mediation framework

Sudan war: Diplomacy stuck in a trap

By Amadou Sadjo Barry

Posted on September 1, 2023 09:46

An aerial view of the black smoke and flames at a market in Omdurman, Khartoum North, Sudan, May 17, 2023 in this screengrab obtained from a handout video. VIDEO OBTAINED BY REUTERS
An aerial view of the black smoke and flames at a market in Omdurman, Khartoum North, Sudan, May 17, 2023 in this screengrab obtained from a handout video. VIDEO OBTAINED BY REUTERS

Despite international efforts, fighting is escalating, mainly in Darfur and Khartoum, blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid and forcing thousands to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. The issue is the multiple parties involved.

After four months of war in Sudan, joint diplomatic attempts by international organisations (AU, IGAD, UN, EU, Arab League), along with US-Saudi mediation, haven’t managed to secure humanitarian aid delivery or bring about a ceasefire. As Sudan seems entirely engulfed in war, we need to rethink our mediation strategy.

This new approach must consider the real power dynamics on the ground – political, military, and economic control issues – as well as outside parties that could sway both warring sides toward ending hostilities.

Different interests at play

Since the war broke out on 15 April 2023, we’ve seen diplomatic efforts both at a sub-regional level (IGAD mediation and coordination among Sudan’s neighbours) and at continental and global levels (US and Saudi Arabia). The Lomé Initiative aimed to encourage talks among different groups fighting in Darfur to create a secure humanitarian corridor.

While these efforts don’t exclude each other, they share three flaws: they involve a host of parties with differing interests in Sudan and its surrounding areas, including the US and Saudi Arabia, followed by Egypt, the UAE, Qatar, and Ethiopia. Trying to involve the entire international community suggests that all players and institutions have equal influence and credibility, which isn’t the case.

Despite the principle of subsidiarity, a sub-regional institution like IGAD doesn’t have significant influence over Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemeti’ Dagalo.

When it comes to crisis resolution in Africa, sub-regional organisations face credibility and legitimacy problems that limit their options. In reality, these Sudan mediation efforts suffer from a lack of leadership.

Although the African Union’s expanded mechanism aims to coordinate the international community’s response and strengthen peace-seeking efforts, this inclusive platform often gets swallowed by the proliferation of mediations, whose goals shift depending on the countries involved.

Diplomacy, therefore, is ensnared by conflicts of interest and influence struggles among sub-regional and international players, which explains the limited progress in ending violence and effectively addressing the humanitarian crisis.

Rethinking the mediation framework

Successful mediation in Sudan requires, above all, a new framework aimed at avoiding parallel initiatives and, most importantly, appointing a universally accepted and credible special envoy around whom international efforts can focus.

For a starting point, we should look at the African Union’s expanded mechanism, and strengthen it by drawing from various initiatives led by the Americans and Saudis, Togo, and foreign ministers of Sudan’s neighbouring countries. An initial meeting among the key players of ongoing initiatives could help identify obstacles to a lasting ceasefire and possible compromises that could ease a peace agreement. Next, we should use continental and international levers that can influence both warring sides and their supporters.

African diplomacy should not be caught in the trap of thinking that only Africans should handle African problems.

The war’s complexity, its community dynamics, sub-regional implications, balanced power relations between both warring camps, and their connections to international enrichment networks — basically, the strength of the combatants — call for the inclusion of influential players in diplomatic action.

These should be influential parties both economically and politically, and especially those who have a strong position globally.

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