In the midst of Sudan’s ongoing violent conflict, this blogpost explores the complexities surrounding the crisis and international peace mediation attempts.
Ibrahim Magara delves into the regional dynamics, external actors’ involvement, and the struggles of international organisations to mediate a resolution in Sudan, underscoring the critical role of regional leaders and institutions in seeking a political solution to the crisis.
For several months now Sudan has been engulfed in a violent conflict between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti). The RSF has recently made significant military gains reducing Hemedti’s appetite for a political settlement which jeopardizes prospects for a ceasefire. On his part, al-Burhan has recently embarked on a legitimacy quest characterised by a diplomatic offensive.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis arising from the conflict is creating spill-over risks for Sudan’s neighbours which lack requisite resources to deal with the cross-border impacts of the conflict. Furthermore, the risk of regional conflagration in the Horn of Africa continues to increase as Sudan’s neighbours – Chad, Central Africa Republic (CAR), Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Sudan – struggle to balance between managing crises of their own and navigating a worsening crisis at their doorstep.
Regional entanglements in Sudan’s violent conflict are assuming worrying trends with the violence having ripple effects on stability in the border regions as well as starting to draw in various regional and international actors with, security, economic and political interests in the country. For instance, some observers suggest that ‘Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Israel, have played a key role in exacerbating the ongoing crisis in Sudan’. Furthermore, other global powers like China and Russia may worsen the situation as they seek to preserve their economic and security interests while geopolitically rivalling Western powers. Worryingly, as International Crisis Group reports, ‘the longer the war drags on, the deeper other parts of Sudan will sink into local strife, heightening the possibility of intervention by outside powers and further destabilising Sudan’s neighbourhood’.
Peace Efforts at a Glance
Various attempts to end Sudan’s violent conflict have been underway but are yet to de-escalate the situation. For example, whilst talks under the aegis of the United States and Saudi Arabia managed to bring the belligerents together, the Jeddah process has been slow and struggled to offer a clear path out of the crisis. Similarly, Egypt hosted heads of state of neighbouring countries in a failed attempt to seek a resolution.
At the regional level, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has unsuccessfully attempted to initiate a mediation. IGAD’s heads of state and government summit held on 12 June in Djibouti – which included the AU, US, China, Japan, the EU, Canada, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, and the UK, among others – proposed a roadmap to a possible conflict resolution in Sudan. The roadmap’s action points, included calls for the Quartet countries (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Sudan), led by Kenya’s President William Ruto, to facilitate a face-to-face meeting between Sudan’s warring Generals in one of the regional capitals within 10 days which, however, did not materialise as suggested. Part of the reason for IGAD’s failed efforts is the protest by al-Burhan who sees Ruto as being allied to Hemedti. This has rendered IGAD’s course of action unclear, which is equally the case with the AU and other international actors.
Thoughts on Regional (Non-)Responses
The AU seems to have taken a back seat, ceding the responsibility for African-led political negotiations in Sudan to IGAD, perhaps in line with the principle of subsidiarity. IGAD acknowledges it – not the AU – is leading efforts to mediate a ceasefire and convene civilians for a political process. Indeed, IGAD’s peace and security mandate – as is the case with other Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and/or Regional Mechanisms (RMs) within the Africa Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) – emanates from the UN and the AU under the principle of subsidiarity. Yet, the adverse effects of a lack of a clear division of labour between the AU and RECs and/or RMs are playing out in the Sudan situation.
Markedly, IGAD adopted a roadmap for resolving the conflict, overlapping with that of the AU once again reflecting the perennial crisis characterising AU-RECs/RMs collaborative dynamics in Africa’s ambitious architecture of peace and security management. Furthermore, the AU and IGAD roadmaps compete rather than complement each other. This situation exposes the perennial crisis characterising AU-RECs/RIMs collaborative dynamics. More worrying is that short of concrete progress emerging from any of these efforts, the proliferation of peace initiatives may compound rather than de-escalate the situation in Sudan.
There are gaps in terms of the action plan and coordination of peace efforts in Sudan. For instance, whilst the AU established the so called Expanded Mechanism aimed at connecting disparate peace processes, it has struggled to coordinate the Africa, Arab and Western actors. At the UN level, there appears to be disagreement on whether IGAD or the AU should take the lead in Sudan. Furthermore, there is diversion of interest and divided attention both internationally and on the continent. For instance, the Ukraine situation has been drawing Western attention away from Africa’s conflict hotspots, a situation that is going to worsen with the Israel-Palestine war. In Africa, the AU’s attention is equally diverted to other conflict theatres such as the Sahel crisis and recent spate of coups in West Africa. Regionally, the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where, for example, President Felix Tshisekedi appear inclined to having the East Africa Community (EAC) troops – who he accuses of cohabiting with M23 rebels – replaced by their Southern African Development Community (SADC) counterparts is equally claiming the AU’s attention as defence chiefs mull solutions. The DRC situation is equally diverting the attention of some of IGAD’s frontline member states like Kenya and Uganda that could be taking lead in attempts to address the conflict in Sudan.
Furthermore, the AU is increasingly finding itself in an awkward position regarding the warring factions in Sudan and regional entanglements complicating its ability to intervene or effectively coordinate the various peace efforts. For example, the SAF is uncomfortable with any of the AU initiatives since the AU Secretary General, Mousa Faki is a Chadian national who is angling to be his country’s President. This is, understandably, the case given historical strained relations between Sudan and Chad and the perceived proximity of Chadian authorities to Hemedti. For instance, reports suggest that in mid-July Chadian President Idriss Déby hosted a meeting that included Hemedti’s influential brother, Abdulrahim Hamdan Dagalo and he (Déby) has been closely working with the UAE which is claimed to support the RSF.
The foregoing and related factors and dynamics have reduced regional (non)responses to mere rhetoric characterised by the language of ‘urging’ and calls for coordination as exemplified by the communiqué of the 17th joint consultative meeting between the AU-PSC and UNSC held in Ethiopia on 7 October 2023. The grammar of ‘urging’ is largely a part of diplomatic rhetoric that perpetuates indecision and often leaves a lot of to be desired in terms of concrete action. Relatedly, everybody always talks of the need to coordinate action making the language of coordination quite dominant in diplomatic discourses, yet the call for coordination leaves undecided who the leader and/or the relevant actor is or should be. The real issue with coordination is: what is there to coordinate and who should coordinate especially in the face of divergence and competition. Thus, the language of ‘urging’ and calls for coordination that are observably prevalent in regional and international circles currently leaves undecided what actions are necessary in Sudan’s situation. In the absence of concrete action, the conflict – which unfortunately comes with a huge human cost – is largely left to take its course in the hope it will burn out.
The regional posture and (non)responses to the Sudanese conflict once again affirm that the peace and security role of Africa’s (sub)regional bodies, like IGAD, is largely that of provision of a platform for political activity and diplomatic encounters. It is, therefore, persuasive to argue that IGAD’s agential utility heavily relies on and draws upon decisions and actions of key leaders within it; largely leaders of its frontline member states like Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda. Thus, if IGAD is to play a significant role in Sudan will mostly depend on whether and when a leader within the region – with both direct stakes in Sudan and leverage over both or either conflict parties – emerges and is at once capable and willing to leverage the platform of IGAD to convene the warring factions in search for a political solution. Short of this, the regional (non)responses are likely to continue along the lines of ‘urging’ the warring factions to end the violence, in which case it may be necessary to domicile a search for a resolution to Sudan’s armed conflict elsewhere.
Dr Ibrahim Sakawa Magara is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations (CTPSR) with PeaceRep.