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NIAS Africa Monitor
In Sudan, the government signs an agreement with the rebels. However, there are serious challenges

  Sankalp Gurjar

Since the removal of the Omar-el-Bashir in 2019 and the coming of a civilian-military transitional government, hopes had increased about a peace deal. The latest agreement could be seen as part of the larger reformist program that is being advanced in Sudan, including the ban on the Female Genital Mutilation and lifting the ban on religious conversions.

On 31 August, ending year-long, tortuous negotiations, the Sudanese government and a coalition of rebel groups (known as Sudan Revolutionary Front) agreed on a comprehensive peace agreement in the South Sudanese capital of Juba. The ceremony was attended by senior figures from Sudanese side including Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok as well as South Sudanese president Salva Kiir. 

Finally, an agreement between the government and the rebels
The agreement includes eight protocols and included most of the rebel groups operating in Darfur, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile regions. It did not include two groups - the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) faction led by Abdelaziz El Hilu; and the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) led by Abdelwahid El Nur. Therefore, the agreement was 'initialled' to allow these two rebel groups to join in the final peace agreement. 

The agreement was welcomed by the following: the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). It is being hoped that this agreement will finally pave the way for lasting peace in a nation that has been at war with its peripheral regions. 

The accord stipulates three-year transitional period after the signing of the peace agreement. It includes provisions regarding the security, land ownership, transitional justice, power-sharing and the return of the displaced people. As per the agreement, rebels will get three seats on the Sovereign Council of Sudan (which is governing the country during the 39-month period of political transition) as well as 25 per cent representation in the council of ministers (which, as of now means, five ministerial portfolios). The rebels will also get 75 seats out of 300 in the Transitional Legislative Council. Perhaps, the most significant consequence of this agreement is the re-establishment of the federal governing system in Sudan and the integration of rebel fighters in the Sudanese security agencies. Moreover, a joint force of 12,000 (6000 each from rebels and Sudanese security services) will be formed in Darfur. 

However, there are serious challenges
Sudan, once Africa's largest state, the country has been facing insurgencies since its independence in the 1950s. The southern region of Sudan fought two civil wars (1955-1972 and 1983-2005) before it finally achieved independence in 2011. Since 2003, the insurgency in Darfur erupted, and the region remains unstable due to the intermittent violence. In 2011, the Blue Nile and South Kordofan also exploded. The common pattern amidst all these insurgencies is their political and economic marginalization by the Khartoum elite and the persistent attempts of the State to resolve these insurgencies not by addressing the root causes through political means but by using violence. 

The brutal counter-insurgency campaign launched in Darfur in the mid-2000s attracted widespread international criticism and resulted in 300,000 deaths and about 3 million people being displaced. In this context, restraining the impulse to centralize power, unleash violence (including militia) and marginalize non-Arab and/or non-Muslim population within the country will be a key factor in implementing the peace agreement. It is closely linked with the promise of re-establishing a federal political system and sharing power within the country. 

Since the removal of the Omar-el-Bashir in 2019 and the coming of a civilian-military transitional government, hopes had increased about a peace deal. The latest agreement could be seen as part of the larger reformist program that is being advanced in Sudan, including the ban on the Female Genital Mutilation and lifting the ban on religious conversions. However, there are elements (mostly from security agencies) within the new regime which were part of the al-Bashir's regime. They may present difficulties in implementing the peace agreement as they have benefited from the status quo. Besides, the integration of rebels in the security forces has never been easy anywhere in the world.

Further complicating the agreement is the fact that Darfuri rebels want al-Bashir to be handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution. In contrast, the Sudanese army is wary of such demands. Rehabilitation of displaced population and complex issues related to land rights (especially in the context of Darfur) will also present considerable problems in moving forward. The state will have to raise considerable resources to facilitate these processes.

The peace agreements signed in 2006 and 2011 had failed to end the insurgencies. The only 'successful' example of a peace agreement was between Southern rebels and Sudanese state, which ultimately led to the independence of Southern Sudan. In this context, it will be interesting to monitor the actual progress on the clauses of the peace agreement.  
Sudan's economy has been in trouble recently owing to the stringent international sanctions. The secession of the South has only aggravated the economic difficulties as 75 per cent of oil reserves are located in South Sudan. Therefore, Sudan needs to find a way to revive its economy as economic development and more importantly, delivering a 'peace dividend' within the country will be crucial to resolving the issues of economic marginalization and in ending the insurgencies. To that end, it needs substantial external support from its key international partners such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  

An opening, after Pompeo's Visit
Sudan has been in the grips of rapid political changes since the fall of the al-Bashir in April 2019. Recently it hosted the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; his visit was crucial as Sudan is seeking a way out to lift these crippling sanctions and is trying to persuade the US to rescind the tag of the State Sponsor of Terrorism. Rebuilding the US-Sudan ties could be a key factor in ending Sudan's international isolation.

External powers allied with the US, such as Egypt and Israel, have also been taking a keen interest in Sudanese affairs. The US has been encouraging Sudan to recognize the state of Israel, and there is a possibility that in future, Khartoum may establish diplomatic relations with Israel. Such efforts may perhaps help Sudan in reviving much-needed economic growth. Shifting winds of regional geopolitics also presents complicated challenges for Sudan as could be seen with the war in Yemen, the civil war in Libya as well as intensifying rivalries in the Red Sea region. Reportedly, Sudanese forces were sent to fight in Yemen on behalf of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Sudan and Egypt have stakes in the stability of Libya as well as in addressing the issues related to the distribution of the Nile river waters. These internal and external problems will compound difficulties for the Sudanese regime in the coming days.    

About the author

Dr. Sankalp Gurjar is a Research Fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.

The above commentary was published in Conflict Reader, part of the International Peace Research Initiative at the School of Conflict and Security Studies at NIAS.

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