Saving Sudan vs mediating the mediators?
A year after securing the Pretoria deal, diplomats and the international community are once again engaged in shuttle diplomacy to restore peace in Sudan. However, the perpetual failure of Sudan’s warring factions to deliver agreements has made achieving a ceasefire seemingly unattainable.
Consequently, it has become increasingly likely that Sudan will divide into two separate states, each serving as a stronghold for one of the generals, unless a peaceful resolution is imposed. Should the international community fail to secure a viable deal this time, analysts concur that Sudan’s split into two states, with each general at the helm, is inevitable.
Speculations suggest that Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan may choose Port Sudan as his capital, while Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, who is reportedly gaining momentum, will likely establish his base in Khartoum.
Although the generals’ inability to honor the Jeddah agreement for a ceasefire and humanitarian access was a setback, a glimmer of hope emerged last week when they made another commitment in Djibouti.
At the IGAD extraordinary meeting on Sudan’s case last Saturday, the two generals agreed to a face-to-face encounter, cessation of hostilities, and a political dialogue under the AU/IGAD initiative. Al-Burhan attended the meeting in Djibouti in person, while Hemedti, from his stronghold in Sudan, was contacted by IGAD via phone.
The generals, according to the IGAD communiqué, have consented to reach a binding agreement within two weeks, meaning by late December.
However, upon returning to Sudan, Al-Burhan issued a startling statement through Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, citing inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the IGAD communiqué.
Sudan’s government, led by Al-Burhan, strongly criticized the IGAD communiqué, raising questions about the participation of UAE and RSF leaders. The Sudanese Foreign Ministry emphasized that these inconsistencies “render the summit statement unacceptable and devoid of legal standing.”
This marks the second time in a month that a potential agreement has been overshadowed, following the generals’ failure to honor the Jeddah agreement as well.
During the Doha Forum on December 10, 2023, representatives of the international community acknowledged the limited tools available to compel the warring generals to adhere to the Djibouti agreement.
During a panel discussion on Sudan’s case, at the Doha forum, Mike Hammer (Amb.), US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, said “The belligerents failed to deliver their Jeddah agreement. IGAD/AU platform must be supported. Now, Alburhan and Hemedti agreed in Djibouti to a ceasefire in two weeks-time. They must honor it. Otherwise Sudan breaks up. Al-burhan and Hemedti will be responsible for Sudan’s division. They have destroyed their country. Enough is enough. The situation is grave. The time is now. This is a mistake, a tragedy.”
The Ambassador also took part in the IGAD summit.
At the Doha event, moderated by Comfort Ero, president and CEO of the International Crisis Group, representatives including those from the UN expressed their frustrations. Hanna Tetteh, UN Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa, stated that in the past six months, the two generals failed to achieve their objective, and . In the next six months, it is unlikely they will achieve it. So the war will not end. It only adds misery. Therefore, it is time for negotiation. They destroyed Khartoum.”
According to the UN representative, even if Al-Burhan or Hemedti were to win the war, there can be no lasting peace in Sudan.
“Let us assume RSF won the war. Do you think the people of Sudan in the damaged areas will accept RSF to rule the country? I do not think so. And it is vice versa. That is the reason there is no reason in continuing the fight,” said Tetteh.
As per the UN, over seven million people have been displaced, 19 million children are out of school, and a significant number of people have been killed thus far.
However, the international community has lost hope in the peace promises made by the generals during the IGAD meeting in Djibouti last week.
“The two gentlemen will not reach an agreement in the near future, let alone in two weeks. The generals are concerned about their troops, their finances, and their own justice. That’s why they don’t want a political transition or power transfer to a civilian government without guarantees. Hemedti has significant resources,” said Kholood Khair, founding director of Confluence Advisory, offering two approaches to end the conflict.
Khair proposes addressing the interests of all foreign powers involved in the Sudan conflict as the first approach, and secondly, tackling the war generals’ sources of revenue.
“The Sudan conflict is not an African issue; it is a global issue. So, the negotiations must include all global stakeholders. Tracking the generals’ revenue streams through sanctions can also stop them. However, the flow of finance and weapons to the generals continues. In particular, the UAE is fueling one side of the war,” stated Khair.
However, others argue that sanctions will not be effective against organizations that operate under the radar.
Both generals possess significant economic resources, and some regional and global powers continue to supply weapons to Al-Burhan and Hemedti’s factions.
Mike Hammer and IGAD have also emphasized the need for foreign forces to cease inflaming the Sudanese war.
The two generals have garnered support from various regions, including the Horn of Africa, the Middle East, and beyond. Given Sudan’s proximity to the Red Sea, global superpowers like Russia and the US have also become involved in the politics surrounding the Red Sea.
While Al-Burhan has been engaged in diplomatic efforts across multiple countries to build soft power, Hemedti has been utilizing significant resources, such as gold, to gather supporters.
Countries like the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the US, and others desire to have representatives in the Sudan peace process, but agree that IGAD and the AU should lead the mediations. Currently, they are preparing to deploy a team of reputable diplomats to mediate between the generals.
Panelists emphasized that once a ceasefire is achieved between the warring parties, the transitional government and dialogue process must be driven by Sudanese civilians who have borne the brunt of the conflict. However, some argue that the generals will not agree to a civilian-led transitional government unless they receive guarantees for their impunity regarding war crimes and equal inclusion of their troops in the national army.
Other representatives, including those from the UN, suggest that a UN peacekeeping mission is necessary in certain parts of Sudan to prevent further clashes.
However, for Mike Hammer, there are two major concerns: mediating the mediators and carefully designing the envisioned civilian government.
“If all stakeholders are on board, we can succeed, just as we did in Pretoria when resolving the conflict in northern Ethiopia. Yet, if a civilian government takes over, who will represent whom?” asks Hammer. “The ceasefire could have been simple if the belligerents prioritized Sudan’s interests instead of their own narrow interests.”