No end of the Sudan tunnel

Asmaa Al-Husseini , Tuesday 4 Jun 2024

A glimmer of the end of the now 14-month long Civil War in Sudan continues to elude the Sudanese people, the region, and the international community, reports Asmaa Al-Husseini

Damaged shops and houses in Omdurman (photo: AFP)
Damaged shops and houses in Omdurman (photo: AFP)


Not only has there been no let-up in the fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and its allies and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and their allies, the hostilities have grown only fiercer as they spread to all corners of the country. Millions of Sudanese now stand at the brink of starvation. But the warring parties are heedless of the human catastrophe they are causing. They are indifferent to the international appeals to resume negotiations towards a peaceful settlement, and merely shrug off the warnings, threats of sanctions and the spectre of prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Fighting between the SAF and RSF has flared in almost all Sudanese states, from Khartoum, Khartoum North, Omdurman and Gezira to White Nile, Sennar, North Darfur (in the vicinity of its capital Al- Fasher) and other states. The SAF is using the air force for devastating aerial strikes, while the RSA fires back with heavy artillery. Military drones are used intensively by both sides. The violence and destruction are ubiquitous, the stench of death everywhere. Starvation is being used as a weapon of war as more and more civilians are forcibly displaced and left without shelter or sustenance. More than 15,000 people have been killed in the war and more than 8 million have been internally displaced or turned into refugees, according to UN figures. Other evidence and testimony suggest that the actual toll is much higher.

Both sides continue to speak only in the language of a military solution, as though not yet satisfied with the savage bloodletting, beheadings, eviscerations, mutilation of corpses, or the scenes of levelled homes, markets, schools, entire neighbourhoods, historic monuments. They act as though they have not blown up enough bridges, hospitals and essential infrastructure or that they have not yet caused enough anguish with the massacres of innocent women, children and elderly, or the slow and excruciating death by famine.

The longer this war has raged the more it has sucked in external powers, creating such a jumble of players that it is hard to disentangle the domestic from the external factors. Networks of alliances have also generated increasing influxes of weapons of every sort from every direction. Money has poured in, not to help the needy but to buy loyalties and political favours. Every player, domestic, regional or international, is seeking to advance their own interests in a country in which everything is for sale, including the people’s current fate and the country’s sovereignty, unity, and future.

Last week, in an attempt to kickstart the negotiating process again, the US and Saudi Arabia urged the SAF and RSF to return to the Jeddah platform. SAF Commander, General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan received a call from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who spoke of the need to return to the negotiations, deescalate hostilities, and to protect civilians.  Some hours later, Malik Aqar, deputy chairman of the Sovereignty Council which Burhan heads, released a statement announcing his categorical refusal to return to the Jeddah platform. Then, Yasser Al-Atta, assistant commander-in-chief of the Sudan Armed Forces, came out in support of Aqar’s position, stressing that it expressed the government’s view regarding negotiations with the RSF. Not all in the SAF camp shared this view. Umma Party leader Mubarak Al-Fadil Al-Mahdi felt that the refusal to return to the Jeddah platform could harm the Sudanese government’s foreign relations.

Meanwhile, Abdallah Hamdok, head of the Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces “Taqaddum”, said that his movement will continue its efforts to bring an end to the war, complete the revolution, preserve the unity of the people and Sudanese territory, and establish a civil and democratic state. Soon after this statement, which was issued following Taqaddum’s recent founding meeting in Addis Ababa, Taqaddum reported that the African Union had assured its delegation that it would try to unify peacemaking efforts in a single platform and that it would facilitate a comprehensive Sudanese dialogue in the coming weeks.

Egypt, for its part, has announced plans to host a conference of Sudanese civil political forces in late June with the participation of relevant regional and international partners. In a statement issued on 28 May, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the aim of the conference was “to reach a consensus among the various Sudanese civil political forces on ways to build comprehensive and lasting peace in Sudan through a Sudanese-Sudanese national dialogue based on a purely Sudanese vision.” It added that this effort “comes within the framework of Egypt’s keenness to make all possible efforts to assist Sudan in overcoming the crisis it is facing and addressing its serious repercussions on the Sudanese people and the security and stability of the region, especially Sudan’s neighbouring countries.”

Many Sudanese political forces have welcomed the Egyptian invitation. Some were enthusiastic and expressed their intent to attend in a spirit of goodwill and without pre-conditions, while others were more cautious, saying they would study the matter. The Sudanese Foreign Ministry enumerated several conditions, including the need to present various visions to ensure the conference succeeds which, it said, required genuine representation of what it described as the Sudanese silent majority. The Sudanese Foreign Ministry also insisted that the UAE and Chad should not be invited to the conference and that the same should apply to any regional or international organisation that has refused to condemn the RSF. The ministry also asked its Egyptian counterpart to clarify the role that regional and international partners would play in the conference.

If the dialogue hosted by Egypt is to succeed, the Sudanese participants must be prepared to make compromises for the sake of the higher interests of Sudan, which is facing an existential challenge.

 A negotiated solution is the only sane way for the belligerents to end the conflict and give hope to the millions of civilians facing the spectre of death through violence, hunger and epidemic diseases and to the millions of displaced persons and refugees who long to return to their homes.

Recently, we have begun to see a few signs from some quarters of the opposing camps that negotiation and compromise are the route to follow, if only to avert regional and international anger and possible penalties for obstructing negotiations. At the same time, however, some parties will try to take advantage of openings for manoeuvres to strengthen their positions or divide their adversary’s ranks while the hardliners on both sides will dig in their heels against negotiations and remain bent on pursuing the military solution to the bitter end.  

Many international parties are growing more aware of how gravely the ongoing conflict in Sudan is jeopardising the security and stability of areas around Sudan and the potential impact of this on their interests, especially in view of the deep Russian, Iranian, and Turkish involvement in the Sudanese crisis.

If many outside parties are meddling in Sudan in unconstructive ways, the ability of the various components of Sudanese civilian forces to reach a consensus on important issues related to ending the war and a vision for a way forward can also carry weight and influence the direction of developments on the ground. Ultimately, there are no viable options left for all Sudanese stakeholders, now that the options of war, internecine strife, conspiracy, unilateral agendas, exclusionism have all been tried and failed.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 6 June, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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