Now in its fourth month, the conflict in Sudan continues to inflict its unrelenting toll of fatalities, wreckage, and ruin. The Sudanese people remain trapped in agony and distress, whether in their homeland and having to suffer from the impacts of the incessant fighting or if they have been forced to flee and endure the hardships of displacement abroad.
Despite various efforts aimed at bringing together the warring factions – the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – in attempts to halt the ongoing conflict, it appears that both sides are determined to secure a decisive military victory even though this has thus far eluded them.
The conflict has compelled the leaders of both factions to abandon their privileged living conditions and instead engage in relentless fighting amidst the chaos.
Recent statements by SAF and RSF leaders expressing a desire to end the conflict and pursue a peaceful solution have encouraged many, but doubts persist concerning their genuineness. The statements themselves do not indicate a way to end the hostilities and pave the way for lasting peace.
They may have been elicited by international and regional pressures or as a response to the opinions of advisers urging the SAF and RSF leaders to avoid sanctions and international condemnation. But soon they will be unable to continue the charade or manipulate the multiple initiatives aimed at resolving the conflict.
SAF and RSF delegations have reconvened in Jeddah to resume negotiations on ending the conflict that has been suspended since June. At the same time, there have been ongoing clashes in Khartoum and Darfur, and these have reached a critical juncture in recent days as both sides seemingly attempt to advance their positions on the ground and translate them into favourable outcomes at the negotiating table.
Lieutenant-General Shamseddin Kabbashi’s recent declaration that the SAF would be receptive to any initiative aimed at ending the conflict and promoting inclusive political dialogue leading to the establishment of a civilian government to oversee the transitional phase in Sudan and prepare for democratic elections has garnered significant attention.
He said that the SAF would be open to any serious peace initiative that ensures the preservation of national sovereignty.
Kabbashi lauded the US-Saudi mediation initiative, leading some observers to interpret his statement as a development that could pave the way for substantive negotiations in Jeddah. His statement may reflect a decision by the SAF leadership to align itself with the popular sentiment that calls for an end to the conflict.
However, other observers say that Kabbashi’s statements were intended to convey a message to the international and regional community regarding the various initiatives being proposed. This message is that the SAF is committed to pursuing dialogue, rejects war, and views the ongoing conflict as having been imposed upon it and is a way of avoiding the imposition of possible sanctions or the deployment of regional forces into Sudan.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) recently issued a call for the East African Standby Force (ESAF) to explore the possibility of deploying in Sudan to safeguard civilians and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. The RSF has expressed its support for this proposal, but the SAF has rejected it outright.
RSF Commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also called Hemedti, has announced the establishment of a liaison committee tasked with engaging with political entities and armed groups to achieve a comprehensive political settlement to the crisis in Sudan.
He said that this initiative underscored the importance of dialogue as a fundamental prerequisite for achieving a comprehensive political solution to the crisis, given the multifaceted nature of the underlying national crisis that has been compounded by the ongoing conflict.
Achieving an end to the conflict would require extensive consultations with all the country’s political forces, in order to address the underlying causes of the crisis and usher in a sustainable resolution with the participation of all of them, he said.
At the same time, leaders from the Sudanese Justice and Equality Movement held a meeting with Abdel-Rahim Dagalo, second-in-command of the RSF, in Chad, where they discussed a political roadmap to end the conflict. Some observers have speculated that this move may be an attempt to bolster the RSF’s image and counter allegations of crimes against civilians.
The stances of the SAF and the RSF may have been influenced by the mounting international and regional pressure to address the crisis in Sudan, including calls by the IGAD for military intervention and disarmament in Khartoum. In recent days, the UK has imposed sanctions on six companies linked to both sides of the conflict, accusing them of exacerbating the situation in Sudan by providing financial and military support to the warring factions.
The sanctions freeze the assets of these companies in the UK and prohibit British companies and citizens from engaging in business dealings with them. The move follows a similar step taken by the US in May. Further sanctions may be forthcoming against those who obstruct efforts to end the conflict and perpetrate violence against civilians.
International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan has announced the launch of a fresh investigation into alleged war crimes committed in the Darfur region of Sudan. He emphasised the need to ensure that history does not repeat itself, alluding to the atrocities that occurred in the region during the rule of former Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir after 2003.
Addressing the UN Security Council, Khan highlighted the ongoing suffering and uncertainty faced by the people of Darfur and cited a wealth of evidence relating to possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed since the present conflict erupted on 15 April.
He noted incidents of looting, extrajudicial killings, crimes against children, sexual violence, and gender-based violence. The US has welcomed the new ICC investigation.
Meanwhile, divisions within the civil forces in Sudan persist. A delegation comprising leaders of the Sudanese Forces for Freedom and Change and other civil groups has embarked on a tour of regional capitals beginning with Kampala and followed by N’Djamena and Addis Ababa.
The delegation also intends to visit other capitals, where it will call for an end to the conflict and the need to achieve a comprehensive and equitable political solution in Sudan that leads to the establishment of a unified national army, democratic civilian rule, and sustainable peace.
The efforts reflect the ongoing struggle to unify the various factions within the country’s civil forces and present a united front in the pursuit of a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Sudan.
However, the efforts to engage with regional actors have garnered criticism from some, who have accused the delegation members of treason. Even within the Forces for Freedom and Change itself, some parties have expressed their reservations, arguing that the delegation leaders should have met with other Sudanese groups, such as the Communist Party, the Democratic Bloc, and the armed movements, to agree on a shared vision for ending the conflict before embarking on regional visits.
They contend that doing so without first engaging with other civil groups exacerbates existing divisions and makes it more difficult to achieve a unified front in the pursuit of peace. Some have also raised concerns that the tour could be perceived as an attempt to garner support for the RSF and alienate segments of the population who remain neutral or oppose taking sides in the conflict.
Sources within the Forces for Freedom and Change have denied the claims, saying that the delegation has been subject to threats and worse and that its aim is to make the voices of the Sudanese heard. They say that the ultimate goal is to end the bloodshed in Sudan, while also working to ensure the participation of civilians in any negotiations aimed at achieving a democratic transition and sustainable peace in the country.
The sources maintain that a unified civilian voice, which they are working to consolidate with other democratic transition forces, will help to fill the current void and prevent armed factions or Islamists from the remnants of the former regime from charting Sudan’s future path or perpetuating the conflict.
However, other civil forces continue to support the Framework Agreement that was due to be signed before the outbreak of the conflict, highlighting that the civilian forces have yet to fully learn the lessons of the devastating conflict in Sudan.
The civilian leadership has a responsibility to end internal divisions and prioritise a national agenda over the personal, sectarian, ideological, and regional interests that have contributed to the current crisis. The continuation of these divisions will only exacerbate the situation and have severe repercussions for any potential solution in Sudan.
There are growing hopes that the various mediations now ongoing will unify their efforts to end the conflict in Sudan. Many observers argue that multiplying such mediations could be counterproductive and fuel time-wasting tactics by the warring factions.
But the Jeddah negotiations are expected to yield positive results, and it is hoped that other mediating parties, including the IGAD, the African Union (AU), and neighbouring countries such as Egypt will be involved in efforts to end the conflict.
The fear is that the prolongation of the conflict and its possible expansion within Sudan and to neighbouring countries will lead to increased human suffering and the intervention of external powers that could undermine Sudan’s sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 20 July, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly