On why Darfur deserves a special attention

On why Darfur deserves a special attention

Date | 22 June 2023

Solomon Ayele Dersso, PhD
Founding Director, Amani Africa

Tsion Hagos
Senior Researcher, Amani Africa

Zekarias Beshah Abebe
Senior Researcher, Amani Africa

Since the outbreak of fighting in Sudan on 15 April 2023, the part of the country that has come to experience the most violence is Darfur. Outside Khartoum, Darfur is the one region where the fighting affected most parts of the region. It is in Darfur that the fighting has taken worrying levels of intercommunal dimension. It is also here that the fighting not only endangers to tear apart the already fragile and violence ridden relations between various communities, but also to result in mass atrocities. This is accordingly a situation that warrants special attention of the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC).

 It is in Darfur that the fighting has taken worrying levels of intercommunal dimension. It is also here that the fighting not only endangers to tear apart the already fragile and violence ridden relations between various communities, but also to result in mass atrocities.

Although the signing of local peace agreements led by local leaders and committees initially sought to minimize the degeneration of the fighting between the Sudanese Armed Force (SAF) and the Rapid Support Force (RSF) into widespread inter-communal violence, it was unable to forestall it.

El Geneina, capital of West Darfur and a city close to the border with Chad, is perhaps the most affected by the violence. It reportedly witnessed the killing of significant number of people, widespread damage and destruction of both public and private property and lootings. According to OCHA’s Humanitarian update for 22 June, ‘[t]here are also reports of ethnically-motivated targeted killings, sexual violence, widespread burning of homes and mass displacement of non-Arab residents–particularly in and around the city of Ag Geneina (sic)–by the RSF and allied Arab militias.’

According to various reports, the violence in West Darfur taking the form of ethnic cleansing turns out to be one of, if not the, deadliest thus far and most atrocious. According to Sudan’s Doctors Union, the conflict in El Geneina has led to the death of over 1000 people. It has also forced tens of thousands into internal displacement or into crossing to Chad to seek refuge.

Destruction in El Geneina

It is the fact that the outbreak of fighting between the RSF and SAF has come to intersect with existing conflict dynamics that makes the situation in Darfur particular and deserving of its own special attention. Despite some improvement in the overall conflict situation, Darfur did not recover peace fully. Not only that the conditions that led to the outbreak of war in 2003 have not been fully resolved but the war and most importantly the atrocities committed along ethnic lines targeting in particular non-Arab communities also created new grievances.

It is the fact that the outbreak of fighting between the RSF and SAF has come to intersect with existing conflict dynamics that makes the situation in Darfur particular and deserving of its own special attention.

In recent years and particularly since the ouster of Bashir and with new recruitment drives and the deepening of ties between the RSF and Arab militias, these conflict issues have become more acute and induced recurring incidents of violence. This is most notable in Western Darfur. According to the 2022 report of the UN Sanctions Committee, ‘[t]he city of El Geneina and neighboring areas of West Darfur have experienced regular and significant outbreaks of violence since 2019. In April 2021, the upsurge of violence had reached catastrophic dimension.’ It went on to report that ‘[l]ocal sources argued that the events took the form of ethnic cleansing, directed against the Masalit and other non-Arab communities.’

The fighting between the RSF and the SAF therefore seems to affect Darfur in two ways. First, it has adda a new axis of conflict in Darfur between entities that previously fought against Darfur armed groups jointly. Perhaps, most importantly, this fighting has made the resurgent conflict dynamics in Darfur much more violent and destructive. Media reports indicate that the attacks in El Geneina are largely by Arab militias and the RSF and they mainly targeted non-Arab groups, particularly the Masalit.

On 14 June, West Darfur’s Governor, Khamis Abdullah Abbaker, was killed in El Geneina shortly after he implicated the RSF for the atrocities being committed in the town. Reports attributed the killing to Arab militias and the RSF, although the paramilitary group denied the assertions. Following this killing, the OCHA update reported that ‘at least 15,000 people, including Sudanese refugees and 3,000 Chadian returnees have reportedly crossed into Chad.’

Other parts of Darfur are also experiencing increasing levels of violence. It is reported that the RSF has stepped up attacks elsewhere in Darfur in attempt to ascertain its dominance in Darfur. The outbreak of clashes in North Darfur, in Tawila town on 16 June, led to killing and injury of civilians, including internally displaced people and widespread displacement.

Displacement Trends

While much of the diplomatic attention is focused on the fighting between SAF and RSF generally, this should not lead to overlooking the specificities of the conflict dynamics in Darfur that warrant its own attention and intervention.

