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NIAS Africa Weekly #87&88 | Elusive Ceasefires in Sudan

  NIAS Africa Team


Sudan’s ceasefires remain elusive: Four reasons why
Anu Maria Joseph

In November, the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) reached the seventh month. The conflict has expanded in terms of intensity and geography. According to the UN, the conflict has killed more than 9,000 people. 

On 7 November, Reuters reported on two warring sides RSF and SAF agreeing to easing humanitarian aid deliveries and implementing confidence-building measures following the peace meditations that began on 2 November in Jeddah. The talks were mediated by Saudi Arabia and the US. However, the mediations failed to bring a ceasefire.

On 3 November, the deputy commander of RSF, Abdel Rahim Hamdan Dagalo, stated that the military group would continue the fighting until they captured all of Sudan. He stated: “We will move towards other remaining states and [army] headquarters, and they will be under our control, God willing.”

With the seizing of el-Geneina in the state of West Darfur, the RSF has taken control of the states of South, West and Central Darfur. According to Al Jazeera, RSF has encircled the state of North Darfur aiming to capture the capital city al-Fashir. The paramilitary group carried out the advancements in two weeks. The city of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur was captured on 26 October. Besides Darfur, the group have a major hand in Khartoum and its twin cities of Omdurman and Bahri and parts of the state of West Kordofan. 

The conflict in Sudan between SAF and RSF began on 15 April. The fighting is between two military leaders struggling for power- SAF leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF leader General Hamdan Dagalo. From the capital Khartoum, cities of Omdurman and Bahri to the peripheral regions of Blue Nile, Darfur and Kordofan, the conflict has intensified in terms of intensity and geography. The fighting has also reached the city of Port Sudan where the SAF is trying to build a parallel government. The conflict has evolved into ethnic violence in Darfur and Kordofan regions. RSF and its allied Arab militias are being accused of ethnic cleansing of non-Arabs in Darfur states. 

On 27 June, RSF announced a two-day “unilateral ceasefire” ahead of Eid al-Adha. It was the ninth ceasefire and turned out as futile as the previous ones. Following the US-Saudi Arabia mediated negotiations, a 72-hour truce was declared on June 17. Although initially, it brought a temporary lull to the fighting, the fighting resumed to a full scale after warring parties accused each other of violating the ceasefire. A week-long formal truce was reached on 22 May as a result of US-Saudi Arabia talks. However, neither the RSF nor the Army showed any commitment to comply.

This analysis looks at the following four reasons for the ceasefires in Sudan remaining unsuccessful.

1. The gap between negotiations and compliance
Both RSF and SAF claim that they are open to negotiations but have shown little commitment to compliance. They attempted to gain a military edge during the ceasefire owing to mistrust between the parties. As the ultimate objective remains a military advantage above an effective settlement, ceasefires were taken advantage of by both sides to re-arm and re-group and cared less in terms of ceasefire compliance. Besides, repeated ceasefire violations threatened the value and trust of the same. Often, RSF and SAF agreed to ceasefires mediated by powerful third parties including the US and Saudi Arabia to avoid the cost of refusal rather than a settlement. Ceasefires upon pressure are likely to break down easily.

2. The complexity of the conflict and the actors
The fighting in Khartoum has evolved into Ethnic violence, threatening the troubled peripheries of Darfur, Kordofan, Blue Nile and White Nile regions. For twenty years, ethnic conflict has been particularly prevalent in the Darfur region. Conflicts over land and water resources between Arab and non-Arab people have existed in the area for decades. The army and the RSF are siding with non-Arab and Arab militias respectively. The conflict has intensified in terms of its dimensions, intensity and geography. The disorganised structure of RSF and its allies and the evolution of conflict into multiple dimensions make it difficult to study the conflict on the ground. The actors and the cause are multiple, challenging the limited ceasefires that focus on two major actors-RSF and SAF.

