Debating Ideas is a new section that aims to reflect the values and editorial ethos of the African Arguments book series, publishing engaged, often radical, scholarship, original and activist writing from within the African continent and beyond. It will offer debates and engagements, contexts and controversies, and reviews and responses flowing from the African Arguments books.
The future of Sudan is being hashed out right now in negotiations. Yesterday, we briefly outlined mediation efforts to bring Abdallah Hamdok and commander of the Sudanese military, General Abdallah Fattah al-Burhan, to an agreement. It detailed some of the mediation parties, what negotiations looked like during the revolution 2019, and the differences after the 25 October coup.
However, the mediation process so far has been a playbook for how to disrupt rather than facilitate negotiations.
First, self-interested parties have rushed in to mediate an agreement between the civilian and military authorities. “There are multiple mediation efforts underway in Khartoum by a host of actors,” Volker Perthes said yesterday. The efforts include Sudanese intellectuals, self-interested parties like the South Sudanese, the African Union, the UN mission in Sudan, and an effort by the World Food Program. The proliferation of mediators is dangerous because it causes confusion for the two main stakeholders, the civilian and military authorities. The large number of mediation efforts not only waste time in a crisis, but mean that a potential agreement may be less likely. Parties will favour one deal over another. The mediators need a mediator. For a negotiation to be successful there should be one trusted mediator. Stop the spoilers.
Second, with so many mediators they may rush to get a flawed agreement. A deal may paper over the same unresolved issues over power-sharing, justice and corruption. This executive summary from Zach Vertin, on South Sudan’s peace process, is particularly poignant.
“The success or failure of any mediation effort depends first and foremost on the political will of the parties themselves. South Sudan’s principal combatants not only lacked the will to make peace—they were often hostile to the very idea of a negotiated settlement. As such, IGAD and the wider constituency of peace process supporters faced a political and moral dilemma often confronted by outside actors when a conflict is not ‘ripe’ for settlement—when tradeoffs are made between ideal solutions and the imperative to stop the violence.”
Third, the main international backers of al-Burhan have not budged their public stances. A scan through Saudi, Egyptian and UAE media detail how they generally believe that Hamdok is intransigent, al-Burhan is trying to preserve the revolution, and there are large injuries among police forces. Russian state-media has also reported promises from al-Burhan to construct a naval base in Sudan. This all means that Western diplomacy to undermine al-Burhan’s support among the coup quartet has not worked.
If the current mediation process continues, it is likely to disrupt rather than support talks.
Press Conference by Volker Perthes, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan, on the situation in Sudan. https://media.un.org/en/asset/k17/k172klavc5
“A poisoned well: lessons in mediation from South Sudan’s troubled peace process”, International Peace Institute, 2018.
“Sudanese police deny shooting”, Al Bayan, 31 October 2021. https://www.albayan.ae/world/arab/2021-10-31-1.4284673; “Is Hamdok back to head the government?”, Okaz, 31 October 2021. https://www.okaz.com.sa/news/politics/2086702; “Sudan, where to?”, Al Bayan, https://www.albayan.ae/opinions/articles/2021-10-30-1.4284241
“Sudanese leader confirms commitment to deal on Russian military base construction”, Sputnik, 1 November 2021.
“This Is Not a Coup” is a daily update from Sudan that gives perspective on the country’s military takeover. The author is anonymous to protect their identity. The title is a reference to the 26 October speech of General Abdel Fatah al-Burhan