When South Sudan seceded from Sudan on July 9, 2011, it never looked like the new southern neighbour to Khartoum will have any role in pushing for peace.
The youngest country on the continent itself was facing a serious challenge to build institutions from scratch. It had unfinished business with Sudan especially on border demarcation in Abyei area, sharing of resources and cooperating on humanitarian settlements.
Juba may have started on a wrong footing after plunging into war soon after independence. But South Sudan would later become Sudan’s most important ally in seeking peace.
After the fall of the Omar al-Bashir regime in April 2019 in Sudan, President Salva Kiir of South Sudan announced his intention to mediate between the transitional government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and the Sudanese armed opposition factions in order to reach a lasting peace.
Kiir intervened after negotiations with groups faltered. His mediation offer would quickly be accepted by most sides, perhaps because his experience in bush-war fighting with Sudan ensured he appreciated the reasons behind the current conflicts in Sudan
Kiir would nominate special envoys and offered a venue in Juba to help parties negotiate. Until the Juba Peace Agreement was reached in October last year, Sudan was facing the prospect of renewed violence especially as the African Union-UN peacekeeping forces under UNAMID prepared to leave the country after 14 years.
The Juba platform for Sudanese negotiations was endorsed by Sudan’s neighbours such as Uganda, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Egypt. The UAE and Saudi Arabia, which has led the Friends of Sudan coalition, also endorsed it.
On September 12, 2019, the Sudanese government delegation would sign the ‘Juba Declaration with the Revolutionary Front, a coalition of six then armed groups, and a similar deal on October 19 with the SPLM (North) led by Abdulaziz Al-Hilu.
The Sudanese government would later enter a decisive peace agreement with several Sudanese rebel groups, in October 2020, with the aim of “ending years of armed conflicts in the Darfur region, South Kordofan and southern Blue Nile.”
The signing ceremony took place in Juba, finalising a preliminary agreement reached in August, after months of talks, with the three main rebel groups from the Darfur region.
Kiir has argued in the past that he offered to mediate because he now understands the importance of peace to a country.
“We are tied by history and we will continue to work together to ensure our countries remain peaceful,” he said at one session of talks.
“We cannot be at peace if Sudan is at war. They can’t be at peace if we are fighting.”
The agreement signed by the Sudanese Revolutionary Front was a deal involving its five armed movements and four political movements. While two main factions, the Sudan Liberation Army and the SPLM, the Abdul Aziz Al-Hilu wing, did not join the peace negotiators initially, the signing of the peace deal with the rest seems to have inspired these two to move towards negotiations. Kiir has said his country will continue to facilitate the renewed negotiations with the transitional government in Khartoum, which has now incorporated the erstwhile fighters.
Bashir-era Sudan faced twin problems in the southern regions which later seceded as South Sudan, and the conflict in Darfur which had erupted when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the government of former President Omar al-Bashir, accusing the government of economic and political marginalisation.
An armed conflict broke out between the Sudanese government and the SPLM in June 2011, following a dispute over the election results for the position of governor in Southern Kordofan.
In those elections, Ahmed Haroun, who was backed by Bashir, won against the movement’s candidate, Abdul Aziz al-Hilu. The fighting moved to Blue Nile state, a year after the elections, following the rebellion of its governor, Malik Agar.
As it is, this group is still opposed to the transitional Sudanese government, saying they are politically and economically marginalised by Khartoum.
But Kiir has raised his efforts in the past three months, especially since the two Sudanese states are on the border with South Sudan
Juba says it will continue hosting talks between Khartoum and the SPLM-North faction led by Abdul Aziz El-Hilu.