The peace talks between the Government of Sudan (GoS) and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) are set to resume on 28 February in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Ten days earlier, the head of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), former South African President Thabo Mbeki announced the suspension of the direct negotiations for ten days after the parties failed to make headway. The third face-to-face talks thus achieved little beyond getting the warring sides briefly into the same room. The comprehensive approach advocated by SPLM-N, in contrast to the piecemeal approach pursued by the GoS, proved to be a decisive factor in causing the stalemate.
To salvage the process and keep the parties engaged, the mediators presented a position paper with proposals concerning the three main contentious issues: humanitarian access, political settlement, and security arrangements. In the interim, Sudan’s Minister of Defence Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein promised an intensification of the government’s on-going military offensive to deal a decisive military victory against the rebel group, while Khartoum newspapers carried statements attributed to the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) boasting that they will achieve peace faster through the barrel of the gun than politicians could at a negotiating table. Not to be outperformed in sabre rattling, SPLM-N forces shelled the government held town of Kadugli, capital of South Kordofan, one day after the suspension of the talks.
During the suspension, President Mbeki engaged in shuttle diplomacy to promote the Panel’s proposal to the government and opposition parties in Khartoum. He met with President Omar al-Bashir, who requested that he speed up the peace process and avoid wasting time on sideline issues unrelated to the essence of the dialogue between the two parties, such as “comprehensive solutions”. However, Bashir was reported to have accepted the mediation’s proposal “without reservations”.
President Mbeki also held several other meetings in Khartoum, including a meeting with Popular Congress Party leader Hassan Al Turabi. The head of the National Umma Party (NUP) Al Sadiq Al-Mahdi met with President Mbeki on 25 February and handed him a letter in which he criticised the ongoing process for being bilateral as its engagement were focused on the belligerents and not the broader political and civil society movements in the country. The Umma Party had proposed to the government the formation of an all-inclusive National Council for Peace, which would include the various political parties and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), in the peace process mediated by the AUHIP. Al-Mahdi’s letter conditioned the participation of the SRF on the rebels’ acceptance of the mediation’s draft proposal, and their renouncement of violence. What Al-Mahdi’s letter failed to underscore, however, is the government’s manipulation of the calls for reform to political ends as discussed below and its failure in changing its conduct in ways that would lend credence to its reform pronouncements.
Mbeki also met with Islamist leader Ghazi Salah al-Deen al-Attabani, a prominent NCP dissident who noted that: “Efforts to achieve national reconciliation should be collective and avoid bilateral agreements. The optimal arrangement is to hold a roundtable dialogue and to observe specific deadlines so as not to miss the issue of reform.” Mbeki also announced plans to meet with Darfur rebel leaders. Meanwhile, a petition online signed by Sudanese civil society activists appealed to all Sudanese to reject piecemeal solution and urge them to agree on a comprehensive solution to achieve peace, democracy and development. The petition calls for an overall solution, in a unified platform with clear mechanisms and specific timelines.
Ironically, while the Sudanese government delegation in Addis Ababa rejected any calls for inclusive resolution to the conflicts in Sudan, in Khartoum, the NCP was busy handing over written invitations to all political parties to engage in a national dialogue to agree on a mechanism for implementing president al-Bashir four-point plan for reform that includes stopping the wars and bring peace, establishing a free political society, fighting poverty and revitalize national identity. Bashir made the call in a much anticipated address to the nation on 27 January 2014. The NCP called all political forces to engage in dialogue and to agree on the implementation of the items and argued that “failure to achieve national consensus among all political parties” would prolong the ongoing wars. The opposition alliance of the National Consensus Forces (NCF) rejected the NCP’s call for dialogue and instead proposed a transitional government to hold a national conference with the participation of rebel groups to discuss a peaceful solution for the conflicts in Sudan. The National Umma Party and the Popular Congress Party agreed to engage with the ruling party on modalities for the national dialogue, while forcefully reiterating their belief in the comprehensive solution to Sudan’s problems.
There is no lack of evidence of the growing regional and international consensus on the need for comprehensive approaches to resolve Sudan’s many conflicts and chronic governance failures. The U.S. Special Envoy, Donald Booth, has stated that it is his aim to work with the AU to seek “a holistic solution to Sudan’s human rights, humanitarian, and governance crises.” Booth’s predecessor, Princeton N. Lyman, co-authored an August 2013 policy paper entitled “Pathway to National Dialogue in Sudan,” which admitted that: “efforts to resolve Sudan’s multiple internal conflicts…individually, in piecemeal fashion, have failed.” The International Crisis Group in their January 2014 report argued against another piecemeal approach, and demanded a national framework to resolve Sudan’s conflicts. Similarly, on 22 July 2013 the EU Council declared it “believes that a long-term solution to all Sudan’s internal conflicts would be assisted by a genuinely inclusive national dialogue … to pave the way for national reconciliation and democratic reforms. This should take place in a conducive environment with respect for peace and basic freedoms.” Many other regional think tanks urged “the international community [to] address the Sudanese region’s crises as a whole and not pursue localised quick fixes”. The Sudan Democracy First Group had reached the same conclusion. In its 29 April 2013 statement following the collapse of the peace negotiations in Addis Ababa last year, we have called on the international community to “design a comprehensive and inclusive peace process capable of addressing the structural injustices that continue to fuel Sudan’s multiple wars in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile States…”
It has become apparent that the NCP has become the only entity refusing to accept a comprehensive solution to Sudan’s problems. Restricting the peace process exclusively to the “two areas” is attractive politically to the ruling party and the regime it dominates because such limitation would undermine the SPLM-N alliance with SRF. It would also enable the regime to pressure the Darfuri armed movements into endorsing an agreement they had rejected for settling the conflict in that region. Similar to the (misnamed) 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the mediation is also following a narrow model that focuses on ending the violence, instead of laying foundations for a sustainable and comprehensive peace in the country at large. Sudan’s problems are complex and structural. They cannot be resolved on a sustainable basis by simply stopping the fighting.
The proposed framework agreement handed over by the AUHIP to both parties on 18 February is similar to the AUHIP Draft Proposal of 17 September 2012, in that it emphasises the formation of joint political, security and humanitarian committees. In the new proposal, the AUHIP accepted the notion of comprehensive solution to the conflicts, and stated that the conflict should be resolved on the basis of the 28 June 2011 Framework agreement between the parties, the very agreement the NCP immediately reneged signing it. However, the proposal’s language in relation to the comprehensive solution remains vague, vulnerable to deliberate misinterpretation and could be difficult to implement. Also, the proposal completely ignored key issues such as reconciliation and justice for the victims of wars throughout Sudan. The proposal, like most recent peace agreements in Sudan, carefully avoided any consideration of the structural causes of the conflict such as the correlation between huge economic disparities between the centre and the peripheral regions and violence.
Both parties will find some aspects of this proposal attractive and others disturbing, especially the emphasis on political partnership between NCP and SPLM-N as in the defunct 28 June 2011 Framework Agreement. SPLM-N’s delegation issued a press statement on the eve of the talks, accusing the government of lacking seriousness, citing as evidence the absence of the lead government negotiator and the government’s delegation’s refusal to engage in informal consultations with their party as the two had agreed with the mediation at the break of the talks on 18 February. Despite the continuation of the political wrangling, the civilians continue to suffer as the ongoing humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. The mediation should press the parties to give the war affected populations in their respective areas of control unhindered humanitarian access, and to enable such, require them to agree on a humanitarian cessation of hostilities.