Dehai News Analysis: Will multiple mediators hinder peace in Sudan?

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Sunday, 04 February 2024

The Race between Sudan’s Mediation Platforms: The Fate of a Negotiated Settlement

Elwathig Kameir

January 18, 2024

As the war in Sudan continues to maim and displace millions, a disturbing reality emerges: the quest for peace seems entangled in a power struggle. Negotiation platforms, mediators, and even foreign leaders compete for control of the process, often prioritizing personal agendas over the desperate pleas of the Sudanese people. This article delves into this unsettling dynamic, exposing its themes, hidden motives, and the reasons for its failure to deliver a lasting solution. But it goes beyond mere critique. We explore a vision for a genuine peace process, one that transcends simply stopping the fighting and instead tackles the root causes of this devastating conflict.

Less than a month following the outbreak of the April War, the joint mediation between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United States of America (US) succeeded in bringing together delegations representing the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Jeddah to negotiate an end to the war. On May 11, 2023, the two parties agreed to a declaration of principles and specific commitments governing the negotiation process. The declaration set the negotiation agenda with the aim of protecting civilians and reaching a short-term ceasefire to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and the restoration of basic services, with a commitment to scheduling subsequent expanded discussions to achieve a permanent cessation of hostilities. Perhaps most importantly, the declaration stipulates in its second clause that commitment to the declaration will not be linked to engagement in any political process.

However, the negotiations faltered and did not succeed in achieving any of these goals until the KSA and the US announced the suspension of negotiations between the two parties to the conflict in Sudan, on June 2, 2023. After stopping for more than 4 months, negotiations between the SAF and RSF resumed on October 26, 2023. Under the auspices of US-Saudi mediation, they were joined in this round of talks by a representative of the African Union (AU) and the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD). Less than two weeks later, on November 7, the two parties signed commitments to deliver humanitarian aid, confidence-building measures, and a ceasefire, in preparation for reaching a permanent cessation of hostilities. However, this second round of talks did not succeed in making any progress on the path to stopping the war, leading to an official announcement by the mediation on December 4, 2023, to suspend the negotiations indefinitely.

IGAD Intrusion and the Competition over Platforms

In my opinion, the collapse of the Jeddah talks, and IGAD taking over, is mainly due to a combination of several intertwined and closely related factors, most notably the insertion of political issues onto the negotiation agenda. This is despite the fact that the mediation, at the start of the second round of negotiations, urged the two sides of the war to “resume what was agreed upon in the Jeddah Declaration”, and stressed that “the talks will not address issues of a political nature” (Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release, October 29, 2023). The confidence-building measures included demanding SAF’s commitment to detain those who escaped from prisons (i.e. arresting the leaders of the National Congress Party), and to take measures against the parties provoking escalation and fueling the conflict, which were demands of a political nature and not consistent with the agenda of the Jeddah Declaration. Another factor was the participation of IGAD and the AU in this round of talks, with the IGAD yearning (in the presence of the organization’s Executive Secretary, (Workman Gebeyehu) to exploit the circumstances in order to take over the negotiation process. Since the Government of Sudan’s rejection of the AU and IGAD roadmap in late May 2023 along with Kenya’s chairmanship of the IGAD Quartet tasked with solving the Sudanese crisis in the context of the IGAD initiative, and the government’s threat to withdraw from the organization, IGAD’s resolve has not wavered during the cessation of the Jeddah talks (June-November 2023) to regain its prime sponsorship of the negotiations.

In November 2023, the winds blew as the IGAD ships desired, following the visit of the Chairman of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, Commander-in-Chief of the Army, to Nairobi and his meeting with the Kenyan President, William Ruto, and afterwards his meeting with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, in Addis Ababa, in order to overcome the obstacle of the IGAD Quartet, which was previously rejected by the Sudanese government, because of Sudan’s position that the Kenyan president was not neutral, but rather biased towards the leader of the RSF militia. Then came the visit to Djibouti, during which the Chairman of the Sovereignty Council presented to the Executive Secretary of IGAD his request to hold an emergency summit to discuss stopping the war and resolving the crisis.

