With the world’s attention focused on wars in Israel, Gaza and Ukraine, the devastating civil war that erupted in Sudan in April 2023 has largely been neglected. That changed a little in October last year when the United States (US) and Saudi Arabia convened ceasefire talks in Jeddah.
But the talks collapsed almost before they began as clashes intensified between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) commanded by Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemedti’ Dagalo.
The US stepped up its diplomatic efforts, exerting pressure on the generals and the region. Leaders of states making up the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) met in Djibouti on 9 December and persuaded Burhan and Hemedti to agree to an unconditional ceasefire, political dialogue and a face-to-face meeting on 28 December.
But that didn’t happen, possibly because of bungling by the IGAD secretariat, diplomats told ISS Today. Burhan felt he hadn’t been properly consulted before the IGAD communiqué was issued. He insisted he wouldn’t meet Hemedti until the RSF withdrew its forces from Khartoum and other cities. Another meeting scheduled for 2 January was also missed.
Meanwhile Hemedti had met Taqaddum, the broad group chaired by former transitional prime minister Abdalla Hamdok that is campaigning for a shift to civilian rule. They agreed in vague terms to end the war. But the meeting appears to have offended Burhan, even though Taqaddum reportedly invited him for a meeting, which he ignored.
Hemedti, who has been largely invisible throughout the civil war, has suddenly become highly visible. He embarked on an African tour and met with heads of state and government in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and South Africa.
Hemedti assured all his interlocutors that he was drumming up support for the peace process. In a Facebook statement, he mentioned discussions with Kenya’s President William Ruto on the causes of the war and how to begin negotiations for lasting peace. Likewise, he posted that he had reassured Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh, of his full commitment to the outcomes of the December IGAD summit.
And South Africa expressed support for the ‘imminent face to face dialogue between General Dagalo and General Burhan and reiterated the need for an immediate ceasefire, and the dialogue towards permanent cessation of hostilities.’ It couldn’t have pleased Burhan that in a post on X, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office referred to their guest as ‘His Excellency President Mohamed Dagalo of Sudan’. The post was quickly deleted – though not before being retweeted.
There is widespread scepticism in Sudan and beyond that Hemedti is really focused on peace and that this was the primary purpose of his burst of diplomacy last week. ‘Hemedti was seeking support for his position,’ a former Sudanese diplomat told ISS Today. ‘And in view of the military situation in Sudan, he feels he is in a better negotiating position.’
He noted that Hemedti would have drummed up support for the peace process, but that his main aim was to boost his stature as a leader of Sudan, and to canvas support for himself. In any case, the peace process appears to have gone dormant, with fierce battles erupting this week. The United Nations Refugee Agency reported that since the war broke out, over 7.5 million people had fled their homes, of which 1.3 million were refugees and the rest internally displaced civilians.
There are no angels among the combatants here. Burhan’s SAF has killed and displaced thousands of civilians by indiscriminate bombing of cities.
And Maram Mahdi, Researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, says: ‘Based on its recent decisions and statements, the SAF is seemingly a bigger spoiler to the peace process … refusing to meaningfully engage and negotiate with not only the RSF but civilians and international actors as well. That’s why Taqqadum signed the deal with only Hemedti in Addis.
‘In addition, SAF’s request for the closure of the [UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan] in early December 2023 is further evidence that it has left little room for mediation and is poised to continue the war effort.’
But even if Hemedti and his RSF are at least publicly more open to negotiations, they remain diabolical. They are the officially respectabilised heirs to the notorious Janjaweed Arab militias who perpetrated a genocide against Darfuris two decades ago. But their behaviour seemingly hasn’t changed. As the former Sudanese diplomat noted, the RSF has gained the upper hand in the fighting lately.
Burhan’s SAF has left little room for mediation and is poised to continue the war effort
‘Anyone who doubts the genocidal implications of the RSF’s military conquests need only watch the militia’s own videos of its atrocities against civilians in western Darfur,’ Alex de Waal, Head of the World Peace Foundation, wrote on 14 December in Foreign Policy.
De Waal said the RSF had won much of the fighting against the SAF in recent months. He added that wherever it advanced, ‘there is no doubt mass slaughter and enslavement will follow … they’re indelibly coloured by a toxic Arab supremacist ideology.’
De Waal’s article also spells out the deep, intricate and entirely self-serving entanglement in Sudan’s affairs by a host of foreign interests, including the United Arab Emirates, Russia through Wagner, Saudi Arabia and the country’s neighbours.
De Waal was quite hopeful last month as he believed the US was starting to give due attention to Sudan by imposing targeted sanctions and pushing peace efforts. Washington is also apparently in the process of appointing a new special envoy.
But now there don’t appear to be any plans for Burhan and Hemedti to meet – and the peace process isn’t showing many other signs of life either.
Written by Peter Fabricius, Consultant, ISS Pretoria.