Sudan's warring sides need to take peace talks as seriously as the country's neighbours do

From Cairo to Jeddah, everyone is waiting for the army and the RSF to step up

Sudan's conflict has killed around 2,000 people in the past three months. AFP
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Saturday marked three months of brutal violence in Sudan that has cost an estimated 2,000 lives, displaced hundreds of thousands of innocent people and threatened turmoil in the wider East African region. It also saw fresh conversations about the possibility of bringing the belligerents – the Sudanese army and its rival, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia group – back together for peace talks.

Diplomats from several of Sudan’s regional neighbours and the US have worked hard in recent weeks to convince the army and the RSF to end their feud. Thus far, they have had limited success. Peace talks led by Saudi Arabia and the US in Jeddah last month were abruptly suspended because of ceasefire violations.

At the start of the weekend, unnamed Sudanese government officials caused a stir when they told international news agencies army representatives had arrived in Jeddah to participate in a new round of talks, although the army itself had not announced any such plans. Neither Saudi Arabia nor the US, moreover, confirmed the resumption of talks. The RSF accused the army of “misinformation”, claiming representatives of the latter had never left Jeddah in the first place since the June negotiations broke down.

The resumption of talks would be a positive development, but the atmosphere of confusion over the weekend suggests getting to that point remains a very delicate affair.

Peace talks led by Saudi Arabia and the US in Jeddah last month were abruptly suspended because of ceasefire violations

A sign of hope came on Thursday from Cairo, where Egypt’s government hosted a summit of Sudan’s neighbours to “develop effective mechanisms” to resolve the conflict peacefully. The eight-point plan announced by the summit’s attendees is largely concerned with facilitating humanitarian aid to the Sudanese, as well as the creation of a “ministerial mechanism” comprised of the countries’ foreign ministers to press Sudan’s various sides further towards a resolution. The fact that it was welcomed by both the army and the RSF is in itself an accomplishment, given the circumstances.

Now, it will be for the army and the RSF to show that they are just as desirous of peace in Sudan as the country’s neighbours. The past three months of fighting has not only turned the country’s fragile governing arrangements into battlegrounds, but it has also exacerbated ethnic and tribal divisions in a country where those issues have a very dark past.

The cost of Sudan’s conflict dragging on much further is extremely high – in risk to Sudanese civilians’ lives and livelihoods, in damage to the country’s infrastructure and in the worsening of the region’s migration crisis. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres did not mince his words last week, when he said Sudan was on the brink of a “full-scale civil war”.

Of course, for the thousands of civilians and refugees whose lives have already been turned upside down, the distinction between a civil war and what is already happening will seem trivial. The important thing is to make the fighting stop, and to allow Sudan to return to the process of transitioning to orderly civilian rule. Every step towards the negotiating table is a step in the right direction.

Published: July 18, 2023, 3:00 AM
Updated: July 25, 2023, 8:58 AM