It was as if IGAD was counting the seconds to take control of the issue of war and peace in Sudan. As soon as the KSA-USA mediation announced, on December 4, 2023, the suspension of negotiations indefinitely, IGAD called for an extraordinary summit meeting in Djibouti on December 9. In what appears to be an attempt to bypass the Jeddah platform, it was agreed in Djibouti to share the roles between IGAD and the AU, the IGAD would carry out the mission of: stopping the war, including the delivery of humanitarian aid and realize a permanent cessation of hostilities, which is the main agenda of the Jeddah platform, while the political process would be entrusted to The African Union and the “Extended Mechanism for Resolving the Crisis in Sudan” which was established at the ministerial session on Sudan on April 20, 2023. The extraordinary summit’s call for a face-to-face meeting between the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and the Commander of the RSF aimed to create a political process in which the RSF and the political forces, represented by the Coordination of Democratic civil forces “Taqadum” following their demand to participate in the negotiations. Establishing the negotiations and political process on the basis of this planned meeting was the straw that broke the back of the IGAD platform after the organization failed to arrange it, which in turn created tension between itself and the government of Sudan that refused to participate in the Entebbe extraordinary summit on January 18, 2024, and subsequently froze its membership in IGAD after an invitation was sent to the RSF Commander to attend the Presidents’ Summit.

It is important to note that the relationship between the AU and IGAD is governed by the rule of subsidiarity, which is a known principle according to which regional or sub-regional actors such as the African Union or IGAD should lead conflict resolution efforts. In the case of Sudan, the matter comes down to IGAD because of Sudan’s membership in the organization. However, the African Union is still able to influence, even if it assumes a low profile, by focusing on Sudanese civil and political initiatives. Thus, the AU reaching out to some political and societal figures and groups has not stopped, rather, the Chairperson of the AU Commission engaged in intensive meetings with all parties of the political, civil and societal forces and armed movements in Cairo in the period extending between July to October 2023, during the cessation of the Jeddah talks. The African Union did not exclude from these consultations representatives of the RSF, in addition to those the AU described in a statement as “the pillars of the regime ousted in 2019,” despite the numerous and diverse objections to the involvement of the RSF and/or the Islamists. Paradoxically, IGAD invited a delegation from “Taqadum” to meet with heads of state and government at the Entebbe summit, which reflected a noticeable conflict in the two institutions’ methodology for approaching a politically negotiated solution, and may challenge the credibility and perceived neutrality of the entire mediation. Evidence of this conflict, or weak coordination, is portrayed in the announcement by the Chairperson of the AU Commission (January 17) to appoint a high-level mechanism of three prominent African figures to work on settling the armed conflict in Sudan. The irony is that the announcement of the appointment of the mechanism came only one day after the Sudan government’s decision to “stop engaging and freeze dealing with IGAD regarding the current crisis in Sudan” on January 17, 2024. It is also ironic that the African Union Commission announced its tripartite mechanism while all countries were waiting for IGAD to name its Special envoy for Sudan according to the outcomes of the 41st Extraordinary Summit in Djibouti, which took place on December 9 of last year.

The rivalry of platforms was not limited to Jeddah, IGAD, and the African Union. There are other influential countries in the region not members of IGAD, specifically Egypt and Chad, who are affected by the war in Sudan and bear the biggest impact of the military conflict due to the heavy influx of refugees into their countries. This exclusion from both the negotiation platforms prompted the two countries to cooperate together and agree on another forum, which they called the “Neighboring Countries Initiative.” Cairo hosted the first summit of these countries in mid-July 2023, which was attended by all of Sudan’s neighbouring countries, including the Central African Republic and Libya. There is no doubt that Egypt is a regional player that cannot be ignored in matters related to Sudan, so one of Egypt’s main priorities is to reaffirm its presence in a matter from which it feels excluded as a result of existing regional efforts. However, with the exception of the meeting of foreign ministers of neighbouring countries in N’Djamena during the first week of August, the initiative failed to create an effective follow-up mechanism, and due to differences in positions between Egypt, on one hand, Ethiopia and Chad, on the other, the initiative died in its initial stages.

Despite the Jeddah Platform’s mediation partners’ acceptance of transferring the talks to IGAD, the KSA appears keen to restore the Jeddah Platform, as demanded by its Deputy Foreign Minister in his speech before the IGAD Summit in Entebbe, on January 18, 2024. In his words, “Implementing the Jeddah Declaration and committing to protect civilians in accordance with the principles of international humanitarian law and human rights principles is the way to resolve the current crisis in brotherly Sudan. Saudi Arabia believes that the Jeddah platform and the results it has achieved have received the support of the Sudanese people and great international backing, which encouraged its resumption at “Jeddah 2” with the participation of a representative of the African Union and IGAD.”

In conclusion, the level of negotiation platforms moved from the regional community to the international arena with the United Nations attempting to contribute, while knowing that the UN would not be able to assume a leading role in any negotiation by virtue of the principle of “subsidiarity,” according to which the task of resolving disputes devolves to IGAD and the African Union. Given the failure of the Jeddah Platform, IGAD, the African Union, and the “forgotten” neighbouring countries’ initiative, to stop the war, it became necessary for the personal envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ramtan Lamamra, to present an alternative negotiation vision. However, he needs time to complete his consultations with all stakeholders, before his initiative can become public. In the words of the Personal Envoy at the Entebbe Summit, “The Secretary-General and I are convinced that there is a need for a unified and coherent international mediation process that harnesses the resources and approaches of our organizations to help the Sudanese end this brutal war. I hope that we can discuss how this process can be used to build on existing efforts”.

