Sudan: Negotiations And Peace At The Heart Of A Power Struggle

Sudan’s ongoing fight for democracy, civil rights and peace has been at the beating heart of a 30-year-long dictatorship, a successful civilian-led revolution (2019), and a military takeover (2021). This unbridled fight, however, is now stuck in the crosshairs of a war between two generals. As the amount of people fleeing increases and the death toll rises, ceasefires and the urgency to conduct sustainable negotiations between General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (most commonly known as Hemedti) and General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan becomes imminent. The ongoing conflict begs to confront the peace process and negotiations that have taken place since the successful ousting of 30-year-long dictator Omar Al-Bashir in 2019. 

Clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) began on April 8, but were especially explosive on April 15, flipping Sudan’s capital Khartoum on its head. Ongoing air strikes, shelling, planes, and on the ground gunfire has transformed Khartoum into a personal battlefield for the two generals. Ongoing negotiations between the two forces – to integrate the RSF as part of the Sudanese army – deteriorated before the restoration of civilian rule. Disagreements between Hemedti and Burhan arose when the question of subordination and rate of integration was brought into the negotiation process. A power-struggle between the two generals has cost the lives of over 500 people (according to the Word Health Organization), and the death toll will rise if a ceasefire is not met. 

Following the genesis of the clash on April 15, Al Jazeera reported the death of 185 people and thousands injured within the first three days of the conflict. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) predicts that around 270,000 people are expected to flee Sudan within the early stages of the conflict. 20,000 people have fled to neighboring countries like Chad, and more continue to flee to cities like Port Sudan (located in North Sudan), Cairo (in Egypt), and Jeddah (in Saudi Arabia). 

Origin of rivalry between the Sudanese army and the RSF

To contextualize the full-scope of this conflict, it is crucial that the ongoing rivalry between Hemedti and Burhan is broken down. Before the power play between the two generals began, they had collaborated to remove al-Bashir from office in 2019, and orchestrated a military coup temporarily replacing former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in office in 2021 (to which Hamdok was reinstated until his resignation in 2022). 

The RSF, led by Hemedti, was created in 2013, under Bashir, to squash rebellions in Darfur. Formerly known as the Janjaweed militia, the RSF has been found responsible for committing a plethora of war crimes, and most recently for dispersing and killing hundreds of people during a peaceful sit-in during the 2019 protests. Transitions towards a civilian-led democratic government were halted during the October 2021 coup d’etat, which put the army in charge. Through the coup, Burhan became the chief of the power-sharing council, which he later dissolved, stating that elections would instead be held in 2023.  

Peace processes leading to the conflict 

Following the 2021 coup, civilian leaders and the military held negotiations in December 2022 that resulted in signing a “framework agreement” that would lead the way for a two-year civilian transitional body. The framework outlines accountability strategies for crimes committed under the peripheries of international law. Additionally, the framework provides a structure by which the transitional authority can undergo new processes that solidify a judicial system for victims and accountability for perpetrators.  

Aftermath of the conflict 

According to Al Jazeera, the conflict has resulted in the closure of 50 health facilities. 39 out of the 59 hospitals in Khartoum and surrounding areas were shut down. Sudan’s Health Ministry announced the damage of 16 hospitals on April 19, declaring them “out of service”. The closure of these healthcare facilities fractures networks of safety that amplify the need for other services– that the Sudanese people are unable to access due to the conflict. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) predicts that 3.1 million women and girls face increasing risks of life-threatening gender-based violence if the clashes continue. Furthermore, the closure of hospitals and other healthcare services puts the 219,000 pregnant women and 24,000 expecting women in Khartoum at risk of severe healthcare complications. 

The rippling effects of this conflict can be traced to Darfur, where a power and security vacuum has emerged. Since the beginning of the conflict, armed groups have looted healthcare facilities, and burned houses and marketplaces. As a response, civilians have begun arming themselves against the RSF and the Sudanese army. The string of attacks against civilians precedes the ongoing conflict in Khartoum, Omdurman and the surrounding areas, but this conflict may catalyze the worsening of civilian attacks and a possible civil-war. 

Civilians that have had the opportunity to flee the conflict to surrounding cities like Port Sudan, and neighboring countries like Chad and Egypt, have been able to escape the air strikes, shelling, and extremely low supplies of food, fuel, and water that have permeated through neighborhoods across Khartoum and its surrounding areas.  

Peace processes and negotiations throughout the conflict

There has been a noticeable absence of humanitarian aid throughout the large unravelling of the conflict. According to SkyNews, the first humanitarian aid shipment arrived from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Port Sudan on April 30 (two weeks after the commencement of the clash). On the same vein, international organizations have yet to publicly declare the humanitarian crisis that is taking place in Sudan, with very little response and on-site aid from notable international organizations in Khartoum. On the contrary, the Intergovernmental Grouping of the Horn of Africa (IGAD) scheduled a summit to discuss the future of the conflict, as well as the impact it will have on the already unstable region. According to the Deutsche Welle, diplomats from the East African littoral have made efforts to bring the generals together to agree on a permanent ceasefire and dialogue. Although Sudan currently sits as IGAD’S rotating chairman, they were absent at the summit. Ethiopia has begun working alongside IGAD to curate mediation mechanisms, although it has yet to pick a side within the conflict and remains neutral. Alongside IGAD, the African Union (AU) has been urging surrounding nations and regional organizations to intervene and mitigate the escalation of the conflict, but has yet to concretely aid in peaceful processes in Khartoum. 

South Sudan has taken part in the peace processes within the weeks following the rise of the conflict on April 15, revealing a new peace plan that works in collaboration with surrounding countries as well as international organizations to ensure the continuation of ceasefire efforts.  First Vice President Riek Machar, Vice Presidents James Wani Igga, Hussein Abdelbagi Akol and Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior endorsed a five-point peace plan to undergo inclusive regional peace processes and coordinated negotiations. As the conflict unravels, the means by which surrounding countries, regional and international organizations, construct sustainable peace-building efforts will be successful through the prioritization of civilian-led contributions.  

Ceasefires and contentions

Throughout the weeks following the start of the conflict, there have been around four ceasefires, but each one has yet to be adhered to by the RSF and the Sudanese army. On Wednesday April 19, the possibility of a ceasefire was shattered as fighting broke out in the early morning. Despite the announcement of a 72-hour ceasefire, 24 hours into it, the deafening sounds of air strikes, anti-aircraft weaponry, and artillery made their come-back. 

Hemedeti and Burhan’s fight for power has left thousands stranded. Safety and aid has fallen to the responsibility of the Sudanese people who have mobilized within their communities. As the conflict exacerbates, the foundations of peace-building policies and negotiations must be strong enough to sustainably shape the trajectory of the conflict. Broken promises of a civilian-led democracy and elections have culminated in the ongoing displacement and death of innocent Sudanese civilians that has not stopped since the 2019 revolution. Sudan’s relationship with peace is a long and tumultuous one; however the ongoing fight for a just and civilian-led democracy is a continuous fight that has yet to quiver even when confronted with conflict.

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