Growing regional support for Sudanese civilian front to end the war
Summit of East African leaders endorses a "civilian-led political process"
The African Union, the East African bloc IGAD, the United States, and the European Union are working toward a civilian-led Sudanese political summit that will demand an end to the war, and which will largely sideline the warring parties—the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
Although the outcome of such a summit is uncertain, it could be a step toward creating an internationally recognized civilian government-in-waiting or other transitional body, amid regional pressure for the belligerents to cede power.
In remarks to a summit of the IGAD heads of state Saturday, December 9, Moussa Faki, the African Union (AU) chairperson and former foreign minister of Chad, pointed to the “urgent need to convene this necessary political dialogue.” He explained that teams from the AU and IGAD are already working toward this goal. Mahamat reiterated that the Sudanese army and the RSF had seized power by force, which is contrary to AU principles, before they turned on each other.
The summit communiqué stated,
…the IGAD summit committed to support a civilian-led inclusive political process that will elaborate the nature and structure of the Sudanese society and governance and move the country to a viable, civil democratic rule,
[The IGAD leaders] decided to fast-track efforts in organizing an IGAD-AU facilitated all-inclusive Sudanese-owned and Sudanese-led civilian dialogue aimed at forging national consensus towards the formation of a civilian-led transition that will culminate in the holding of open, transparent and democratic elections.
The communiqué followed a one-day assembly of East African leaders, hosted in Djibouti, attended by the presidents of Kenya, Somalia, and Djibouti, the prime minister of Ethiopia, and ministerial representatives of South Sudan and Uganda.
The United States, for its part, is backing an anti-war civilian bloc headed by former prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, whom the army and the RSF deposed in 2021. This coalition held a four-day preparatory conference in Addis Ababa in October. Ambassador Mike Hammer, the U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, expressed support for this coalition in remarks to the IGAD summit Saturday, while adding, “The belligerent parties have shown together that they are not fit to govern.”
Hammer, who attended the Djibouti summit together with U.S. Ambassador to Sudan John Godfrey, referred to the coalition by its Arabic name, Taqqadum (“progress”):
We must continue together to support the goals of the Sudanese Revolution, in which women, men, and young people came together to express their desire for democracy. That is why the United States is supporting civilian-led efforts for democracy… Thus far the Taqqadum effort is the most diverse and inclusive, and we encourage IGAD to engage with them in order to explain your efforts while continuing to encourage them to bring in more voices from across the country. We look forward to partnering with IGAD and the African Union to support Sudanese civilians and to come together to plan for a democratic summit.”
The European Union likewise is backing the civil coalition and raising expectations for the role that it will play. In a statement yesterday, the EU diplomatic service said that the Sudanese civilian coalition “will be the base for the resumption of the transition to democracy and the preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sudan.”
‘Now is the time for all stakeholders to redouble their efforts to build the broadest and most inclusive Sudanese civilian coalition that will be the base for the resumption of the transition to democracy and the preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sudan.” - EU External Action Service
According to the AU chairperson, the joint team from the AU and IGAD is “working tirelessly” to prepare for the political dialogue.” They have already worked out the “essential preparatory elements,” he revealed. However, a few final obstacles remain in the way. He said, “(The joint team) continues actively to exchange views with all the Sudanese civil and military actors, with a view to overcoming the last obstacles to the convening of the political dialogue… Obviously, some aspects require more consultations with the Sudanese stakeholders. They concern the participation of the military components in the political dialogue, the representation of the provinces, and the participation of some groups, those of the former regime in particular.”
For his part, the President of Djibouti Ismaïl Guelleh emphasized the suffering of the Sudanese people and the need for improved humanitarian assistance and access. “The escalating violence poses a grave threat to the very existence of Sudan and the stability of our region. Silencing the guns in Sudan is not a choice—it is an absolute necessity to prevent further suffering and the potential collapse of this great nation.”
Guelleh, host of the IGAD summit, has recently stepped up his involvement in mediating Sudan’s crisis, meeting with numerous regional leaders in Riyadh last month during an African-Arab summit, including South Sudan’s Salva Kiir, SAF Commander-in-Chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and others. Kenya’s William Ruto likewise has taken an active role.
Proposed one-on-one meeting
In addition to marshaling support for the proposed civilian coalition, East African leaders during their meeting Saturday attempted to secure significant commitments from the warring parties, relying on direct personal contacts with the belligerents. Specifically, they sought to convince the RSF’s Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo and SAF’s Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to hold a face-to-face meeting, facilitated by IGAD.
Al-Burhan, who attended the IGAD summit in-person, gave “unequivocal assurances” that he would meet one-on-one with the RSF leader, according to the summit communiqué. Dagalo, who spoke with the IGAD leaders by telephone, likewise agreed to the meeting, according to the communiqué. The two men supposedly also agreed to an “unconditional ceasefire and resolution of the conflict through political dialogue,” according to the communiqué.
