A New Hope Sprinkled With Cautious Optimism: Sudan And SRF Forces Sign Landmark Darfur Peace Deal

In a potentially historic move, Sudan’s government has agreed to a peace deal with the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), a coalition of rebel forces in Darfur. The deal was signed on Monday, August 31st at a ceremony held in the South Sudanese capital of Juda, which has hosted other negotiations and talks between Sudan and the SRF since late 2019. According to Al Jazeera, the agreement that was signed includes key issues such as “security, land ownership, transitional justice, power-sharing, and the return of people who fled their homes because of war.” Furthermore, it also “provides for the dismantling of rebel forces and the integration of their fighters in the national army.” 

While two rebel forces refused to participate in the deal, it is nevertheless a productive step towards finally achieving peace in Darfur. For many years, Sudan has been split apart by constant warfare between the Muslim majority north and Christian south. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost in the near two-decade conflict in Darfur, and many more have fled seeking refuge in nearby countries like Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Mounting social unrest has been fueled by corruption and the state’s repression of its Christian population, resulting in widespread anti-government protests. Humanitarian groups like Amnesty International have been particularly vocal on these issues. They are leading the global calls for peace and the Sudanese government to be held accountable for state-sponsored human rights crimes in Darfur. 

The first major breakthrough took place in April 2019 when Sudan’s long-standing authoritarian tyrant Omar Hassan Al-Bashir was ousted and replaced by a joint military-civilian government. Al-Bashir has since been convicted in a Sudanese court, and Sudan’s new government have promised to hand Al-Bashir over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to answer charges including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. While there was initial hope that Al-Bashir’s downfall would quickly restore peace to Darfur, mass killings have been reported in the region as late as July 2020. If there is any hope in bringing an end to the unrelenting violence, which has plagued Sudan for so many years, a long-lasting and highly effective peace agreement between Sudan’s government and the SRF is essential. As a result, foreign officials should look at the August 31st deal with cautious optimism, recognizing that it has the potential to evolve into a much-desired policy. Still, it alone is not enough to bring about peaceful change in Sudan. 

While Darfur peace agreements are notorious for falling flat, these have been the most productive talks since Al-Bashir’s removal from power. One could argue that the failures of the 2006 and 2011 accords are correlated with Al-Bashir’s governance and that new leadership could break the constant cycle of violence. Both sides have expressed their belief that this agreement can, in fact, be successful, calling the deal during a joint statement “an important step in restoring security, dignity, and development to the population of Sudan’s conflict-affected and marginalized areas.” They each also expressed their beliefs that “the formal agreement must be followed up with local peace and reconciliation efforts in the conflict-affected areas.”

It could be several months or even years before this deal can be determined as either a success or failure, as there are so many other steps that need to be taken in order for the agreement to work. This includes unprecedented cooperation, appeasement, and perhaps the most important necessity, mutual tolerance between both coalitions of fighters. Ultimately, this is a lot to hope for, and it would be naïve to place one’s belief in the success of the agreement purely based on good faith and that both sides will magically come to terms with one another. Reconciliation is a process that takes considerable time and effort, which government and SRF forces must individually pursue in order for this conflict to finally be brought to a close.

Peter Koenigsbauer