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Sudan and South Sudan’s Merging Conflicts
Sudan and South Sudan’s Merging Conflicts
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Sudan’s Interest in South Sudanese Peace
Sudan’s Interest in South Sudanese Peace
A boy returning to this burnt family house in Leer. CRISIS GROUP/Jérôme Tubiana
Report 223 / Africa

Sudan and South Sudan’s Merging Conflicts

Talks led by East Africa’s IGAD offer the best chance to end South Sudan’s spreading war. International partners must put aside their disillusionment and rally to the regional body’s new IGAD-PLUS mechanism to help mediators reach a deal.

Executive Summary

For more than eighteen months, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the regional body mediating peace negotiations to end South Sudan’s civil war, has struggled to secure a deal in the face of deep regional divisions and the parties’ truculence. To overcome these challenges, it announced a revised, expanded mediation – “IGAD-PLUS” – including the African Union (AU), UN, China, U.S., UK, European Union (EU), Norway and the IGAD Partners Forum (IPF). The initiative is designed to present a united international front behind IGAD to the warring sides but so far it has failed to gain necessary backing from the wider international community, much of which is disillusioned with both IGAD and the South Sudanese. Rather than distance itself from IGAD, the international community needs to support a realistic, regionally-centred strategy to end the war, underpinned by coordinated threats and inducements. Supporting IGAD-PLUS’ efforts to get the parties’ agreement on a final peace deal in the coming weeks is the best – if imperfect – chance to end the conflict and prevent further regionalisation.

South Sudan’s war has brought underlying regional tensions to the fore. It is part of yet another chapter of the historic enmity between Uganda and Sudan, while rivalry between Uganda and Ethiopia over their respective influence on regional security has coloured the mediation process. Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan have dedicated envoys mediating the process while Uganda is only involved at the IGAD heads of state (HoS) level. Kampala’s military deployment in support of Juba creates facts on the ground and precluded it sending an envoy to the talks, while Addis Ababa seeks to control the mediation and eventual balance of power in the region. One of IGAD’s achievements has been to manage these tensions, thus contain the conflict, but rivalries prevented the HoS from agreeing on final aspects of power-sharing and security arrangements, enabling the warring parties to continue without agreeing.

Three major factors limited IGAD’s mediation and remain a challenge: 1) regional rivalries and power struggles; 2) centralisation of decision-making at the HoS level and related lack of institutionalisation within IGAD; and 3) challenges in expanding the peace process beyond South Sudan’s political elites. Following the oft-violated January 2014 Cessation of Hostilities agreement, the HoS mediation strategy focused on deploying a regional force to create conditions for peace negotiations. When the wider international community stymied the prospective regional force and the situation stabilised by June 2014, leaders could not overcome their divisions to agree on an effective alternate strategy. This undermined the IGAD special envoys, and the warring parties opted instead to engage directly with individual HoS in a series of initiatives in Kampala, Khartoum and Nairobi. IGAD itself had little leverage. For example, despite public threats, the warring parties understood some member states were reluctant to support sanctions, repeatedly called IGAD’s bluff and refused to compromise.

IGAD is important as a forum to regulate the regional balance of power, but it needs high-level support if the region is to reach a unified position on peace. IGAD-PLUS should become a unifying vehicle to engage the ever-shifting internal dynamics in South Sudan more effectively and address the divisions among IGAD members that enable the parties to prolong the war. In particular, the AU high representative might lead shuttle diplomacy within the region to gain consensus on the way forward. A dedicated UN envoy for South Sudan and Sudan should represent the UN in IGAD-PLUS and coordinate the various UN components’ support to the process.

IGAD-PLUS is the proposed bridge between an “African solution” approach and concerted high-level, wider international engagement. If it is to overcome the challenges that bedevilled IGAD, its efforts must be based upon regional agreement and directly engage the South Sudanese leaders with greatest influence through both pressure and inducements. To end this war, a process is needed that seeks common ground, firmly pushes the parties to reasonable compromises, builds on rather than is undermined by the Tanzanian and South African-led reunification process within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM, the dominant political force in South Sudan), and whose outcome is guaranteed by IGAD, the AU, the U.S and China. The coming weeks will require concerted international action, coordinated with IGAD, to take the final, necessary steps to secure an agreement. Failure to do so will lead to further violence and fracturing in South Sudan and leave the region without an effective mechanism to mediate its own internal divisions, with devastating consequences for the people of South Sudan and the region.

Op-Ed / Africa

Sudan’s Interest in South Sudanese Peace

Originally published in Sudan Tribune

Sudan and South Sudan’s relationship is of vital importance to resolving conflicts in both countries. Khartoum, and other countries in the region, clearly benefit from a stable South Sudan.