Ceasefire claim rejected by Sudan’s foreign ministry
However, Sudan’s Foreign Ministry issued a follow-up statement Sunday criticizing the IGAD secretariat and demanding a retraction of portions of the statement. The statement denied that Al-Burhan had agreed unconditionally to a meeting with Dagalo, saying that he would only meet with Dagalo after “adoption of a permanent ceasefire and the departure of the rebel forces from the capital.”
The Foreign Ministry also denied that the IGAD leaders held a call with Dagalo during the summit, asserting, “This call took place between the Kenyan president and the rebel leader after the end of the summit, and therefore is not considered part of the work of the summit.”
Dagalo squirms out of ceasefire commitment
Similarly, the RSF downplayed what Dagalo had said about a potential ceasefire and a proposed meeting with al-Burhan. In a press statement, the RSF media team confirmed discussions about these proposals, but no firm commitments.
Dagalo expressed his “desire for a ceasefire and to move forward with the political process, provided that it leads to addressing the roots of the crisis in Sudan and leads to the establishment of a new Sudanese state, including the establishment of a new national and professional army that distances itself from politics,” the statement said.
Regarding the meeting with al-Burhan, Dagalo “agreed in principle,” on the condition that the latter attend in his capacity as commander of the army and not as head of the Sovereignty Council. IGAD leaders provided assurances that this condition would be met, according to the RSF statement.
In addition to Dagalo’s remote participation, a delegation of the RSF attended the Djibouti summit in-person. They did not participate officially but met with IGAD leaders on the sidelines of the summit. According to Sudan’s foreign ministry, the RSF delegation arrived to Djibouti on the the airplane of the UAE delegation, which was headed by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sheikh Shakhboot bin Nahyan.
EU and US demand adherence ceasefire
Despite denials by both SAF and RSF, the United States and European Union both issued statements yesterday celebrating the “commitments” of the two parties to a ceasefire and one-one-one meeting, and demanding adherence.
European Union External Action, the EU’s diplomatic service, stated, “The European Union welcomes the outcome of the 41st Extraordinary Assembly of the IGAD, hosted by Djibouti on 9 December 2023. The mutual commitments made by the belligerents of the conflict in Sudan to an unconditional ceasefire, political dialogue and a face-to-face meeting must be honoured. The EU urges the belligerents to stop the fighting immediately and respect the commitments they made to the leaders of the region.”
The State Department said, “The United States welcomes the stated commitments during the summit of SAF General Burhan and RSF General Hemedti to an unconditional ceasefire and a one-to-one meeting between them. For the sake of the people of Sudan and regional stability, the United States demands the SAF and RSF abide by these commitments and enter talks without delay.”
Prior commitments by the two parties have not been honored—not even the modest confidence-building and humanitarian access measures agreed during the latest round of Jeddah talks, which were co-facilitated by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and IGAD. “We are growing impatient,” said Hammer, the U.S. envoy, during his speech Saturday.
“Humanitarian responders are unable to reach communities in dire need because the belligerents have failed to uphold their commitments to facilitate their unhindered access to the vulnerable,” he added. “In fact, we are all frustrated because the best efforts in Jeddah—and let me express appreciation to our Saudi Arabian and IGAD colleagues for our work together—both parties are failing to follow through on the confidence-building measures and enhanced humanitarian access they agreed to. That is why the Jeddah talks are currently stalled.”
In other news…
Diplomatic tensions between the UAE and Sudan have escalated significantly over the UAE’s support for the RSF. Last week, the UAE expelled the Sudanese military attaché, his deputy, and the cultural aattaché, after a top Sudanese general called the UAE a “terrorist state.” Sudan’s Foreign Ministry responded yesterday by expelling 15 UAE embassy personnel based in Port Sudan, according to SUNA , the state-run news agency affiliated witht SUdan’s army.
A fire broke out at Al-Jaili Refinery, north of the capital, Khartoum, Sunday afternoon, burning some storage tanks. The RSF said that it was due to an airstrike and the fifth time the Sudan Armed Forces targeted the facility.
Four people were killed, including a woman and child, as a result of aerial bombing by an Antonov aircraft Saturday in al-Dabibat in South Kordofan. The brother of one of the victims told Darfur 24 that his brother was a medical student who was on his way to the market when the bomb fell. The town is about 60 km north of Dilling where fighting took place last week.
Two people were killed and severn were injured when the Sudan Armed Forces opened fire on a convoy of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Khartoum. In a statement, SAF admitted to attacking the convoy but said it had not followed an agreed route and entered their territory accompanied by an armed RSF vehicle. The convoy, bearing the iconic red-and-white flags of the ICRC, was attempting to evacuate over 100 vulnerable civilians who had taken shelter at St. Mary’s Church in the al-Shajara area to Wad Madani.
"I am shocked by the total disrespect for the Red Cross emblem, which must be respected and protected in accordance with international humanitarian law,” said Pierre Dorbes, the head of the ICRC delegation in Sudan. Three of the wounded were ICRC staff, according to the Red Cross
RSF shot down a surveillance drone shot down over Bahri, according to video. They also claimed SAF attempted to attack across Halfaya Bridge on Saturday.
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