Only civil society can bring peace to Sudan

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Only civil society can bring peace to Sudan

The picture shows a huge fire in one of the ancient markets in Sudan (Amdurman market) likely due to the war between the Sudanese army and the Rapi...

More than one year on since the outbreak of conflict in Sudan, there is no end in sight. While there are no reliable figures for deaths, there is a consensus that Sudan now has the largest displaced population in the world — some 8.8 million — and up to 18 million face famine. Yet the multiple diplomatic tracks remain just that: multiple. Thus, despite – or possibly because of – the different tracks in Jeddah, the African Union, the neighbouring states, or IGAD, there is no single or unified accepted track to lead to peace, even if the belligerents were of a mind to opt for peaceful settlement. In fact, multiple tracks can be a hindrance, as argued previously here.    

More to the point, the conflict dynamics in Sudan retain the whip hand regarding its future. Progress on the battlefield in recent months, especially in Omdurman, place the Sudanese Armed Forces of Gen Burhan in a stronger position than previously when Gen Dagalo, ‘Hemedti’, of the Rapid Support Forces made a forceful start to the conflict. Advancements in the SAF’s ideological heartland has given the confidence needed for it to shift from defence to attack, supported in no small measure by access to better weaponry and the rallying of some civilians to fight on the side of the SAF, whose objectives at least for now have coincided. The intent is still to crush the opposition, so that any eventual peace is not a compromise and settlement, but a victory parade.

What would remain then is a much-destroyed country and victory belonging to one side. This is not the same thing as peace among the people of Sudan, providing the platform from which the country could build back with stronger, more representative institutions. Most likely the RSF would be pushed back to Darfur, where the types of conflict seen 20 years ago would continue, away from the immediate concerns of the centre, and where the suffering can be relegated in a world of very pressing geo-political priorities. Other scenarios include the RSF holding some additional states of Sudan outside of Khartoum, creating a Libyan-style dual system of governance.

Indeed, the two belligerents are representative mostly of themselves. The diverse political currents that have long flowed in Sudan are still present, and find no meaningful outlet in the current conflict. In other words, even if the conflict were to end, how a flattened, widely dispersed and near-starving Sudan would get back on its feet is far from clear.

Nonetheless, while the exigencies of the battlefield still hold sway, the present time can be used constructively. This could be the moment for Sudan’s voices of peace and reconstruction to be heard. A political settlement would need to address chronic institutional imbalances and give due consideration to how to achieve justice, constitutionalism, and genuine political neutrality in state institutions, as well as a more equitable distribution of resources throughout the country besides building a unified army. While civil society or the grassroots are no silver bullet, as a united front they can nonetheless be a powerful tool to exert pressure on the warring parties.

There are two stages in the process of wielding this tool. Local ownership sounds great, but “ordinary voices” are as prone to division, disagreement, or political gaming, as anyone else’s. Thus, stage one involves organising them, with the underlying principle being these voices must be harmonised to be effective. Here, the emphasis must be on the voices themselves accepting compromise for the sake of Sudan as a whole, despite their different ideological departure points. This is no mean feat to achieve.

 

Efforts in this regard have been ongoing, with elements of the Forces for Freedom and Change (such as political parties, professional organisations, civil society organisations and some resistance committees) coalescing under the banner Taqaddum, or Coordination of Civilian Democratic Forces, led by former Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok. It is encouraging that this group has just completed a four-day conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and encouraging also that some 600 Sudanese people of various backgrounds attended (such as women, youth, diaspora), gathered under transparent criteria aimed at inclusivity and representation.

However, in practice inclusion has the capacity to be exclusive; despite the best efforts to bring everyone under the same umbrella, it is often simply not possible to include everyone. Such initiatives come with disputes baked in, ready to re-emerge at a later date, and can also leave the initiative open to accusations of partiality or being driven by elites with narrow interests. That said, this doesn’t mean do not put best efforts into achieving inclusivity; rather, establish mediation mechanisms as part of the initiative’s structures.

Stage two is the early inclusion of these voices in the diplomatic track/s trying to hasten peace in Sudan, with the underlying principle being that the political drivers of such track/s must accept the true value of such an exercise, and not pay it simple lip service, which tends to result in an exclusionary, and therefore redundant, inclusion.

There is precedent. When South Sudan’s 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) was revived in 2017 via what was called the High-Level Revitalisation Forum, various political and civil society voices were included in the forum – and not simply those of the belligerents. The forum, the objective of which was to cover the ground needed to end up with a peace agreement which would hold, resulted in the 2018 peace agreement. This still stands today, however imperfectly, with elections due in December this year. The 2018 “revitalised” agreement, aside from the political leaders of South Sudan, regional guarantors and witnesses, was also signed by 17 South Sudanese stakeholders, including leaders from faith-based groups and different sections of civil society, such as women and youth groups, all of whom took part in the High-Level Revitalisation Forum.

The overarching point is that the powers driving the diplomacy need to unify their efforts and remove the element of competition from the various tracks. It is necessary to include genuine, representative and united Sudanese voices now – as opposed to once a settlement has been achieved. The international conference held in Paris on 15 April 2024 served to refocus some attention back on Sudan and secure substantial pledges. An outcome document (here) signed by 14 nations as well as the AU, IGAD, Arab League, European Union, plus the UN, is helpful in its reference to the need for a “consolidated Sudan peace initiative”. The Paris conference reaffirmed their commitment “to support the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people and a representative and inclusive Sudanese-led and owned process which leads to the restoration of civilian rule.” It is hoped that civil society’s steps towards inclusive representation taken in Addis last week will similarly help focus diplomatic minds.

However, the value of a unified voice underpinning a united front of Sudanese of all stripes, not least women and youth, cannot be overemphasised. These Sudanese voices are too strong and diverse to be included as afterthoughts once the conflict is over. Their potential to disagree politically can amount to frustration or meandering of the rebuilding efforts, leaving underlying causes of the conflict untreated. There is still a risk of the recovery buckling under the weight of the trauma created over the last year.

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Member ratings
  • Well argued: 67%
  • Interesting points: 81%
  • Agree with arguments: 50%
8 ratings - view all

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