Mixed messages from Sudan

Asmaa Al-Husseini , Saturday 30 Sep 2023

Are Al-Burhan and Hemedti genuinely working towards peace or are they engaging in strategic manoeuvres?

Mixed messages from Sudan


The Commander of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, had anticipated the Commander-in-Chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Chairman of the Sovereignty Council Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan’s visit to New York and his speech before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

Hemedti sent a video message to the international community saying he was ready for a ceasefire and comprehensive political talks. This move seemed aimed at positioning himself as an advocate for peace and calm, possibly to put pressure on his rival, Al-Burhan, or to create ambiguity around his stances and actions he began taking at the outbreak of war on 15 April.

In his UNGA speech, Al-Burhan sought to absolve the army of any wrongdoing during the brutal conflict that has taken a toll of around 5,000 lives, with more than seven million people displaced, both internally and as refugees in neighbouring countries.

The SAF chief called on the international community to designate the RSF as a terrorist organisation, take decisive action against it, and halt the supply of weapons and support to mercenaries.

While this stance resonated with Al-Burhan’s supporters, it left other political groups and a significant portion of the Sudanese population disappointed, as they had hoped for a more significant step towards peace and an end to the suffering, death, and devastation plaguing Sudan.

A notable shift occurred in Al-Burhan’s language during television interviews with several Arab and international channels. He expressed a willingness to engage in negotiations with the RSF commander and embrace peaceful solutions.

This shift raises questions about what prompted it, the extent of international pressure, and the genuine positions of the conflicting parties. Is the openness to negotiation exhibited by Al-Burhan and Hemedti a matter of principle or a tactical move? Furthermore, it is unclear whether these messages of willingness to negotiate signify an impending end to the war or are a form of deception aimed at misleading the international community, the region, and the Sudanese people about their true intentions and plans, potentially shifting blame for the continuation of the war and its consequences on the other camp.

Despite these speeches about peace, the reality on the ground tells a different story, with intensified battles raising concerns about whether this signals an expansion of the conflict and a strategy to prolong it, or whether negotiations will resume in the near future.

Various indicators highlight substantial international pressure to halt the war and guide both warring factions back to the negotiating table. This was evident in the statements of several world leaders during the UNGA as well as in numerous activities at the UN headquarters held on the fringe of the General Assembly session.

One significant event was a high-level ministerial meeting, co-organised by the UN, the European Union, and the African Union, and attended by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Qatar. The meeting was titled “The Cost of Inaction in Sudan.”

International officials participating in the meeting emphasised their belief that neither the SAF nor the RSF is close to achieving victory. Instead, they continue to engage in brutal fighting that has led to senseless violence. Furthermore, the conflict in Sudan is being exacerbated by the influx of fighters, weapons, and ammunition, posing a risk of further regional escalation.

They cautioned against the significant costs of inaction if the international community fails to take more decisive steps to halt the fighting and pave the way for a political resolution. They stressed the importance of returning to the Jeddah platform to establish a genuine, sustainable ceasefire. Achieving this requires political determination, robust monitoring and verification mechanisms, and the capability to hold the conflicting parties accountable for their actions, they said.

A significant meeting involving Al-Burhan took place with Karim Khan, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Following the meeting, Khan made it clear that the ICC investigations into crimes committed in Sudan would encompass all parties without exceptions, including the commander-in-chief of the army.

Meanwhile, both sides are mobilising and seeking support; what is concerning is that these efforts are being conducted along ethnic, tribal and regional as well as political lines. Fadlallah Barma Nasser, the head of the National Umma Party, expressed his belief that the RSF appeared more committed to ending the war compared to the SAF. The Forces of Freedom and Change concur.

Groups supporting the army have continued their activities since the Arkuit conference in eastern Sudan. Some of their leaders have expressed their aspirations to form a government to lead the country during this stage. However, Al-Burhan’s statement that a government will not be formed until after the end of the war may dampen the hopes of those leaders.

Amid ongoing, contradictory messages, tactical manoeuvres, and political posturing of the leaders of the warring camps in Sudan, it is crucial not to lose sight of the immense suffering endured by the Sudanese people. The people of Khartoum, the Darfur states, and every region in Sudan bear a horrific burden, experiencing untold hardships and countless tragedies everyday. The plight of the displaced and refugees is equally horrendous.

The World Food Programme warned that one-third of Sudan’s population faces severe food insecurity. The UN has issued a warning that over six million Sudanese people teeter on the brink of famine. These numbers will swell if the guns do not fall silent. The magnitude of the humanitarian catastrophe is heart-wrenching and demands urgent attention and action.

How much longer must the Sudanese people endure the torment of these conflicting messages, political manoeuvres, and hidden agendas that toy with their present and future, even jeopardising the unity of their nation and the fate of its citizens?

This perilous situation places Sudan’s security and the stability of the region in grave jeopardy, leaving the door wide open to international interventions and conflicts. It is imperative for those concerned with Sudan’s security and peace to work towards ending the cycle of war, devastation, and destruction, with an immediate ceasefire and a sincere commitment to meaningful, unconditional negotiations through the Jeddah platform in collaboration with all proposed initiatives aimed at tightening the noose around those conspiring against Sudan, both domestically and abroad.

Sudan now stands at a crossroads: either engage in direct political negotiations to save the country, or plummet into the abyss of turmoil. Those who fan the flames of discord may ultimately find themselves consumed by their own fires.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 28 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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