Complex Conflicts and the Dilemma of Searching for Peace and Stability in Sudan: What Can Be Done?

by Hamdan Goumaa

The Sudan is considered a microcosm of Africa in terms of its ethnic and religious diversity as well as its geography, which dictate multiple livelihoods and cultures. The competition between these distinct groups over land and other resources has always been a source of conflict, albeit manageable through traditional methods of conflict resolution. However, with the emergence of the nation state, the political system and the power struggle among the elites of different ethnic origins as well as the marginalization of certain groups have lead to deeper divisions between these ethnic entities.

After 50 years of war was ended by the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 and the cession of South Sudan in July 2011, rather than going into an era of peace and stability Sudan entered a phase of more complex wars and violent conflicts. The new conflicts are now interstate between Sudan and South Sudan and intrastate within the two countries. Indeed, conflicts have emerged even at the local level in what can be described as intra-ethnic conflicts, emerging from within a tribe or one ethnic group.

The Messeriya of South Kordofan on a journey from South to North. Photo by Eltuhammy/Babanousa.
The Messeriya of South Kordofan on a journey from South to North. Photo by Eltuhammy/Babanousa.

The approach of the international community in dealing with these conflicts is based on diplomacy and using the “carrot-and-stick” to shepherd the two countries into stopping hostilities or even referring some of the conflicts to courts of arbitration and negotiation lead by regional and international personalities. If the final goal is to stop wars and transform these countries into democratic states that respect human rights, equality, justice, and freedom, then paving the way for a system of governance that will eventually address these social grievances can only be done through a more diverse approach. The tendency of the United States and its allies to count on the existing regime in Khartoum to embark on serious reforms toward democracy and stability is illusive. It is even risky to adopt such a policy because it will threaten the very existence of the remaining Sudan as a united country. Putting all the eggs in the current regime’s basket is dangerous gambling.

It is clear that the declared position of some U.S. and other Western officials on Sudan is based on the belief that the stability of the country and the region is largely dependent on keeping the current regime in power. Recently, the U.S. special envoy to Sudan Ambassador Lyman said, “frankly we do not want a regime change – we want to see freedom and democracy [in Sudan] but not necessarily via Arab Spring.” This position received criticism on the ground for sending the wrong message and emboldening the Khartoum government as it continues aggression of its own people.

Many Sudanese civil society organizations as well as other concerned parties have voiced their fears of the possible disintegration of Sudan and fears that the country is on the verge of collapse. They believe that if the current political and economic situation continues to deteriorate, as is currently the case, it is highly likely that the governing regime will lose control of the country, leading to chaos. Sudan is already referred to by many observers as a failed state, a situation that is only getting worse with the new wars in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, which resulted in mass displacements and instability among the populations of these areas. According to UNHCR reports, “South Sudan hosts some 200,000 refugees, including more than 170,000 in Unity and Upper Nile states.” It is worth mentioning that the rebel coalition known as Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), which brought together for the first time Darfur movements that were once split into small factions, is now controlling 40 percent of the new international border between Sudan and South Sudan. It is also reported that the regime’s armed forces have recently suffered serious defeats by the SRF, whose rebels are surrounding Kadougli, the capital of Southern Kordofan state.

In Nuba Mountains. Photo by Eltuhammy/Babanousa.
In Nuba Mountains. Photo by Eltuhammy/Babanousa.

Adding fuel to the fire, the regime started a war with South Sudan, creating a dire situation in the border areas in terms of accessibility to basic consumer goods and other sources of livelihood. The regime announced an emergency situation along the border areas, blocking cross border trade between the inhabitants, and declared South Sudan an enemy state. All this stemmed from losing 70 percent of the oil revenue after the secession of the South, doubled by South Sudan’s halting of oil production. Darfur is still on fire, without any progress on the latest Doha agreements, and conflict and related crimes are still reported there on daily basis. The protests and demonstrations of last summer, which broke out in the capital city of Khartoum and many other places in the country due to the austerity measures declared by the government, are an indication of the complete failure of the Sudanese government’s economic policies.

Despite the recent UN resolution 2046 that urges the governments of Sudan and South Sudan to settle the unresolved issues between them, to this day there are no prospects of implementing the agreement. Abyei is a case in point: the government is still using it as a bargaining chip while pretending to protect the Messeriya interest. This is evident considering that the Messeriya have never been engaged in any serious way to participate in deciding their position, hence there is a wide dissatisfaction among them on the manner in which the government is dealing with the issue. The bombardment of civilians inside the South Sudan territory on November 20 and 21, in addition to the recent foiled coup attempt lead by leading figures in the military and security apparatus of the regime, are strong evidence of serious cracks.

It has become clear that managing and resolving the many and complex challenges facing the people of Sudan at this juncture will not be realized by changing the current regime. It would be of high risk to count on this regime to maintain stability and unity in Sudan. This is a critical period to bring different Sudanese political organizations, academics, representatives of various regions, and ethnic groups to explore possible alternative arrangements to ensure peace and stability. They must adopt and implement tools and methods of conflict resolution and transformation to analyze and address conflicts at different levels, taking into consideration all stake holders. This is imperative in order to address the sources of conflict and move to peacebuilding and conflict transformation as a prerequisite to stability, hence having a political body or structure that can fill the gap and preserve the integrity and unity of Sudan.

Hamdan Goumaa graduated from the Khartoum University, Sudan, with a Bachelor’s degree in economics and political science, and earned an MA from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution. Hamdan is a mid-career professional with more than 16 years of experience in the field of development management. He has worked for both international NGOs and the United Nations in Africa and South East Asia, where he worked primarily with programs designed to address the stabilization and integration needs of the refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and demobilized fighters.

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