Sudan Changes Course Towards Peace

A peace agreement in Sudan may finally bring an end to decades of bloodshed and displaced families. The transitional Sudanese government and an alliance of rebel groups officially signed off on the peace agreement October 3rd in Juba, the capital of neighboring South Sudan.

Political leaders from South Sudan, Chad, Qatar, and the UAE signed the deal as guarantors. Representatives from Egypt, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Saudi Arabia were also present at the signing, as were representatives from the African Union, European Union, and United Nations.

Months of peace talks hosted by the seceded South Sudan resulted in a preliminary peace agreement signed in August by three rebel groups collectively known as Sudanese Revolutionary Front. Two factions of the Front are from the western region of Darfur, and one is from the southern region. Dancers local to Sudan celebrated the agreement with a performance and members of the rebel group were seen marching and carrying banners of their party leaders.

Two other major rebel groups did not sign the initial agreement. However, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the People’s Liberation Movement-North agreed to take part in future conflict resolution discussions.

The peace plan sets out to integrate rebels into the security force, give political representation and guarantee economic and land rights. A $750 million fund will be allocated yearly to the southern and western regions to restore the lives of the millions of Sudanese that rebel groups have displaced over the years.

Sudan’s historical legacy is wrought with civil unrest and other consequences of unruly political system. The country has been haunted by economic downfall since 2011, when the oil-abundant South won independence. The constant protests which followed South Sudan’s secession overthrew President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in 2019 after a 26-year reign. The former president faces indictments on genocide charges and crimes against humanity in an international court.

Sudan’s civilian and military leaders post-coup say that ending conflict is a top priority to help bring democracy and peace to a country in crisis. Sudanese prime minister Abdallah Hamdo told reporters that this peace agreement would “open a new page that ends wars and puts an end to the suffering of our people in displacement camps.”

Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia, noted that this momentous step in conflict resolution aligns with African Union theme of 2020 – “Silencing the Guns.” “This will have a huge impact,” Zewde added, “not only for the Sudanese, but for the entire region, and indeed to the continent, as it is a very significant peace deal for Sudan and beyond.”

The American Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, Donald Booth, concurred that the agreement was groundbreaking. However, Booth emphasized, the agreement alone cannot create peace. “This historic achievement addresses decades of conflicts and suffering,” Booth said. “It will also require firm and unwavering commitment to implement the agreement fully and without delays.”

Although the agreement is a historical step, analysts have questioned its strong connections between armed groups and the military. Acknowledging the obstacles and challenges that accompany the peace building process is vital.

Rebel groups are often extremists, and extremists are often fed by religion and ideology. According to “Rebels, Militia, and Governance of Sudan,” a study by Samson Wassara, rebel groups often take up arms in demand for policy or regime reform. Sudan has a history of turmoil centered around ethnic, religious and language differences, and many rebels become extremists in an effort to have those differences treated equitably. Understanding the nature of rebellions and the specific purpose behind each group, therefore, requires an analysis not only of the foundational structure of each group, but how they recognize cracks in governmental and economic structures.

To maintain peace, and the terms of the agreement, that analysis is essential. Policymakers must dive deep into the “why?” behind each rebel group and its demands over the past decades to understand what Sudan’s vulnerable populations need. In other words, the peace-building process must acknowledge its peoples’ cultural nuances to succeed.

Integrating rebel groups may also cause societal tension. As former rebel groups integrate into a society to which they have caused much harm, there is likely to be conflict. Strategic and preventive measures must be implemented to decrease this probability.

A key step of conflict resolution is repairing what is broken and fostering cooperation. All cultural groups and working sectors deserve political representation and transparency in their demands. A slow transition to democracy and the decentralization of governmental power would recognize the differences in ethnic groups and catalyze substantial change at the national, regional, and local levels.

More funding should be devoted to reforming the education system in Sudan as well. Curriculums for all ages should emphasize tolerance for Sudan’s many diverse groups to quell ethnic tensions and fear. Education is a great equalizer, and Sudan should utilize it to change the country’s violence and turmoil. Education and scholarship opportunities would act as key disincentives for Sudanese youth to resort to extremist ideologies and terrorism. Rehabilitation of former rebels should also be merged into the educational system.

A strong form of government is necessary to build a state’s foundation. Consequences of breaching the new peace agreement must be abundantly transparent, and justice should be served immediately. As the military and a formerly hostile faction fuse, it will be important to up security and guidance in that district. The military of any state is one of the most powerful loci of power, and its sovereignty must be closely monitored in this transition.

Government officials must be held to stronger political accountability so fair and democratic elections can be implemented. Sudan’s right to choose its own leaders must be reinstated to create patriotism, participation in the electoral process, and a personal investment in the progress and laws of the country. Committees independent of government interference should be formed to oversee corruption and ensure proper appropriation of funds.

Finally, Sudan has historically relied on military power and an authoritative regime. An introductory discussion on the use of non-violent alternatives to restoring law and order would set the stage to redefine security and peacekeeping throughout the country.

These concerns are numerous and will be difficult to address all at once. BBC notes that a weakness of Sudan’s peacebuilding process is the bold attempt in democracy it makes “in the middle of intersecting crises with practically no international help.” Wassara’s study notes that the relationship between the United States, a supposed pillar of democracy, and Sudan, a currently transitional government, has proved to be “ambiguous.” Rather than appease Sudan’s conflict, incompatible U.S. policy goals have historically aggravated it.

The peace agreement cannot be idealized as a panacea. Sudan remains in a fragile state. The country’s rigid colonial history continues to manifest in the present day. As Cameron Hudson, a senior correspondent at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, said, “Today’s deal addresses many of the symptoms of violence, but not the underlying illness that has kept the country in a state of perpetual civil war since independence.” It is essential to address the holes in Sudanese society – the social and cultural deprivation of marginalized groups face and the uneven development throughout the country.

The United Nations reported in 2018 that displaced Sudanese people make up the greatest percentage of the people in need. These refugees require aid – food and livelihood support, education, water, sanitation, and health services. It is commendable that the peace agreement is working to safeguard these people and reverse decades of violence and fear. However, its legitimacy is contingent on a steadfast commitment to peace, as well as the recognition and acknowledgement of Sudanese people at all levels of society. International actors should lend support, guidance, and assistance to Sudan as it takes this historic new stride.

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