Sudan: limits of external efforts

Brussels 27.04.2023 “Since April 15, Khartoum residents as well as Sudanese living in other key cities such as Nyala or El Obeid have been caught in the crossfire between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the country’s main paramilitary force”, writes By Anne-Laure Mahé from the Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations, Belgium. (Image above: Khartoum, Old Town)

“Respectively headed by generals Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohammed Hamdan Daglo, known as Hemedti, those two factions – though it is hard to tell how cohesive they are – are violently vying for Sudan’s leadership.

“As the fighting continues and successive cease-fires are ignored, international organizations such as the African Union and the United Nations have called for a return to dialogue between the warring parties. Yet, the current situation has made clear that externally facilitated dialogues have been inefficient in answering Sudan’s political challenges. If international organizations who claim to be invested in the prospect of a peaceful and democratic Sudan hope to positively contribute to end the crisis, then it is necessary to think beyond ready-made solutions that have proved ineffective.

“The failure of years of dialogue:
Multiple periods of dialogues have been implemented since the April 2019 overthrow of Omar al-Bashir, with the international community playing an increasingly prominent role after the 2021 military coup, which ousted the transitional civilian government. In January 2022, the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) launched a series of consultations with a wide range of Sudanese stakeholders. This process, as well as the ones that came before, has been heavily criticized, especially by those involved in Resistance Committees, grassroot organizations that emerged during the 2019 Revolution and that have consistently refused to negotiate with the (para)military.

“There was nevertheless no claim that the consultations would solve the political impasse that followed the coup. However, the publicly available summary report and conclusions of the process essentially worked to reaffirm the legitimacy and necessity of UNITAMS as an external facilitator, proposing little practical recommendations to actually answer substantial issues. Dialogue between the civilians and the military continued for many months, facilitated from May 2022 onwards by the Trilateral Mechanism – UNITAMS, the AU and IGAD – but also by a competing international actor, the Quad (a group of external partners that includes the US, Saudi Arabia, the UK, and UAE). In December 2022 a Political Framework Agreement was signed. The agreement did not lead to the implementation of a new civilian-led government; rather it paved the way for further negotiations. It was considered with skepticism by many actors, most especially the Resistance Committees, and its weaknesses were clearly identified. Indeed, it broke down in April 2023.

“Months of externally facilitated dialogues have failed to strengthen the civilian factions and entrench their power within the transitional process. Instead, dialogue processes have worked as pressure release valves for the two generals. They have provided them with the opportunity to appear open to negotiate, thus appeasing their international partners, and to confirm their centrality in Sudan’s political landscape. In addition, those dialogues contributed to foster divisions within the coalition of civilian actors, between those opting out and those opting in. Meanwhile, SAF and RSF both accumulated financial and military power.”

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