The obstacles to Sudan’s landmark peace deal
The agreement is promising, but two influential rebel groups have refused to sign it, while paying for it will be challenging.
On 3 October, Sudan’s transitional authority and a coalition of rebel groups signed a final peace agreement aimed at ending decades of deadly conflict. The deal came after a year of negotiations. It addresses many issues such as power sharing, the distribution of resources, transitional justice, land, displacement and security.
The signing ceremony was held in Juba and attended by the head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok along with representatives of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), an umbrella group of rebel movements. Three key armed groups signed the document: the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM); the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM); and the faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) led by Malik Agar.
Several leaders of neighbouring countries were also present alongside representatives from the African Union, UN and European Union.
Representatives from two important groups, however, were notably absent. The faction of the SPLM-N led by Abdel Aziz Al-Hilu and the Sudan Liberation Movement of Abdel Wahid Nour (SLM-WN) have refused to endorse the deal.
The rejections of these two influential groups along with other challenges remain significant stumbling blocks to much-needed peace in Sudan.
What’s in the deal?
Under the new peace deal, Sudan’s 39-month transitional period of joint civilian-military rule will be reset to start from the date of the signing. The power-sharing arrangement between the Forces of Freedom and Change and the Transitional Sovereign Council will also be amended to include representation from the rebel signatories. These groups will get three seats on the Sovereignty Council, five ministers in the transitional cabinet, and a quarter of the seats on the yet-to-be-established transitional legislature.
Regionally, the agreement contains five tracks covering different parts of Sudan. Each has slightly varying arrangements with rebel signatories entitled to 10-40% of the seats on regional authorities. The agreement also required that women are represented at all levels of power at a proportion of at least 40%.
In Darfur, which has seen some of the most egregious human rights violations in Sudan’s conflicts, the agreement establishes a truth and reconciliation commission and empowers traditional justice mechanisms. As part of the process, the signatories also reaffirmed their willingness to cooperate with the International Criminal Court regarding persons against whom arrest warrants have been issued. Meanwhile, the government will be obligated to pay $750 million a year for 10 years to the region.
The Darfur agreement also paves the way for a new joint force called the National Forces for Sustaining Peace in Darfur. It will consist of soldiers from the armed movements and government forces. Its mission will be to maintain security, protect civilians and disarm the region.
In both Darfur and the Two Areas (Blue Nile and South Kordofan), there will also be efforts to gradually demobilise and reintegrate armed rebel fighters.
The new peace deal provides a moment of hope in a long history of conflict in Sudan. But it faces several challenges for it to be successful. The most immediate stumbling block is the fact that two rebel groups with significant presences on the ground have so far refused to sign it.
The SPLM-N, led by Abdel Aziz Al-Hilu, withdrew from the negotiations in August after refusing to accept Deputy of the Transitional Sovereign Council, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (aka Hemedti), as chair of the transitional authority team.
There have been significant efforts, however, to resume negotiations. In early September, Prime Minister Hamdok and Al-Hilu met in Addis Ababa. Their discussions led to a joint statement which asserted that the state must be secular. If this was not respected, they agreed that South Kordofan and Blue Nile – where the SPLM-N operates and is considered the strongest rebel group militarily – should be able to determine their own fate.
On 8 October, Al-Hilu then met Hemedti. In press statements after the meeting, the two men said the meeting was held in order to restore confidence and that they will resume talks after holding workshops to discuss the obstacles to peace. The first will take place on 14 October to discuss the separation between of state and religion.
The second significant armed group to refuse the deal so far is the Sudan Liberation Movement. Led by Abdel Wahid Nour, this group rejected the process and called instead for a national conference. The SLM-WN operates in Darfur and controls areas in Jebel Mara. It has clashed with the Sudanese army as recently as 28 September.
The peace agreement has also been opposed by some less powerful armed movements as well as some civil society organisations. The Association of Professionals and the Sudanese Communist Party argue that it will shift the balance of power more towards the military and away from civilians.
In some parts of Sudan, the peace deal has also faced resistance by groups who expect to lose out. In eastern Sudan, there have been recent clashes including groups that were party to the 2006 Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement and who feel excluded from the new deal. In Darfur and Kordofan too, there have been flare ups of fighting among disgruntled groups.
Paying for peace
Several international groups and governments – such as the UN, AU, EU and the Troika of the US, UK and Norway – have welcome the Juba agreement. They have called on the SLPM-N led by Al-Hilu and the SLM-WN to join the process.
To fully support the agreement, however, international partners may need to do more. One of the key challenges for Sudan will be to pay for the implementation of the peace deal. The economy is deteriorating and while donors have pledged to pay for the costs of the agreement, this will not be enough if the economy is too weak to create new jobs and improve living standards.
Sudan needs large-scale local and foreign investment as well as the ability to borrow from international financial institutions, which is currently restricted due to it being on the US terror list.
The new peace deal is promising and has more buy-in than those under former President Omar al-Bashir’s reign. However, as long as some major rebel groups are not signatories, it remains an incomplete peace.
If the new peace deal fails, it will be a major setback for both Sudan’s peace process and its transitional period. If it succeeds, it could provide the kind of stability Sudan desperately needs at it transitions towards a democratic system.