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The Horn: A Rare Glimpse into Darfur’s Last Rebel Stronghold
The Horn: A Rare Glimpse into Darfur’s Last Rebel Stronghold
Report 209 / Africa

Sudan: Preserving Peace in the East

Unless the marginalisation of Sudan’s East is addressed, renewed war and further fragmentation of the country is a growing possibility.

Executive Summary

The situation in Sudan’s forgotten East – without deadly conflict since the 2006 Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement (ESPA) – stands in contrast to the fighting besetting the country’s other peripheries. But this peace is increasingly fragile. Seven years after the ESPA’s signing, the conflict’s root causes remain and in some respects are more acute, due to the failure to implement many of the agreement’s core provisions. Mirroring elsewhere in the country, with no sign of genuine efforts by Khartoum to address the situation, conflict could erupt in the East again and lead to further national fragmentation. All ESPA stakeholders urgently need to reconvene and address the deteriorating situation; the leading signatories need publicly to concede that the promises of the original agreement have not met expectations and reach a consensus on remedial measures.

The ESPA’s failure is another example of Khartoum’s piecemeal approach to resolving conflicts and the divide-and-rule default politics of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). Post-2006, attention and resources rapidly shifted to Darfur and now Blue Nile and South Kordofan. The failure to implement the ESPA, together with NCP machinations, has hopelessly divided – mostly along tribal lines – the Eastern Front (EF), the alliance of armed groups that signed the agreement.

At the same time, continued exploitation of the region’s resources by a centre that shares little is fuelling a secessionist agenda even among the eastern branches of the NCP. Various eastern factions now call for toppling the regime and joining the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), an alliance of essentially southern and Darfur-based rebel groups. Renewed armed conflict is more likely, especially given the spreading war in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur.

Meanwhile, the government is allowing local tribal militias to arm, as communal relations deteriorate. Residents worry that eastern Sudan will become the next Darfur, with conflicts developing between local actors over claims to land and resources, some backed by the state. The trafficking of arms and people attests to a creeping criminalisation of local state structures. Finally, the unpredictable relationship between Sudan and Eritrea and the growing Israeli-Iranian competition around the Red Sea could lead to national, regional and other international actors using aggrieved eastern factions as their military proxies.

Ultimately, the East’s grievances are due to elites’ decades-long failure to achieve national consensus on how the country should be governed and to build an inclusive and peaceful state. As Sudan prepares to write a new constitution, a truly comprehensive national mechanism – as Crisis Group has recommended in its last three Sudan reports: Sudan: Major Reform or More War; Sudan’s Spreading Conflict (I): War in South Kordofan; and Sudan’s Spreading Conflict (II): War in Blue Nile – is needed that addresses the core questions of its identity, governance, wealth and power sharing.

Nairobi/Brussels, 26 November 2013

Podcast / Africa

The Horn: A Rare Glimpse into Darfur’s Last Rebel Stronghold

In early 2020, Vice News correspondent Julia Steers was the first foreign journalist in five years to set foot in the Jebel Marra mountains, Darfur’s last rebel-held area. She tells of a region traumatised by war and explains why these rebels stayed out of an August peace deal.

S2 Episode 2: A Rare Glimpse into Darfur’s Last Rebel Stronghold

Sudan’s 31 August peace deal between the government and an alliance of rebel groups from Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile was welcomed with enthusiasm by the international community. But in the Jebel Marra mountains of Darfur, controlled by a faction of the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM), a rebel group that refused to sign the agreement, it was met with raised eyebrows.

In early 2020, Vice News correspondent Julia Steers became the first foreign journalist to set foot in the Jebel Marra in five years. She witnessed first-hand why mistrust toward the government flies high in this remote area traumatised by seventeen years of war, even after former President Omar al-Bashir’s ousting in 2019.

Steers explains how the rebels want justice for the crimes committed in Darfur and a significant improvement of the situation on the ground, where gunshots ring out daily and humanitarian services are absent. High on their list of concerns is also the fact that the process that led to the August agreement involves a general they consider as one of the masterminds of the genocide committed against them.

Elsewhere in Darfur, Steers notes, challenges standing in the way of peace also abound. One obstacle is a surge in what the United Nations calls “tribal clashes”, where civilians displaced by the conflict are attacked in and outside the camps they live in.

Click here to listen on iTunes or Spotify.

Explore our Sudan page to learn more about Crisis Group’s analysis on the country. 

Watch Vice News’ feature “Inside the Forgotten War in Darfur, Where the Killing Never Stopped”.