The nature and the scale of the violence as well as its impact on civilians of the targeted communities raises risks of a repeat of the genocidal violence of the previous Darfur war. What makes the situation particularly dangerous is that those being attacked are not receiving any protection from the SAF, which reportedly withdrew from El Geneina. On 13 June, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan and Head of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), Volker Perthes, released a statement warning that the violence in El Geneina could amount to crimes against humanity. He indicated an ‘emerging pattern of large-scale targeted attacks against civilians based on their ethnic identities, allegedly committed by Arab militias and some armed men in Rapid Support Force (RSF)’s uniform.’

The PSC has both a legal and historical responsibility. The situation in Sudan, involving the war in Darfur and the north-South conflict, has attracted the most attention from the PSC. Since 2004, the PSC dedicated the largest number of sessions to Sudan pursuant to Amani Africa’s database.

PSC’s Engagement on Sudan and Specific Sessions addressing the situation in Darfur, 2004 up to end of May 2023

Nearly 2/3 of PSC sessions on Sudan were tied to Darfur. Darfur was the first of conflict situations that featured on the agenda of the PSC when the PSC became operational in March 2004. It is also here with respect to the conflict in Darfur that PSC deployed various conflict management and resolution tools.

The first peace support operation that the PSC deployed was the AU Mission to Sudan (AMIS) that provided the first international presence in Darfur, contributing to reduction of violence against civilians. It is also here that the PSC for the first time established a high-level panel, the AU High-Level Panel on Darfur (AUPD) which later became AU High-level Panel on Sudan (AUHIP), setting an example for the high-level panel as a model of AU’s diplomatic action for mediation and peacemaking.

The nature of the violence in Darfur involving mass atrocities including those that may amount to crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing legally implicate PSC’s action. Additionally, the role the PSC played with respect to the Darfur war also places historical responsibility for it to pay special attention to Darfur. Urgent action by the PSC can contribute towards averting the situation in Darfur from spiraling completely out of control. This the PSC can accomplish at the very least through convening a dedicated session for mobilizing diplomatic and humanitarian attention and action the situation in Darfur demands.

The content of this article does not represent the views of Amani Africa and reflect only the personal views of the authors who contribute to ‘Ideas Indaba’

Why the idea of the establishment of a civilian transitional authority in Sudan should be taken seriously and how it can be realized

Why the idea of the establishment of a civilian transitional authority in Sudan should be taken seriously and how it can be realized

Date | 15 June 2023

Solomon A. Dersso with contribution from Zekarias Beshah

Almost three months into the fighting, there is no sign of the war in Sudan slowing down let alone ending. Each of the warring parties in Sudan, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), is locked in a logic for imposing its will by the barrel of the gun. The resultant entrenchment of the fighting is exacting enormous suffering on the Sudanese public and destruction on the state infrastructure.

Despite various diplomatic efforts involving regional and international actors and the announcement of about a dozen ceasefire initiatives or agreements, there is little to show for it. If anything, the approach of the peace and security and humanitarian diplomacy is aggravating the situation. It has bestowed legitimacy on the two warring parties. The singular focus of the efforts for ceasefire or humanitarian truce as well as peace mediation, as illustrated by the 12 June 2023 IGAD summit decision, is on the two parties, thereby inadvertently incentivizing the reinforcement of their respective positions.

Instead of any change of course, both the logic of the warring parties to achieve their objective through fighting and the glorification by the diplomatic processes of the two belligerents have set Sudan on a path for a protracted conflict with all the more catastrophic risks it carries with it. There is as a result a present danger of the collapse of the Sudanese state.

Sudanese civic actors are the only ones that provide the Sudanese state and the international community the viable window for averting this present danger of state collapse and the accompanying apocalyptic consequences that are frightening to contemplate. These civic actors comprise diverse groups, including the neighborhood/resistance committee, professional associations, trade unions, political parties and local community formations. Distinguishing themselves from other civic actors in other countries, Sudanese civilian actors have displayed incredible level of organizational ingenuity, agility and resilience.

It was the peaceful protest and other civic actions that they mobilized that set the stage for the overthrow of the three decades dictatorial rule of Omar El Bashir in April 2019. While drawing on rich civic traditions, the non-violent movement waged by these actors, or what is referred to as the ‘December Revolution’, drew the participation of people from various walk of life, with women and youth taking active role in organization and leadership.

