The last round of peace talks between the Sudanese transitional government and Sudan’s Revolutionary Front (SRF), slated for 21 November, was put off despite the signing of the Declaration of Principles in Juba in September and the approaching deadline of the comprehensive peace agreement.
Although sources in the South Sudan presidency leaked news of the postponed talks, SRF Spokesman Osama Said told Sudanese media that they “haven’t received official postponement” from the mediator. “Unless otherwise stated,” he added, “we, at the SRF, are ready to show up on the scheduled day.”
South Sudan President Salva Kiir is the mediator between the Sudanese government and armed movements, grouped under the SRF. The two parties had signed the Declaration of Principles stating the release of prisoners of war, opening safe aid routes to help those suffering from military operations, and setting 15 December as the final date to announce the comprehensive peace agreement.
“None of the two negotiating teams showed up at Juba. It appears that the mediator is busy arranging the national unity government in South Sudan,” Fayez Al-Salik, counselling editor at Sudanese Change website, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
It is no secret oil-rich South Sudan is suffering the repercussions of the civil war between the majority Dinka forces loyal to Kiir, and the armed Nuer forces of Vice President Riek Machar, since 2013.
The civil war has claimed the lives of more than 400,000 Sudanese people, causing the displacement of millions and putting the country on the verge of famine, a catastrophe the United Nations warned against in 2017.
The two warring parties in South Sudan signed several peace deals, ceasefires and agreements to form a national unity government. None has seen the light of day.
“The SRF doesn’t have any objections against the current government after the fall of the regime of [Omar] Al-Bashir. The SRF fought Al-Bashir’s government for long years,” said Al-Salik.
Negotiations between the transitional government and armed movements are moving in parallel courses. The first is with the SRF, which comprises the armed groups of Darfur, south of the Blue Nile and small groupings east of the country. The second course is adopted with the forces led by Abdul-Aziz Al-Helw in Nuba Mountains, and South Kordofan, which neighbours South Sudan.
The SRF demands a legislative council be formed after signing the peace deal.
Ceding to public pressure, the Transitional Military Council that ruled Sudan after the fall of Al-Bashir signed an agreement with the Alliance of Freedom and Change (AFC) 17 August, according to which the Sovereign Council and the government were formed. The two parties agreed on putting together a parliament of 300 members in no more than 90 days since the day the agreement was signed.
Throughout the past period the AFC demanded the formation of a legislative council, as per the agreement. Military figures and head of government Abdalla Hamdok, however, requested it be delayed with the purpose of including “marginalised groups”.
In Sudanese political culture, “marginalised” refers to non-Arab ethnicities, including the areas and groups the armed movements claim to represent.
The Sudanese premiere announced the postponement of naming two portfolios in his government, which according to sources close to his circles are “reserved” for SRF representatives.
Al-Salik believes the SRF can’t afford to stall with the government or be intransigent. Its forces are small in numbers and its armament is poor; it can in no way stand against the government’s army.
“The inclusion of armed groups in the army is simple because their numbers are limited and those who are fit to serve in the military are even less in numbers,” added Al-Salik.
The case is different with Al-Helw’s forces, nonetheless. They are larger in numbers and are better armed. In addition, they are protected by the mountains which makes it harder to defeat them.
In the first round of negotiations, Al-Helw demanded a secular government and the right to self-determination. But, according to Al-Salik, “the right to self-determination is a political card neither Al-Helw nor Nuba inhabitants want, because they share interests with their Arab neighbours.”
Al-Helw is demanding a secular state “to gain adequate compensation”, he added. “They all want a share in wealth and power. This is a legitimate request as long as it is given to all, and not only to people who claim to represent them.”
But Ismail Abkar, who wrote several books on the marginalised, the state and the relationship between them, said: “Why is it that the armed movements get to represent the marginalised?”
He added: “I come from the marginalised areas, but I don’t support any armed movement. We didn’t have elections in which they won to represent us.”
There are many marginalised regions in Sudan the government calls “regions of cultural diversity”, and they are divided between the armed and political leaderships.
“It looks like the Sudanese government understands the language of arms, which is why it is negotiating with armed movements, not with political leaderships,” said Abkar.
But Abkar is fine with whatever agreement that stops the war, whoever signs it. “I believe the settlement is near, but the political manoeuvres may blow up in everybody’s face. The more important thing, however, is equality in development, to be decided according to resources, inhabitants and how deprived an area is,” Abkar added.
“The government’s performance is poor until now,” said Al-Salik, adding that worse crises may be in the offing if Sudan maintains the current status quo.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.