership between this elite groups and the army. They agreed to the prolongation of the interim period, which is contrary to [the previous agreements under which the interim arrangement was to last for] only one year.

 When the African Union and western … have actually failed the transformation to democracy and landed us into this impasse [by continuing to extend the life of the interim administration].

Because until now, those who have been in power are making issues out of that. They are making excuses that elections cannot be conducted because you know we have a number of armed groups; we cannot trust the army.

 We cannot do this and that. We set Sudan as an experience in life because there was a split about independence and unity. We say if you doubt that the conditions cannot lead to a free election, we can also repeat the same experience of 1953 and bring an expert from India to supervise the elections.

This is not the first time you are accused of seeking secret support from foreign leaders to get to power.  In 2007, you were accused of lobbying President Muammar Gaddafi of Libya to support you to become President of Sudan.

I was accused of [plotting] a coup and I was imprisoned for one year. Yes. But then I was released without any charges because it was a political [issue]. They just wanted to shut me up. So, they made up the accusation.

Relations between Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Rwanda, and Burundi are variously frosty. Then Sudan is an unresolved problem. What does this point to the current leadership in our region?

 That brings me to what we have been telling you that Sudan commands most of the region; West Africa, Central Africa, North Africa, and East Africa.  So, Sudan’s stability is very important to the stability and security of most of the African countries. And that’s why we are saying that we need to get together and help each other to have the situation in Sudan resolved.

Security was wrecked by military rule and ideological parties. They are minorities. So, they always go and engineer who is to come to power.

Former Vice President of Sudan Mubarak Abdullahi El-Fadil El-Mahdi

 The last group was the Islamists who have actually destroyed most of the institutions of government in Sudan because that was a very heavy-handed government and ideologically-oriented. So, they tried to plant a minority to unfold the whole of Sudan. They initiated a lot of inward tribal politics in order to continue ruling the country.

Then they entered into conflicts with international community because they were helping terrorists.

Would you say removing President Omar al-Bashir was a mistake because of what is happening now?

It was not the mistake, the mistake was in the wrong formation that brought elite small parties which had no programme and no experience, and leaving out some of the experience leaders and parties.

The prime minister was so weak and after he passed the budget and the agreement with the International Monetary Fund [IMF], he flew out of Sudan for a year-and-half that led to the hiking inflation. The problem became recurrent. By the time he came back [to] reform agreement, things were very bad.

People hate the Islamist Party because these Islamists were trying to impose themselves in every aspect of life in the country, even occupation of family life. So, you cannot have a party [at home], you have to go and have permission to have the party. The police would jump on houses, arrest people that are drinking, or find women. There has been harassment everywhere.

They dismissed people from the government and put their own party officials who are not trained as civil servants.

Youth rioting in Khartoum is a result of the failure of that economy. We had four good universities, they went and opened 25 universities without [corresponding teachers and equipment]. They started graduating with huge numbers without qualifications, graduates did not understand what they had studied; so, they stayed out of the economy that was shrinking. Those rioting now are sons and daughters of middle class citizens in central or Old Khartoum who have been unemployed for years.

Those in power are keeping themselves in power because instead of serving their people, they keep fighting to stay in power. The answer is democracy. Our society should be patient because this is the nature of democracy; it is slow and involves a lot of people. But it’s the best for us because it gives us checks and balances and helps expose and fight corruption if you have a free press and independent Judiciary as well as Legislature. This makes a government accountable. This is the system that can save (Sudanese).

You have been an opposition figure almost as a professional.

Opposition to military dictatorship is always troublesome because they don’t respect the opposition. Opposition has to be beaten, imprisoned or denied any rights. For example, I have been imprisoned thrice, my properties [targeted], in order to handicap me, which they cannot really, they take my property, money and so on.

Such autocratic governments don’t respect or approve of Opposition because that is why they spend the money on security; they follow you listen to your [telephone] calls, harass you, you cannot invest or work in government [all] because you’re opposing the government.

What is your view about President Museveni?

President Museveni is the wisest leader in the region I believe, whatever his opponents would say about him. He was able to bring Uganda back to peace. Uganda was at war. He was able to make the economy grow faster than the Kenyan economy.

He needs to be commended for the efforts he has done to bring Uganda to the position Uganda is in.

You can walk in Uganda anytime and no one will rob you, but in Nariobi, Kenya, it is different. I commend President Museveni because he has done a lot of success in Uganda.

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