Wed. Jul 17th, 2024
"Internally Displaced Persons Camp in Sudan" by United Nations Photo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

By Hyeran Jo, Texas A&M University

More than five months have passed since intense fighting broke out between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group also known as the RSF. In that time, more than 7,000 people have been killed and nearly 4 million others displaced. The conflict is still ongoing, with little evidence of resolution.

The Sudanese military has been at war with the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group since April 2023.
AFP via Getty Images

The clashes were sparked by a disagreement over how the RSF, led by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, more commonly known as Hemedti, could be integrated into the Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, led by Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan.

Sudan is the third-largest country by area in Africa. It is also home to the Nile River basin, is mineral rich and strategically located on the Red Sea, close to the Middle East. So this conflict comes with heavy security and economic ramifications for the region and beyond.

As a political science professor who studies civil conflicts, I know that stability in Sudan requires a concerted effort from the international community. So far, a variety of efforts have failed. However, I believe that applying a right mix of international measures at the right time can give Sudan a chance at peace.

Roots of conflict

Much like Somalia and the former Yugoslavia, Sudan is what is known as an “anocracy” – that is, a political regime in transition from autocracy to democracy.

Anocracies are prone to armed conflicts. Mainly due to the growth of paramilitaries and weak civilian control of the military, they face frequent coups and rebellions.

Sudan experienced a major armed conflict in the western region of Darfur from 2003 to 2020, during which former president Omar al-Bashir used RSF paramilitaries to violently suppress rebel groups.

However, as the RSF grew more powerful, attempts to integrate it into the Sudanese army failed. And in 2022, a power struggle between the two groups ensued.

The limits of mediation

Turkey, Ethiopia, Egypt and Israel have all offered to mediate between the SAF and RSF in Sudan. So did the African Union, along with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an eight-country trade bloc in Africa. They proposed Kenya as the key mediator.

The SAF and RSF have not accepted any of these offers.

Efforts by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have yielded several ceasefires, including a 72-hour ceasefire from June 18-21, 2023, but no concrete agreements.

Successful mediation requires that the mediator has leverage to offer incentives to the warring parties, and also maintains impartiality between them.

When it comes to Sudan, no mediator has managed to offer terms acceptable to both warring parties. Furthermore, many of the potential mediators have supported one side or the other.

Kenya and the United Arab Emirates have been accused by the Sudanese army of supporting the RSF, which fought in Yemen and Libya alongside the UAE. Egypt, meanwhile, supports the SAF due to traditional ties with Sudanese generals.

And while the U.S. does not have an official position of support for either side, partly due to the atrocities committed by both warring parties, its Saudi partners in the Jeddah talks back the SAF. This may stem from their rivalry with the UAE.

But what doomed the Jeddah talks was not this perceived Saudi bias but the lack of political leverage. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia failed to provide clear and concrete terms that could be acceptable to both warring parties.

Sanctions fall short

U.S. sanctions have targeted specific entities or individuals that disrupt the democratic transition in Sudan.

On June 1, 2023, the Department of the Treasury announced sanctions against four companies within the gold mining, vehicle and weapons industries that it accused of funding or arming the warring parties. Two of the companies were affiliated with the SAF, and two were linked to the RSF. Three months later, the department also sanctioned Hemedti, the RSF leader.

Usually, the United Nations coordinates sanctions with the U.S., and U.S. allies follow suit. However, this cascade of sanctions has yet to happen. The U.N. Sanctions Committee has not added any new sanctions on Sudan yet, while the European Union is working on a framework for such sanctions.

While current and future sanctions may hold, targets often find alternative sources of funding. Despite U.S. sanctions targeting Hemedti’s RSF reliance on the gold trade, Russia has stepped in to supply weapons and training to Sudan in exchange for gold to fund its war in Ukraine.

Peacekeeping efforts hold promise

International peacekeeping can be effective in conflict zones, particularly when the efforts are properly resourced. Peacekeeping missions in the Ivory Coast from 2004 to 2017 and in Croatia from 1996 to 1998 are often cited as success stories.

The United Nations-African Union Mission, or UNAMIS, was a peacekeeping mission in Darfur from 2007 to 2020 that used both police and troops to provide a buffer zone. The missions had only partial successes, mainly due to the lack of support from the al-Bashir government.

In 2020, after the UNAMIS ended, the U.N. Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, or UNITAMS, was tasked to assist political transitions in Sudan. However, it lacked police or troops, and its potential efficacy is heavily disputed.

An integrated approach

Observers of Sudanese politics and experts of international relations have suggested many solutions to stabilize Sudan, prevent further atrocities and eventually resolve the conflict.

These include stopping Hemedti’s flow of money, sending peacekeepers with troops and police, involving the International Criminal Court to investigate atrocities, coordinating political dialogue between international actors and warring parties, and restraining outside influences – such as from the UAE or Russia – that weaken the effect of sanctions on Sudan.

One integrated solution is to combine peacekeeping and mediation. This would mean augmenting UNITAMS with police and troops from the U.N. Peacekeeping division, while forging a united diplomatic front on the international level.

A short-term action for this united front would be to employ the U.N. mediation team. With a roster of experienced international mediators, the mediation team can try to provide opportunities for political dialogue.

A long-term solution, and one suggested in the international Peace Treaty Initiative, is to institutionalize the mediation effort. Once a country accepts the proposed treaty, it is obligated to enter into mediation when conflicts erupt. This process avoids the difficulty of getting to the mediation table in the first place, while guaranteeing a coordinated and concerted mediation process.

A window of opportunity

In April 2023, the warring parties rejected international mediation offers and failed to send delegates for internal mediation in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. Until mid-August, neither side seems had seemed to have reached the stage of a “hurting stalemate” – which is sorely needed for parties to come to the negotiation table.

However, with the death on Aug. 23, 2023, of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner group in Russia, Hemedti has lost a key Russian ally. This leaves him more vulnerable to U.S. sanctions on the gold trade. In fact, this may have been what prompted him to suggest a peace proposal on Aug. 27.

As for Burhan of the SAF, he has tried to burnish his image by visiting Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and he gave a speech at the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 21. This occurred after the SAF had to move to Port Sudan from Khartoum, where the RSF took a stronghold.

Given the weakened positions of both the RSF and SAF, a mediation window may open soon.

Challenges ahead

Any effort, however, is not without challenges.

A sufficient supply of well-resourced peacekeeping personnel is not guaranteed in this age of retrenchment. UNAMID was a US$1 billion endeavor, while UNITAMS’ current budget is $34 million a year.

Forging a united international front is another challenge, given the various foreign alliances both warring parties have.

Other tools are limited, however. For example, sanctions will not affect Burhan that much, as the SAF still has air power and will be able to sustain its airstrikes.

Despite the challenges ahead, Sudan cannot be ignored. However, a lasting resolution requires multiple measures that can augment each other. The lack of external interference, plus an impartial mediator and U.S. leverage, will be essential ingredients for mediation to move forward. And the mix of measures must be applied with the right timing and with the right actors involved.The Conversation

Hyeran Jo, Associate Professor of Political Science, Texas A&M University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.