Will Khartoum’s peace deal rub off on its southern neighbour?
Saturday December 10 2022
The retreat this week by Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the leader of Sudan’s military government, culminating in a commitment to return to the transition to civilian rule, is bound to draw attention to the tenuous peace process further south in Juba.
After a surprise military coup and resignation by former prime minister Abdalla Hamdok in October 2021 threw the process off-track, indications have been clear that the military junta in Khartoum could not sustain power for much longer. The first indications of that came this past July when al-Burhan expressed a willingness to return to the previous transitional arrangement. He made good on his word this week by signing to a deal.
While it must be a surprising, if not inspiring, development for some of the actors in South Sudan’s stalled peace process, it is not something that can be automatically or easily replicated. The conditions driving the parallel efforts are materially different. The generals in Khartoum capitulated to a convergence of pressure from the international community, an untenable economic crisis, and a determined domestic resistance in the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), and the resistance committees who have sustained protests demanding a return to civilian rule.
Loyalty to personalities
Such unanimity is absent in South Sudan, where the conflict is driven more by loyalty to personalities, than convergence around universal grievances. The Sudanese economy also appears to be more responsive to international sanctions, than its southern neighbour, where the population is more accustomed to adversity. Laden with debt, an acute food shortage situation owing to the global impacts of the Ukraine conflict, the military regime in Khartoum was more vulnerable than the brave face it has always adorned.
Still, progress in Khartoum shows that with the right combination of tools and robust domestic activism, even the most recalcitrant regime can be brought to its knees. To achieve similar results in Juba however, requires one to take a long-term view.
For any tangible results, whether by coercion or persuasion, consensus on methodology needs to be reached with Juba’s key regional backers such as Uganda, Kenya, to some extent Ethiopia and even Khartoum itself. In Sudan’s case, a combination of carrots and sticks has worked, because former colonial master the UK, the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, were able to agree on minimum goals and results.
The presence of the resistance committees and the FFC, also provided credible intermediaries to represent the amorphous public. Achieving similar results in South Sudan will require increased financial and political cover for activists by the global powers. Youth and women groups in South Sudan need to be empowered to assert themselves while more should be demanded of the African Union, Uganda and Kenya. These last two need to be restrained in their support for President Salvar Kiir’s regime because they hold significant military and financial levers over the key actors in the South Sudan process.
Still, Juba does not have to wait for such a crisis to come knocking. President Kiir and his vice-president Dr Riek Machar, can save themselves and their people a lot of unnecessary pain, by taking the initiative to give the peace process new momentum.