Sudan – Peace agreement signals end of the conflict in Darfur

Sudan’s transitional government has signed a long-awaited peace agreement with the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) – a coalition of rebel groups from the states of Darfur, South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile – ending the 17-year conflict in the region.

Mediation efforts started in December 2019 in Juba, the capital of neighbouring South Sudan, between representatives of the transitional government and members of the different armed groups.

The new peace agreement was penned on Monday, August 31, in Juba in the presence of Sudan’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir.

Mr Hamdok remarked that “today is the beginning of the long road to peace”, and that the new peace agreement serves as “the promise of return, the promise of justice, the promise of development and the promise of safety”.

Five representatives of the rebel groups signed the agreement after nearly 10 months of negotiations. Two of the largest rebel groups, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Northern Sudan (SPLA-N) and the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), refused to participate in the peace discussions; however, both groups signalled that they do not oppose the agreement, which has been years in the making.

Deputy President Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo stated that “throughout the decades of [this] war, no one has won, and no one will win”.

The conflict in Darfur started in 2003, during former President Omar Al-Bashir’s reign, and roughly 300,000 people have been killed and millions displaced, according to the UN.

Mr Bashir is currently in jail and is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.

While the transitional government signalled its willingness to hand Mr Bashir over to the ICC in February, no further actions have been taken, and he is currently facing trial domestically for the 1989 coup which saw him rise to power.

Since Mr Bashir’s overthrow in April 2019, the transitional government has made huge strides in unifying the country and moving it forward after years of conflict, corruption, and economic deterioration.

The peace agreement has been hailed as a big success in bringing peace to Sudan, receiving high acclaim from the African Union (AU), European Union (EU), the UN, and the US.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres “congratulates the people of the Sudan for this historic achievement and commends the parties to the negotiations for their political will and determination in working towards the common objective of peace”.

Mr Guterres stated that he fully supports the implementation of the peace agreement, which “marks the start of a new era for the people of the Sudan”.

The agreement includes various protocols which cover security, justice, refugee return, wealth distribution, power distribution, and land ownership.

It also grants the states of Darfur, South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile semi-autonomy from the federal government. In return, 40% of local revenues collected will be paid to the federal government.

According to the agreement, members of the armed movements will be integrated into the military over a period of 15 months, and 12,000 security and rebel forces will be tasked with ensuring security in the region.

While the exact details regarding the representation of the rebel groups in the transitional government have not been confirmed, in terms of the preliminary peace agreement, the rebel groups will be allocated 25% of the seats in government and three seats on the Sovereign Council, increasing the Council’s size to 14 members. In addition, the agreement allocated 25% of the seats in the Transitional Legislative Council (TLC).

If implemented, the Darfur rebel groups will occupy 75 seats of the 300-member legislature, with the civilian Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) retaining their 200-seat majority.

The agreement has been criticised for failing to provide a clear separation between the state and religion: The Islamism of Mr Bashir’s government and previous ones was a key driver not only of the Darfur conflict but of the longer and wider war between Khartoum and southern movements.

Moreover, the peace agreement has also been blamed for delaying the country’s transition towards democracy, as the negotiation process halted the establishment of the TLC, or Parliament, which was supposed to be appointed by December 2019.

More details regarding the peace agreement and changes to the government are expected in the coming weeks.

The long-awaited peace agreement signals an end to nearly 17 years of conflict in Darfur, marking another milestone in Sudan’s post-Bashir era, and moving the country closer towards democracy and civilian rule.

While the government still needs to release more details, the peace agreement is broadly accepted by the rebel groups, the transitional government, and the citizens of Sudan at large.

Mr Burhan has announced that the Sovereign Council and Cabinet are busy making the necessary amendments to the interim constitution to allow for the inclusion of the rebel groups into the government, and we expect big changes to government structures towards the end of the year.

Pieter Scribante – Economist & political analyst

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