When the military sought to abort the revolution by declaring military rule for three years after seizing power by ousting Bashir in April 2019, it was the Sudanese civic actors that fought this illegal seizure of power and imposition of military rule. Despite violent crackdown by the SAF and the RSF, Sudanese civic actors did not opt for armed insurrection as was the case in Libya. They displayed firm commitment for peaceful resistance. As Susan Stigant pointed out, ‘any tensions among Sudanese civilians should not belie their near-unwavering unity on a foundational principle: A commitment to democratic politics and debate, however messy. That commitment stands in stark contrast with the persistent behavior of senior officials in the SAF and RSF, who use force indiscriminately to settle their differences.’

All these provided the basis for the African Union (AU), together with the then Chairperson of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), supported by the US and gulf countries, to facilitate mediation for the establishment of a transitional process.

The power-sharing agreement this process produced with alteration of leadership of the Sovereign Council (the highest authority of the transitional power-sharing government) during an agreed 39-month period and legitimizing the military’s seizure of government power and active role in politics was the original sin that the international community committed. Seen as a pragmatic necessity, this arrangement ended up incentivizing the appetite of the SAF and the RSF to entrench their grip on power. Thus, just before transferring the role of heading the Sovereign Council to the civilian leadership of the power-sharing government as per the terms of the August 2019 Constitutional Declaration, the SAF and the RSF staged a coup and arrested Prime Minister Abdela Hamdok and his cabinet on 25 October 2021.

Once again it fell on the Sudanese civic actors to mobilize against the illegal usurpation of power by going to street with their legendary peaceful protests, forcing the military to engage in a shaky political process that aimed at resolving the standoff between protesters and the military. They even went as far as articulating a constitutional document. This time around, AU, IGAD and UN joined hands under a Trilateral Mechanism to facilitate the political process, but with the same strategy that is anchored on people with the guns. As in 2019, the political process resulted in the signing of a ‘Political Framework Agreement (PFA)’ on 5 December 2022 between the military and section of the civilian actors organized under Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC). The US and other members of the Quad (Saudi Arabia, UAE, and UK) were behind this agreement.

The PFA, lauded by its sponsors as the first step towards the restoration of a civilian-led government but greeted with opposition from the resistance committees, instead of putting Sudan on a footing for democratic dispensation, set the SAF and the RSF, the incompatibility of whose interests has grown increasingly deep, on a collision course. While seemingly engaging the trilateral process, they were preparing for a final showdown to settle their power contest. The Trilateral Mechanism was busy in convening workshops and consultations to facilitate the appointment of a new prime minister when the two generals, Al Burhan of SAF and RSF commander Dagalo, started fighting in Khartoum on 15 April.

This time around as well, Sudanese civic actors, the unsung heroes, rose to the occasion, once again demonstrating their organizational ability to serve the public good even in the midst of fierce fighting between the SAF and the RSF through humanitarian action and local peace activism and peace making. They mobilized themselves to identify safe passages for enabling civilians caught in the cross fire to escape from harm’s way into safer areas, thereby serving not only Sudanese civilians but also foreigners including members of the diplomatic community. They organized humanitarian assistance involving the provision of food and medical help for civilians cut off from access to basic necessities due to the heavy fighting. Leaders of local communities in parts of Sudan signed local peace agreements to avoid being drawn into the fighting. Similarly, various civic actors rejected the war and campaigned for keeping Sudanese people from taking side in the war that they never chose.

Despite all of these, the international peace and humanitarian diplomatic processes showed little imagination and flexibility for anchoring their engagement on Sudanese civic actors and the enormous organizational resources they avail for humanitarian action, peacemaking and monitoring and reporting on the ceasefire commitments of the two fighting parties. Instead, these processes continue to show incredible level of impotence which was further compounded by proliferation of roadmaps and peace forums that continue to glorify the people with guns who are burning Sudan to the ground.

In the light of the extraordinary and present danger of state collapse arising from the continuation of the war and the lack of breakthrough from the use of the same failed diplomatic approach, there is an urgent need for changing course. This necessitates shifting the locus of peacemaking from the greed driven SAF-RSF duo to the Sudanese civic actors, who hold the key for averting the dangers associated with the continuation of this greed driven war.

The most viable avenue for seizing the opportunity that Sudanese civic actors present for saving the Sudanese state from collapse and the apocalyptic dangers that such collapse is sure to precipitate is the establishment of a civilian transitional government. It is true that this is a radical approach that is neither clean nor easy. But the extraordinary nature of the situation in Sudan demands nothing short of such radical approach. Under the circumstances, there is neither a clean nor an easy approach better than this for arresting Sudan’s descent into collapse.