Conclusion: What is the Fate of a Negotiated Solution?

The lack of a coherent regional or international approach to the negotiations makes the competition over platforms an obstacle to any negotiated solution that may lead to stopping the war, let alone ending it and achieving sustainable peace through a comprehensive foundational political process. The subject of this race between mediation platforms is not only over the negotiation’s venue but also over the negotiation’s agenda and its ultimate objective. As long as the parties to the negotiations are identified and defined: namely the SAF and RSF, the Jeddah Declaration specified the negotiation topics to be about reaching a short-term ceasefire to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and the necessary measures leading to a permanent cessation of hostilities, without the declaration being linked to engaging in any political process. Meanwhile, IGAD designed a political negotiation process based on a face-to-face meeting between the Commander-in-Chief of the SAF and the Commander of the RSF, accompanying the leadership of “Taqadum”, which have signed a declaration of principles with the latter as if they’re tracing the same steps of the defunct Framework Agreement, which hadn’t reached its logical conclusion.

IGAD was indeed successful in brokering and facilitating the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM/A) in Naivasha in 2005, and the Peace Agreement for South Sudan in Khartoum in 2018. However, the organization would not have succeeded in both experiences without the presence of a state with strong leverage along with influence and ability to apply pressure, whenever needed, on both sides of the conflict, which was Kenya in the example of the CPA, and Sudan in the case of South Sudan (with the blessings of Uganda). Currently, the countries in the region lack a united position, in light of blatant regional and international entanglements, also, in the absence of a country qualified to lead the mediation, in addition to the conflicting interests of these countries, whose leaders are personally competing to lead the peace process to achieve personal political gains.

The inability of Sudanese political elites to cultivate and foster national solutions to the armed and political conflicts that erupted in Sudan post-independence led to external, regional and international mediation becoming a common practice. If this assistance is unavoidable, then any external mediation must work to create an environment in which the Sudanese can develop solutions that work for them, instead of imposing solutions specifically designed to serve the interests of said countries.

No negotiated solution will achieve sustainable peace through regional or international means without designing a negotiation process based on fulfilling two interrelated goals: stopping and ending the war. Stopping the war can only be achieved through negotiations between the SAF and the RSF regarding military and security arrangements to resolve the issue of forming one national army under a unified command, a professional army that excludes the presence of any political party within it, and is subject to reform and modernization, together with the rest of the security sector, and accommodates the diversity with which the country abounds. The negotiation agenda to achieve this objective includes military measures that separate between forces, cessation of hostilities, and opening corridors for the delivery of humanitarian aid, in addition to devising a roadmap and mechanisms for the process of forming a single army within a given time frame. As for ending the war and sustaining peace, it is achieved by addressing its root causes by jumpstarting a founding political process in which all political, societal, civil and youth forces, resistance committees, women’s organizations, armed struggle movements, national figures and leaders of public opinion, participate with the aim of involving everyone (with the exception of every corrupt and criminal individual) in designing this process, all with the ultimate objective of holding the National Constitutional Conference, which addresses the issues of founding the state and drafting the constitution.

In order to avoid competition between mediations and negotiation platforms, the Jeddah Platform remains most qualified to sponsor the negotiations on stopping the war and committing the parties to the Jeddah Declaration of Principles that govern the negotiation process, facilitated by KSA and the US, and in coordination between them and the African Union and neighbouring countries, especially Egypt,  South Sudan, and Eritrea, in implementing technical measures related to security arrangements leading to the formation of one national army. As for the sponsorship of the founding political process, it should fall to the African Union, as originally agreed upon at the extraordinary summit of the heads of state and government of IGAD in Djibouti. In addition, the Chairman of the AU Commission had previously initiated consultations with multiple political, civil and societal forces, and even appointed a high-level tripartite mechanism to work with all Sudanese stakeholders, civilian forces, warring military parties, and regional and international actors, including IGAD, the United Nations and the League of Arab States, to ensure a comprehensive process to restore peace and stability in Sudan. The African Union must also activate the “Extended Mechanism for Resolving the Crisis in Sudan,” which was established at the ministerial session for Sudan on April 20, 2023, which includes, in addition to the African Union Commission and IGAD, a number of countries concerned with Sudanese affairs, regional and international organizations, neighbouring countries, in addition to the African countries members of the Security Council.

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