Once-fraught relations between the two countries have improved in recent years, helped by substantive discussions over shared interests, including oil exports, support for armed groups, and border security. Khartoum should now use its influence in Juba to seek better regional cooperation and a peaceful resolution of internal and cross-border conflicts.

Once-fraught relations between the two countries have improved in recent years

A more sophisticated Sudanese approach that ensures southern armed groups are part of a more inclusive, and thereby stable, government in Juba, is in Khartoum’s own best interests. A constructive Khartoum-Juba relationship is likely to be significant, for instance, in the U.S. government’s mid-2017 assessment of its recent decision to ease sanctions on Sudan.

Do not support South Sudanese armed groups

There is currently fighting in several parts of South Sudan, a disaster for those in the affected areas. But violence is not on the scale of the 2013-15 civil war, and is unlikely to escalate dramatically, partly thanks to Khartoum’s refusal to support rebel groups.

When the former First Vice President of South Sudan, Riek Machar, arrived in Khartoum after fleeing fighting in Juba in July 2016, the Sudanese government severely restricted his capacity to re-start his rebellion. He then left for South Africa, and was subsequently denied re-entry to Sudan in November 2016; he was eventually obliged to return to South Africa.

Khartoum should continue resisting requests from South Sudanese opposition leaders to arm or provide other forms of support to rebel fighters

Khartoum’s actions are central to determining whether South Sudan moves towards sustainable peace or falls back into a complex and multi-layered conflict. Ending armed rebellion in South Sudan is the primary responsibility of South Sudan’s transitional government who must reach out to armed groups to make peace. Yet violence in South Sudan is most deadly and protracted when warring parties receive support from neighbouring states.

Khartoum should continue resisting requests from South Sudanese opposition leaders to arm or provide other forms of support to rebel fighters.

Political rather than military support

Sudan can go further by using its influence with Juba to implement relevant parts of the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS), to which Sudan was a signatory and guarantor in August 2015. Sudan should also work with other Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD, a regional body) member states – notably Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya – to support Juba’s commitment to conduct a national dialogue with opposition political parties and armed groups.

Sudan’s visible engagement with these processes is critical to overcoming the trust deficit between Juba and armed groups.

As well as supporting peace in South Sudan, Khartoum should accept that there is no military solution to its own domestic conflicts in in the Two Areas (South Kordofan and Blue Nile states) and Darfur. These conflicts have cost billions of dollars and Sudan should seek a sustainable political resolution, supported by regional actors, including Uganda.

For recently improved relations between Khartoum, Juba and Kampala to translate into real regional harmony, Sudan should honour its commitment to a Cessation of Hostilities in both Darfur and the Two Areas and reconvene negotiations on humanitarian access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

To help peace take hold in frontier areas, Sudan should also consider innovative approaches to border security that are based on the complex realities of armed groups and ethnic communities in both countries. Leaders are drawing from examples such as the 2010 agreement between Chad and Sudan which halted support for one another’s rebels.

Without such measures, improved relations with Juba will not be sufficient to resolve Sudan’s own internal conflicts, which have domestic drivers, require their own political solution, and are not simply the expression of a Sudanese proxy war with South Sudan.

The benefits of better relations with Juba

Overall, Sudan can benefit from improved relations with Juba in three ways.

First, by agreeing that it will not support South Sudanese rebel groups, it can continue to demand that Juba, in turn, deny support to Sudanese rebels in the Two Areas and Darfur.

Secondly, improved relations will bring much needed economic benefits. December’s three-year oil deal profits both sides and improves the terms of South Sudan’s transit fee regime. Production is also re-starting in Unity state which will increase exports. The new index-linked arrangement means that fees will reflect global oil prices, rather than simply being a fixed rate which, at a time of low prices and conflict-suppressed production, contributed to South Sudan’s economic challenges.

Diplomacy, not destabilisation, is Sudan’s winning strategy in South Sudan

Khartoum should understand that the oil agreement, together with support for security arrangements in South Sudan’s Unity state that favour stability, ties both countries more closely in a regime of economic interdependence - to their mutual benefit. This makes it less likely that conflict will break out again along the shared border.

Third, the conflict in South Sudan is a major preoccupation for the international community. Continuing to play a constructive role in its resolution and preventing further escalation, coupled with renewed efforts to resolve its own internal conflicts peacefully, will help Khartoum lock in its improving relations with the U.S. and the European Union. This will increase the chances for complete sanctions removal and debt relief.

Diplomacy, not destabilisation, is Sudan’s winning strategy in South Sudan.