NAIROBI / BRUSSELS / KHARTOUM – June 26, 2023
The International Crisis Group (ICG) said that international diplomats should “redouble efforts” to convince the warring parties to stop fighting. These efforts could be led by the USA and Saudi Arabia, who are mediating the Jeddah talks, but they should collaborate more closely with Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the African Union (AU).
The International Crisis Group is an independent international organisation “working to prevent wars and shape policies that will build a more peaceful world”. Founded in 1995 ‘in response to the horrors of Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia,” the group aims to “alert the world to potential conflicts before they spiral out of control”.
‘A collapsing Sudan will prove a nightmare for the region for decades to come’
In their analysis of the situation in Sudan, which can be read in full here, the group stated that “a collapsing Sudan will prove a nightmare for the region for decades to come”. It admitted that “there are no easy ways to halt the carnage” but urged that “all with influence should do everything possible to stop Sudan’s slide into even greater disaster”.
The authors refer to the widespread shortages of drinking water, food, medicine, electricity, fuel, cash, and essential services. Khartoum “has practically ceased functioning, with almost no service provision for the millions who remain trapped there.”
“Grave as things are, they seem poised to get worse,” the group warns.
The warring Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have thus far flouted international mediation efforts.
“A string of failed ceasefires suggests that neither side wants to risk letting its opponent regroup. Yet neither has a clear upper hand. The conflict is spreading outside the capital, plunging other areas into horrendous and, in some cases, inter-ethnic bloodletting.”
“Convincing them to halt the carnage will be an uphill struggle, perhaps even impossible. But given what is at stake, diplomats should nonetheless redouble efforts,” the ICG said.
“Despite the dramatic stakes, diplomacy to date has fallen short of what the moment demands. Talks led by Saudi Arabia and the U.S. in Jeddah, the Saudi Arabian city on the Red Sea, have yielded several nominal ceasefires. None has held for a sustained period.”
‘Despite the dramatic stakes, diplomacy to date has fallen short of what the moment demands.’
Nevertheless, the group maintains that Washington and Riyadh should lead the way but also stated that the USA and Saudi Arabia should work more closely with other parties.
So far, the Jeddah negotiations have been criticised for being ‘secretive’ and for not including other international and Sudanese civilian parties.
“The US and Saudi Arabia continue to keep the process to themselves and appear unwilling to engage or coordinate with other regional and international actors involved in the situation,” Sudanese politician Amgad Fareid El Tayeb lamented.
The ICG said that “all involved should upgrade their diplomacy” and that the USA specifically, given its access to all parties, “should better mesh its work with that of the African, Middle Eastern, and European actors who are also trying to make peace”.
First of all, the USA “should appoint a special envoy able to engage in sustained high-level diplomacy to bridge potential divides, such as between the Gulf Arab powers and Sudan’s African neighbours, and to coordinate stronger pressure on the belligerents”. At present, a small team in the US State Department’s Africa Bureau is handling US mediation efforts, rather than a high-level special envoy.
Secondly, Washington and Riyadh should include Egypt and the UAE more “to marshal higher-level outreach to urge the warring parties to stand down” and to make sure that both countries “throw their full weight behind a ceasefire”.
Egypt is the Sudanese army’s main external backer whilst the UAE have ties to the RSF. Hence, both could play a key role in negotiations.
The ICG added that the USA and Saudi Arabia should coordinate better with the AU as well, “which should in tandem consult with Sudanese about forming a caretaker government that can step in if the shooting stops”.
Contours of a deal
“Precisely how to forge a way out is unclear,” the group wrote, but “it might make sense that mediators push for at least the contours of a deal on Sudan’s security sector, the dispute that triggered the fighting”.
“A compromise might entail an accelerated merger of the two forces into a single unit – a core army demand – in exchange for commitments to make other reforms and broaden the military’s command structure, with [RSF Commander] Hemedti included in the leadership.”
“A basic agreement, with details hashed out later, might pave the way to a more sustained ceasefire, which in turn could open the way to talks about the country’s political future,” the ICG said.
Civilian caretaker cabinet
The Crisis Group envisions a role for the AU to confer with Sudanese civilian representatives about assembling a technocratic caretaker cabinet.
“The AU, which has formed a coordination group among major external actors and promises to launch a political process, should, alongside IGAD, work with eminent Sudanese to forge a rescue plan in hopes that the Jeddah talks make progress.”
‘Neither the RSF nor the army will be able to govern Sudan when the war is over’
“Neither the RSF nor the army – even in the unlikely event that either prevails on the battlefield – will be able to govern Sudan when the war is over” so there needs to be an emergency caretaker government, ideally a civilian one.
“The AU should focus on laying the groundwork for such a body while continuing to play the critical role of coordinating various actors in a single forum. Sudanese, meanwhile, should resist the temptation to form a government in exile, which would only deepen the country’s divisions.”
In its final conclusion, the Crisis Group stated that “the window to halt fighting before Sudan descends into a prolonged multi-sided conflict that spells state failure and years of bloody conflict is fast closing”.
“The gravity of that outcome is hard to overstate.” Therefore, every party with influence over the army or RSF “need to act with the alacrity the crisis warrants,” especially because it seems nearly impossible to convince the two sides, “who remain hellbent on destroying each other,” to stop fighting.
‘There is still time to halt Sudan’s slide into disintegration, but not much’
“With neither showing any sign of compromise, there are no easy solutions. […] Still, given just how catastrophic war in Sudan would be, African, Arab, and Western powers have no choice but to commit much more diplomatic capital than they have to date.”
The group stated that “Sudanese will need to hold far-reaching discussions about a new political settlement, especially on ways to manage diversity, distribute resources, and share political power”. Sudanese civilians are right to reject the war but now they need to put any political differences aside to agree on an interim governance arrangement in case the fighting does stop.
“There is still time to halt Sudan’s slide into disintegration, but not much.”