3. Role of third party
There has been a series of nine failed ceasefires mediated by several regional and international actors in Sudan. Although the external actors can bring the warring parties to the negotiating table, implementing those efforts remains challenging. The key issue seems powerful third-party actors including the US and Saudi Arabia have failed to propose a ceasefire that matches the conflict context at the right time of “ripeness” as pointed out by William Zartman. Unsuccessful attempts by international and regional actors highlight the need to revisit the approach to the conflict in Sudan. More than a narrowed and premature ceasefire out of pressure, Sudan needs a comprehensive ceasefire at its ripeness to initiate negotiations. 

4. Challenges in post-ceasefire mechanisms. 
On 22 May, a week-long truce had been reached as a result of US-Saudi Arabia talks. It was regarded as a success, as it was the first formal ceasefire that had been agreed to by all sides and was being upheld by a "ceasefire monitoring mechanism." However, the monitoring mechanisms were limited; they neither supported inter-party trust building nor increased a conscience among the RSF or SAF on the cost of non-compliance. 

1 November - 14 November
By Anu Maria Joseph and Narmatha S

RSF claims it aims to capture the entire Sudan
On 3 November, the deputy commander of Sudan’s paramilitary, Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Abdel Rahim Hamdan Daglo, announced that they would continue to fight against the Sudanese Armed Forces until they captured all the states of Sudan. Dagalo’s announcement came after they made significant advancements in the Darfur states. He stated: “We will move towards other remaining states and [army] headquarters, and they will be under our control, God willing.” (“Paramilitary RSF says it aims to capture all of Sudan,” BBC, 3 November 2023)

UNHCR expresses concern on increasing violence in Darfur
On 10 November, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed concern about the escalating fighting in the Darfur region of Sudan. It stated that at least 800 people were killed in the recent wave of clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The Roots of Organisation for Human Rights, a local civil society group, claimed that nearly 1,300 people have been killed since 3 November in the city of El Geneina in the state of West Darfur. RSF and its allied Arab militias have been accused of the killings. According to the UNHCR, more than 8,000 people have fled to the neighbouring country Chad; many of them are subjected to sexual violence and torture. (“UN alarmed by violence in Sudan's Darfur region,” BBC, 10 November 2023)

The UK and the US issue security alert
On 8 November, the UK High Commission in Uganda issued  a security alert citing the “growing terror threat in Uganda, including the targeting of foreigners.” Additionally, the US embassy in Uganda issued a similar security alert. Both countries advised their citizens not to attend larger gatherings including worship events. The UK government warned its citizens against visiting Semuliki National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park. The development comes after a British and South African couple were killed in an Allied Democratic Force (ADF) attack in September. ADF attacks in western Uganda have increased recently, heightening the insecurity situation in the country. In June, at least 42 people were killed in an ADF attack in a school in western Uganda. (“UK, US issue fresh security alert for Uganda,” BBC, 8 November 2023)

Heavy fighting in Amhara
On 8 November, BBC Africa reported on heavy fighting in Lalibela, a Unesco heritage site, in Ethiopia, between the federal forces and the Amhara regional militia, Fano. Meanwhile, the residents of the Amhara region reported drone strikes and indiscriminate shelling in the Gojjam, Shoa and Gondar regions of Amhara. The fighting broke out in August after the government directed to integrate regional forces into the federal forces. The Fano militia claim that the integration will threaten their local defence to other regional militias including the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has accused the federal forces and Fano militia of committing human rights atrocities. The Ethiopian government denied the accusations describing it as “unbalanced.” According to EHRC, more than 3,000 people have fled the region since the beginning of the conflict. (“Lalibela fighting: Amhara Fano militia and Ethiopian army clash in historic town,” BBC, 8 November 2023)

The fresh wave of fighting in Amhara
On 14 November, BBC Africa reported that thousands of farmers fled the town of Bure in the Amhara region to Oromia following a fresh wave of fighting with the Amhara regional militia, Fano. The farmers who fled the region told BBC that they were demanded to join the Fano militia and were attacked after they refused to do so. The fighting between Amhara regional forces and the Ethiopian federal forces began in August after the Ethiopian government asked to disarm regional forces and incorporate them into the federal forces. The regional forces refused, citing their defence to other regional militias. (“Thousands flee attacks in Ethiopia's Amhara region,” BBC, 14 November 2023)

Ethiopian Airlines to buy 67 Boeing jets
On 14 November, an agreement was signed between Ethiopian Airlines and Boeing at the Dubai Air Show held in Dubai, UAE. The airline has agreed to order 11 787 Dreamliners, 20  737 MAX aeroplanes and 36 more jets marking Boeing’s largest deal by an African country. The 787 Dreamliner reduces fuel usage and emissions by 25 per cent and creates 50 per cent smaller noise footprints compared to the other planes. This would create a better environment performance and comfort for the passengers. The airline aims to strengthen and modernise its fleet. (Ethiopian Airlines Agrees to Landmark Order for Upto 67 Boeing Jets," Ethiopian Monitor, 14 November 2023)

USAID resumes food aid across Ethiopia
On 14 November, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) officials announced that they would resume providing food aid across Ethiopia. After the local officials were involved in massive corruption by stealing donated grains, USAID halted delivery for the past five months. The agency has previously sought to remove Ethiopian government officials from having any role in aid processes to stem corruption. The officials say that this is the largest ever food aid theft in the region. This suspension affected 20 million people in Ethiopia who wholly rely on the aid because of conflict and severe drought. (“US to resume food aid deliveries in Ethiopia,” BBC, 14 November 2023)

Floods in East Africa “once-in-a-century-event,” says UN
On 14 November, the UN described the floods in Somalia and the neighbouring countries of Ethiopia and Kenya as a “once-in-a-century-event.” At least 32 people were killed in the floods across the country. The UN warned that nearly 1.6 million people in Somalia are affected by the heavy rains and floods. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated that the devastating flooding is caused by the El Niño effect that is changing the weather patterns across the world. Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud stated: “The people have been displaced, homes and properties destroyed, the people are hungry, and that is our problem right now, that is what we are focusing on.” (“Somalis going hungry after floods - president,” BBC, 14 November 2023)

Recalls diplomats from Israel
On 7 November, BBC Africa reported on South Africa recalling all of its diplomats to Israel following the Israel-Gaza war. The South African Minister of Foreign Affairs stated: "We are... extremely concerned at the continued killing of children and innocent civilians in the Palestinian territories and we believe the nature of response by Israel has become one of collective punishment. We felt it important that we do signal the concern of South Africa while continuing to call for a comprehensive cessation [of hostilities]." Meanwhile, the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs responded: "Israel expects South Africa to condemn Hamas, which is worse than Isis, and to respect Israel's right to defend itself against an attack by a horrific terrorist organisation that has engraved on its flag a call for the destruction of the State of Israel.” (“South Africa recalls all diplomats from Israel,” BBC, 7 November 2023)

Military government announces elections in 2025
On 14 November, the Gabon military leaders announced their plan to hold the election in August 2025 after a two-year transition. General Brice Oligui Nguema carried out a coup in August citing “several institutional crises” under the 55-year-long rule under the Bongo family. The coup faced several regional and international criticism along with pressure to return to civilian rule. The announcement of the transition and the election aim at rebuilding the trust of the international community and the public. (“Gabon elections: Junta plans post-Bongo polls for 2025,” BBC, 14 November 2023)

Worsening Child Nutrition
On 1 November, FHI 360, a non-governmental organisation, reported that the number of cases of severe malnutrition among children aged under five is increasing in Nigeria. It stated that nearly 15,781 children diagnosed with malnutrition were admitted to its several facilities between February and September this year. According to the organisation, it depicts an increase of 160 per cent compared to last year. The organisation stated: “The situation in north-east Nigeria is grave, and increased support is needed to address the critical health and nutritional needs of communities, especially women and children.” The UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) previously stated that two million children in Nigeria suffer from malnutrition and that only 20 per cent receive proper treatment. (“Child malnutrition 'rises by 160% in parts of Nigeria',” BBC, 1 November 2023)

