NIAS Africa Studies

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NIAS Africa Studies
Sudan’s ceasefires remain elusive: Four reasons why

  Anu Maria Joseph

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. 

About the Author

Anu Maria Joseph is a Research Assistant at NIAS.

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