Protesters in Khartoum and other cities in Sudan shouted “Freedom, Peace, and Justice!” in the December 2018 demonstrations, demanding the removal of Omar al-Bashir’s regime. A year later, the new transitional government in Sudan has yet to achieve the most aspired reform goal—peace. Continuous talks with rebel groups have been taking place since October 2019, but a comprehensive peace plan for Sudan seems out of reach. The current process lacks popular representation and has failed to address the root of the conflicts in Sudan.
According to the Constitutional Declaration that governs the transitional period, peace negotiations should have ended in March. However, months later, reaching an agreement appears unachievable and serves as yet another example of a process that has proved fruitless throughout Sudan’s history. Neither the government nor the rebel groups have learned the lessons from Sudan’s previous peace talks in 1972, 1986, or 2005.
The current Sudanese political elite who are conducting peace talks in Juba – the capital of South Sudan – lack critical understanding of Sudan’s history.
Confucius, the famous philosopher, once said “study the past if you would define the future.” The current Sudanese political elite who are conducting peace talks in Juba – the capital of South Sudan – lack critical understanding of Sudan’s history. The southern civil war erupted in 1955 due to the southerner’s exclusion from the formation of the newly independent country. Northern elites promised southern representatives in the parliament that they would have the right of self-determination if they supported independence. The northerners did not keep their promise, which ignited the longest civil war in Africa.
In 1972, General Jaafar Nimeiry – the former military dictator of Sudan – reached the Addis Ababa Agreement with the guerilla group Anya Nya, which was successful in stopping the war for ten years. But Nimeiry eventually breached the agreement, and southerners were betrayed again.
The fall of Nimeiry’s regime in 1984 was an opportunity to solve the southern conflict since peace was one of the first demands of the protests at the time. In 1986, the transitional government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) signed the Koka Dam Declaration in Ethiopia, which laid a road map for peace in Sudan. The declaration called for a national constitutional conference that would discuss identity, separation of religion and state, human rights, uneven development, and governance. However, the transitional government was hesitant to discuss sensitive religious issues, which led to the demise of the Koka Dam Declaration.
Nevertheless, later attempts were more successful. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between Bashir’s regime and the SPLM ended the 50-year civil war in Sudan. Signed in 2005, the CPA in fact paved the way for South Sudan to secede in 2011.
The current negotiations between the transitional government and various rebel groups are going in the same direction. Most of the rebel groups are members of the Freedom and Change Coalition (FCC) that has been ruling Sudan with the military since the removal of Bashir’s regime. Unfortunately, the rebel groups were not included in the FCC civilian component’s power-sharing agreement with the army. The Revolutionary Front (RF) was sidelined during the talks in Khartoum, and the FCC failed to persuade them to support the deal with the military. This move led to an awkward situation as members of the same political alliance, the FCC, sat on opposite sides of the negotiation table in Juba.
One of the main pitfalls of the CPA was its failure to address the root causes of the country’s conflicts, such as uneven development in southern Sudan.
The current talks between the transitional government and armed groups started in Juba in October of 2019. The Juba peace process has followed the CPA approach, which restricts the negotiations to the government and rebel groups, and excludes the majority of Sudanese people (only armed groups represent the conflict areas). One of the main pitfalls of the CPA was its failure to address the root causes of the country’s conflicts, such as uneven development in southern Sudan. Furthermore, similar to how the CPA misleadingly acknowledged the SPLM as the sole representative of the southerners, the current Juba process participants do not adequately represent Darfur, Southern Kurdufan, the Nuba Mountains, and the Blue Nile.
Moreover, the fact that South Sudan is the chief mediator in the Sudan peace process is disturbing, not to mention Juba’s biased support for the armed groups for years. South Sudan itself is suffering from a problematic cycle of peace treaties that have failed several times. The United States and other Western countries’ modest presence in the Juba talks suggests that they are not entirely supportive. Previous Sudanese peace talks had a more solid backing from the US and European nations, who were instrumental in overseeing and funding the implementation of the agreements.
The Juba process has also produced new regional negotiation tracks with no history of violent conflicts such as the Central track and the North track. Khartoum, for example, which witnessed continuous peaceful protests that helped to remove the Bashir regime, is geographically a part of Central Sudan and has not seen armed conflicts since independence. The only interpretation of such a procedure is to provide power gains for parties that have no base in the political map on the ground. The geographical tracks technique transformed the peace process into a political marketplace with bargains to satisfy rent-seeking elites rather than addressing the conflict’s root causes.
Furthermore, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North faction under the leadership of Abdelaziz El Hilu (SPLM-N El Hilu) misused the Juba platform to advance its national secularist agenda. The SPLM-N spokesman El Jak Mahmoud announced that establishing a viable secular Sudan is a precondition for any peace agreement. Otherwise, the SPLM-N will choose the right to self-determination as a principle rather than a negotiation position.
The process in Juba might end Sudan’s conflict temporarily, but it will not achieve comprehensive and lasting peace unless there is a “paradigm shift.”
Sudan’s current peace process in Juba is making the same historical mistakes that various Sudanese regimes and armed groups committed in the past. The process in Juba might end Sudan’s conflict temporarily, but it will not achieve comprehensive and lasting peace unless there is a “paradigm shift,” that envisions the peace process as a nation-building project as Dr. Mohamed Mahgoub Haroun, Professor at the University of Khartoum and former director of the University’s Peace Studies, explained in a recent column published by Tasees Studies Center.
However, there is still a chance to revise the current peace approach before the train leaves the station. The Sudanese government should use the Juba process as an opportunity to end all armed conflicts in Sudan and then initiate a comprehensive and inclusive peace plan that represents all the people of Sudan.