At least 37 killed in Boko Haram attack
On 2 November, BBC Africa reported that at least 37 people were killed in a series of attacks by the Boko Haram militant group. On 30 November, 17 people were killed during a raid in the village of Gurokayeya in the state of Yobe. Later, another 20 people who were returning after the funeral service of the victims of the 30 November attack were killed by the same militants. According to the police, the militants carried out the attack after the victims refused to pay what they term as “harvest tax.” (“Boko Haram kills 37 in Nigeria's Yobe state - police,” BBC, 2 November 2023)

Ten people killed in suspected Boko Haram attack
On 6 November, BBC Africa reported that at least ten people were killed in a suspected Boko Haram attack in the village of Zabarmari in the state of Borno in Nigeria. A farmer told BBC that the militants riding motorbikes looted and attacked the village. (“Farmers hacked to death in north-eastern Nigeria,” BBC, 6 November 2023)

President’s visit to Russia
On 3 November, BBC Africa reported on Russian President Vladimir Putin holding a meeting with Equatoguinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema in Moscow on 2 November. During the meeting, Putin expressed Russia’s “serious” interests in extracting mineral resources in Equatorial Guinea. Putin stated: "The potential investment capacity is big, and your country's capacity in developing these relations is also good. I am referring to the potential to do with, above all, the extraction of mineral resources.” President Nguema welcomed Russian investments in the country. (“Russia is interested in E Guinea's minerals - Putin,” BBC, 3 November 2023)

Tuareg rebels claim control of Kidal
On 1 November, BBC Africa reported that Mali Tuareg rebels claimed that they had taken control of the Kidal base which was used by the UN peacekeepers. Previously, the UN mission in Mali (Minusma) reported on its complete withdrawal from the base after two attacks that were carried out by the militants in the town of Gao. This is reportedly the third camp that the militants have taken over following the halting of the mission. The other camps were in the towns of Tessalit and Aguelhok. The separatists recently resumed their campaign in the region after withdrawing from the ceasefire with Malian authorities following the withdrawal of French and UN troops. (“Mali rebels claim control of Kidal base after UN exit,” BBC, 1 November 2023)

20 people killed in separatist attack
On 6 November, BBC Africa reported that at least 20 people were killed in a separatist attack in the Manyu region of Cameroon. The militants injured several others and set ablaze many houses. Since 2017, Ambazonia Defense Forces (ADF) has been carrying out separatist movements in two Anglophone regions of Cameroon- Yaounde and Manyu against the government. According to BBC, the conflict has left at least 6,000 people dead and thousands displaced. (“Cameroon homes torched in deadly separatist raid,” BBC, 6 November 2023)

Flash floods in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia
On 8 November, BBC Africa reported that at least 29 people were killed in flash floods followed by heavy rains in Somalia. The Somali National Disaster Management Agency (SoDMA) stated that at least 850,000 people were affected by the floods. The Somali government has declared an emergency in the states of Jubbaland, Hirshabelle South West and Galmudug. The flash floods were caused by the overflowing of the Juba and Shabelle rivers following heavy rains. Meanwhile, flash floods are also reported in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia. On 6 November, BBC Africa reported that at least 15 people were killed in Kenya in flash floods. According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) El Niño weather phenomenon is behind the heavy rains and is likely to continue until April 2024. (“Call for action in Kenya as El Niño causes havoc,” BBC, 8 November)

Czech Republic Prime Minister Petr Fiala visits Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana and Ivory Coast
On 5 November, Czech Republic Prime Minister Petr Fiala began his eight-day visit to Africa. His visit began with the inauguration of the Czech-Ethiopian Business Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia hosting 14 Czech 40 Ethiopian entrepreneurs. In Ethiopia, he emphasised the potential for cooperation in the health and defence sectors. Besides Ethiopia, he visited Kenya, Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Fiala’s visit aims to encourage the development of commercial and trade ties between the Czech Republic and African countries. He stated: “The visit to Africa will follow the same format as my visit to Asia, which brought a number of concrete [positive] results for Czech companies. We must change our [outdated] approach to [cooperation with states in] Africa. Africa has great potential for our companies.” (“Czech PM to visit African countries to expand trade relations,” Report, 6 November 2023) 

About the authors
Anu Maria Joseph is a Research Assistant at NIAS. Narmatha S is a Postgraduate Scholar at the University of Madras.

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