The Sudan war has been raging for three months with no realistic prospects for a peaceful resolution. Initiatives to halt the bloodshed have all failed and the warring sides — the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) — continue to target civilians who are subjected to air strikes, looting, sabotage, and intimidation, circumstances that have created an opening for international and regional intervention.
In recent weeks, the international community has indicated it is unwilling to remain a passive spectator as the conflict in Sudan not only continues but expands. Several international and regional players have hinted that they may resort to more stringent measures to halt the fighting which has spread to Kordofan, Darfur, and other regions, and assumed a growing ethnic and tribal dimension.
There are growing fears the conflict may become a civil or regional war, and in recent weeks Darfur has witnessed horrific atrocities which some international officials classify as war crimes.
Sudanese officials have called for the intervention of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and a commission to investigate these crimes. Mona Arko Minawi, the governor of Darfur, Darfur lawyers, and other groups have described events in the western region as genocide.
The atrocities, taking place away from media coverage amid the interruption of essential services and communication, evoke memories of the war in Darfur between 2003 and 2018 which resulted in the ICC indicting president Omar Al-Bashir and other regime leaders for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. They resulted in Sudan being subject to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, allowing UN and African forces to be deployed to the region.
The SAF and RSF have turned down several ceasefires proposed in Jeddah by the US and Saudi Arabia as well as initiatives put forward by the African Union (AU) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
The SAF rejected AU mediation on the grounds that the organisation had suspended Sudan’s membership following what it deemed a coup when, on 25 October 2021, the army dissolved its partnership with civilian forces. The SAF has also declined IGAD mediation, claiming that Kenya, the leader of the initiative, has sided with the RSF, providing its members with shelter. The army has said statements by Kenyan President William Ruto and his foreign minister constitute interference in Sudan’s internal affairs and undermine its sovereignty and requested that South Sudan take the lead in the Quartet for mediation, replacing Kenya.
The IGAD initiative had proposed a direct meeting between SAF leader Abdel-Fattah Al-Borhan and RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti) in an attempt to forge a lasting solution to the crisis. The initiative also recommended a dialogue between Sudan’s civil forces and the opening of humanitarian corridors.
Malik Agar, the new deputy head of the Sovereignty Council, has visited several regional countries as well as Moscow, seeking assistance and mediation. The move may be interpreted as an attempt to alleviate US, European, African, and Saudi pressures, though the step is unlikely to achieve the changes desired by the Sudanese army.
The army is perturbed that the RSF is being treated as an equal partner in the proposed initiatives. The SAF describes the RSF as a rebel force and as the vanguard of a foreign invasion, alluding to the RSF’s use of fighters from neighbouring African countries.
The SAF has welcomed Turkey’s involvement in mediation efforts. Media outlets aligned with the army have expressed optimism that Turkey will provide support, just as it did to the Libyan government in Tripoli.
During its latest session, the African Peace and Security Council endorsed the IGAD initiative. IGAD’s plan calls for the demilitarisation of Khartoum, an unconditional cessation of hostilities and the initiation of a comprehensive political process. While stressing that a political solution is the only exit from the current impasse, the 15-member-State Council warned that violators of international human rights laws in Sudan would be held accountable for their actions.
IGAD has proposed a 50 km buffer zone around Khartoum and the deployment of African forces to safeguard key institutions in the capital, with the police and security forces responsible for securing key public facilities. Agar dismissed the proposals as an occupation rather than a solution to the crisis. He emphasised his government’s opposition to any initiative that does not respect Sudanese sovereignty.
Following SAF and RSF responses to the Jeddah initiative, the US has indicated it will adopt stricter measures to stop the war in Sudan. The European Union is also speaking about imposing sanctions against parties involved in the conflict.
Some observers anticipate international intervention — involving a collaboration between Western powers, the African Union, and IGAD — under Chapter VII if the warring factions do not heed calls for peace. Others believe Russia and China may veto such intervention unless it is mediated by the African Union given that the Sudan war threatens regional security and international interests, including those of Moscow and Beijing.
Meanwhile, Sudan’s civil forces are busy holding meetings of their own to launch initiatives and form a unified civil front to end the war and restore the country to a democratic course.
Al-Baqir Al-Afif, a Sudanese writer and representative of the Civil Front to Stop the War and Restore Democracy, told Al-Ahram Weekly a unified front could help fill the void and prevent armed groups from determining Sudan’s future in the absence of a strong civil force. To this end, steps are being taken to convene a meeting that includes political parties, trade unions, professional federations, resistance committees, civil society organisations and public figures in Sudan with the goal of agreeing a declaration of principles.
“There are proposals to create a representative committee to join international initiatives aimed at ending the war and kickstarting the political track. Some have suggested the formation of a shadow government or a government in exile,” he said.
“Having a group representing the civilian voice in Sudan is crucial. It will help convey the Sudanese people’s point of view to the world and be part of these international initiatives, which must also be unified.”
The priority is to end the war and the bloodshed and brutal massacres in Khartoum and Darfur, added Al-Afif. Regional and international communities should collaborate to exert pressure to stop the conflict and establish mechanisms to effectively monitor the ceasefire. It is also essential to provide urgent relief to those affected by the war, including displaced persons, refugees and those stranded at crossings.
It is also essential to engage civilians in future peace negotiations to ensure a democratic transition led by civil forces, he said.
Major General Kamal Ismail, head of the Sudanese National Alliance and leader of the Forces for Freedom and Change, told the Weekly meetings to unify Sudan’s civil forces have already taken place in an attempt to restore stability and advance a democratic civil path.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 6 July, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly