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Sudan and South Sudan’s Merging Conflicts
Sudan and South Sudan’s Merging Conflicts
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Editorial in the Washington Post: Sudan's President Must Resign
Editorial in the Washington Post: Sudan's President Must Resign
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.

Sudanese demonstrators chant slogans as they march along the street during anti-government protests in Khartoum, Sudan on 25 December 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
Impact Note / Africa

Editorial in the Washington Post: Sudan's President Must Resign

Originally published in The Washington Post

Drawing from analysis in our Sudan briefing, Improving Prospects for a Peaceful Transition in Sudan, the Washington Post Editorial Board argues that, faced with nationwide unrest and unpalatable alternatives, President Bashir should relinquish power.

The anger unfurling on the streets of Sudan sends an unmistakable signal to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has ruled for 30 years. He has presided over alleged crimes against humanity in Darfur, for which he is wanted by the International Criminal Court, as well as massive graft and mismanagement. He should spare his country further misery and exit.

The latest protests began Dec. 19 in the town of Atbara, about 200 miles from the capital, Khartoum. Triggered by a cut in subsidies that caused the price of bread to triple, demonstrations spread to more than two dozen other towns and cities, including Khartoum and Omdurman, the country’s economic center. The protests are increasingly fueled not by any specific constituency but by general fury at living conditions and Mr. Bashir’s regime. Over the past five weeks, security forces have fired into crowds. Amnesty International said 37 people have been killed. The International Crisis Group noted that security forces have not gone as far as they did in 2013 when militias indiscriminately killed almost 200 protesters. But nervous about the uprising, the regime seized print runs of newspapers covering the events, attempted to shut down the Internet and detained journalists.

Sudan’s kleptocracy under Mr. Bashir has led the nation to ruin. Part of the trouble stems from the loss of substantial oil revenue after South Sudan became independent in 2011. But much of the misery is the result of excessive spending on the military and security services. A deeper crisis began last year when the government cut wheat subsidies without helping the hardest-hit poor, while simultaneously devaluing the currency. Inflation has skyrocketed to more than 60 percent. While Mr. Bashir has survived protests before, this time looks worse. He has called the protesters “traitors, mercenaries, agents and heretics” but also has cautioned police not to use “excessive force,” which would inflame the uprising more.

The United States eased sanctions against Sudan in October 2017, saying it had begun addressing concerns about terrorism as well as human rights abuses against civilians in Darfur. Other nations had recently been discussing whether to lift sanctions. But no such action is appropriate now. On Wednesday, the State Department declared that a better U.S. relationship with Sudan requires “meaningful political reform and clear, sustained progress on respect for human rights.” That is a standard other nations, such as those in the Arab League and African Union, should adopt.

As the Crisis Group points out, Mr. Bashir is facing unpalatable alternatives, including pending charges from the ICC that include crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes. If he cracks down violently against protesters, Sudan will be further isolated. An internal coup seems unlikely and in any event might result in unhelpful instability. The best alternative for Mr. Bashir is to relinquish power to a new government that could qualify for international aid. The writing is on the wall, and Mr. Bashir should heed it.