The African Union’s proposal to expand the peace search in Sudan has received early backing from the West, suggesting mediation will now go beyond warring generals and rope in civilian groups.
After Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni chaired a meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council last week, the AU’s peace building body for which Uganda was chair in May, said it was pursuing the “Roadmap on the Resolution of the Conflict in Sudan”, a proposal in which there will be a centralised mediation and more parties involved according to their influence.
Known as the Expanded Mechanism, it places a bigger role on Sudan’s neighbours, but other countries such as the US, UK, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, who have a commanding influence on parties in Sudan, will also be involved. It is a departure from the past, where countries individually proposed mediation.
South Sudan, under the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) has been unsuccessfully seeking to mediate even as parties sent representatives to Jeddah for another mediation led by Saudis and the US. On Wednesday, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) quit the Jeddah talks, accusing its rivals, the Rapid Support Forces, of not honouring any of the past six ceasefires. In fact, both parties have accused each another of violations.
Norway, the UK, US, and the European Union [known as the Troika plus EU] said they welcome the AU Roadmap, and “work to establish an Expanded Mechanism and its Core Group to ensure inclusive and coordinated regional and international action to secure a viable peace process, and the resumption of the transition to civilian government and democracy in Sudan.
The roadmap is not entirely new, having been first proposed by the AU Council on April 20, five days after war broke out. It seeks to “to avoid proliferation of initiatives” on Sudan.
“This Roadmap aims to identify all elements for addressing the immediate and long-term impact of the conflict, change the trajectory and lay the groundwork for political processes that will return Sudan to the path of transition to democratic and inclusive civilian rule,” says an internal document circulated among AU Peace and Security Council members last week.
It admits that ceasefires have largely been disrespected, even though they had a limited objective of enabling evacuation of expatriates, humanitarian supplies and respect to civilian areas.
It proposes to engage the SAF led by Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF led by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo “to seek other specific forms of de-escalation.” Such may include temporary geographically limited pauses in fighting, protection and restoration of civilian infrastructure, limiting hostilities to certain areas and allowing zones of civilian safety.
The AU programme also seeks to have parties stop any further recruitment of fighters or mobilising them during the war and other de-escalation measures “that might be considered appropriate.” This may also mean the conflict settlement, rather than resolution, lies in other groups who sway political capital.
For example, there are militia groups opposed to the fighting, as there are civilian movements who helped toppled Omar al-Bashir and demanded a return to civilian rule. It calls on political actors and voices of civilians to be amplified, ostensibly to take away the stiffness from the warring groups.
“The civilian front is to be strongly assisted, as a necessary condition for successful political transition process,” says the document seen by The EastAfrican.
Although the SAF pulled out of Saudi-led talks, the AU thinks the Jeddah Declaration of Commitment to Protect Civilians of Sudan signed two weeks ago to ensure humanitarian access should be the basis as it already mentions immediate tasks.
This week, the US Department of State said the ceasefire monitoring mechanism had detected possible breaches of the agreement, including use of artillery, military aircraft and drones. Department of State spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters that Washington was still wielding the sanctions card to push parties to dialogue.
“We retain our sanctions authority and if appropriate we will not hesitate to use that authority,” he said.
The Uganda-led meeting on May 27 now means that the African Union could take the lead in the efforts to stop the fighting.
“Sudan does not belong to the Sudan Army. It belongs to the people. Therefore, unconditional and immediate cessation of hostilities to stop the tragedy and mockery of Africa is of utmost importance,” said President Museveni.
Those who attended the video conference included the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary-General of Igad Dr Workneh Gebeyehu, and Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for the Horn of Africa Hanna Tetteh.
Mr Mahamat warned that the risk of civil war in Sudan is real, with serious negative consequences for its immediate neighbours and the Horn of Africa as a whole.
"Even if the fighting stopped today, it would take a generation to rebuild what has been lost so far," he said.
“The conflict has destroyed public infrastructure, including hospitals, the Central Bank, Universities, and the National Archives housing the rich history of Sudan,” said Mr Mahamat.
The AU says it will bring together the Trilateral Mechanism (the AU, Igad and UN), the League of Arab States, and the European Union along with like-minded partners to put pressure on the protagonists to negotiate a permanent ceasefire.
Igad was the first to launch a mediation effort on April 16 — a day after the fighting broke out — that is led by South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, Kenya's William Ruto, and Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti.
But this initiative has been overshadowed by the US-Saudi Arabia process and that of the League of Arab States.
Dr Workneh has maintained that the Igad initiative has been recognised for its capacity to strengthen coordination and support for the silencing of guns in Sudan.
“What we need is a process that reflects the desire of the Sudanese people,” he said this week.
Tut Gatluak Manime, South Sudan’s presidential adviser on security, said that President Kiir has been in constant consultations with regional leaders as well as the parties involved in the conflict in Sudan.
“We noted that the multiplicity and proliferation of mediations will not serve the interests and the collective will of the Sudanese people. Our position is that we need a single, inclusive, and consolidated peace process for Sudan under the coordination of AU, Igad, the League of Arab States, and the United Nations,” he said on May 31, during a webinar on the Expanded Mechanism.
According to Bankole Adeoye, AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, the new AU Roadmap is meant to establish mechanisms to coordinate support to Sudan with the objective of negotiating a permanent ceasefire, strengthening the humanitarian response, and ensuring the protection of civilians, address the impact of the war on countries bordering Sudan and promote the resumption of an inclusive, fully representative political process that collapsed in April.
“We need to prepare for an inclusive political process that will address immediate and long-term challenges in Sudan. We know that the disagreements over the reforms in the security sector sparked off the conflict, but now we had to address the systematic disagreements that go back to decades,” said Mr Adeoye.