While this proposal builds on arguments that analysts such as Alex de Waal made, we make a case for a two-staged process towards it. With these two phased processes, it is possible to inject a measure of pragmatism to this proposal.

The first phase involves the establishment of a civilian care taker government. This is a government whose only raison d’etre is the salvation of the Sudanese state by creating the space for a Sudanese led peace process that brings to the center of diplomatic efforts the agency of Sudanese civic actors. The mandate of this care taker government is envisaged to be further limited both in time and its non-participation in the subsequent transitional process. As a body with such limited emergency and technocratic power for saving the Sudanese state, there is a need for its urgent establishment whose narrow focus can mitigate, if not dissolve, fragmentation and contestation which was used against effective engagement with Sudanese civic actors.

Within the framework of the foregoing, this care taker government will have two principal roles. First is to mobilize Sudanese people in their various formations and the international community towards securing ceasefire. For it to succeed, it has to receive not only diplomatic recognition but also importantly substantial institutional support for it to be in charge of such state institutions as the bureaucracy and the Central Bank.

The establishment of such care taker government by Sudanese civic actors and the diplomatic recognition of such government by the international community brings multiple benefits for the search for ending the conflict. First, by creating an entity as main locus of diplomatic efforts and separate from either of the two fighting parties, it ends the glorification of the people with gun who are unleashing the destruction of the country. Clearly, such a care taker government does not dispense with the necessity of engaging the warring parties but disrupts the incentive structure. Second, it thus has the potential to break the logic of total victory and total defeat by which the action of the warring parties is currently dictated. Third, this would incentivize the warring parties, perhaps most notably the SAF, to opt for committing to ceasefire as a means of limiting their loss in any future dispensation. Fourth, by the sheer fact of its presence, it is also possible that the warring parties would be put into a position pursuing their interests by choosing to accept the role of the care taker government.

The second role of the care taker government, which will not be part of the future transitional government, is the creation of the conditions for the holding of a national popular convention.  This is a convention that will bring together various political and social forces of Sudan for the elaboration of a transitional roadmap and the establishment the transitional government for the implementation of the roadmap involving various reforms that will usher in a democratic dispensation in Sudan.

Whether or not this could work and how it could be made to work depends first and foremost on the Sudanese civic actors. With them showing leadership by seizing the initiative themselves and doing so without much delay, they present an opportune challenge for international diplomacy to save itself from its repeatedly failed approach.


The content of this article does not represent the views of Amani Africa and reflect only the personal views of the authors who contribute to ‘Ideas Indaba’

Briefing update on situation in the Horn of Africa

Briefing update on situation in the Horn of Africa

Date | 15 June 2023

Tomorrow (15 June), the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) will convene its 1158th session to receive briefing update on the situation in the Horn of Africa. The briefing is expected to focus on the conflict in Sudan and its regional implication, and the implementation of the Pretoria Comprehensive Cessation of Hostilities Agreement in Ethiopia.

The session commences with opening statement from Sophia Nyamudeza, Permanent Representative of Zimbabwe to the AU and Chairperson of the PSC for the month of June, while Bankole Adeoye, AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS) is expected to make remarks. Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former President and AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa will brief members of the PSC. The representatives of Ethiopia, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Secretariat, the United Nations (UN), and the European Union are also expected to deliver statements during the session.

On Sudan

The last time PSC met on the situation in Sudan was at its 1156th session on 27 May, which was held at the level of Heads of State and Government. In that session, the PSC adopted the AU Roadmap for the Resolution of the Conflict in Sudan that identifies six priority areas for AU engagement towards silencing the guns in Sudan.

Coming on the heels of 14th ordinary session of IGAD Heads of State and Government, held on 12 June in Djibouti, PSC members are likely to be interested to be briefed on the major outcomes of the summit and how it reframes diplomatic efforts for peace in Sudan. It has emerged from the summit that IGAD adopted a new roadmap for peace in Sudan whose action plans include to expand the IGAD High-Level delegation for Peace in Sudan, which was formed at the 40th extraordinary IGAD summit, held on 16 April, to give space for Ethiopia and establish a quartet with Kenya assigned with the role of chairing the quartet. Kenya’s President William Ruto, who is the chair of the quartet, also announced the plan to convene a face-to-face meeting between the quartet and the leaders of the belligerents within ten days.

This plan involves an exercise in claiming and asserting leadership role by IGAD in the search for resolution the new conflict in Sudan. In doing so, this plan, while not opposed to the US-Saudi or the AU initiatives, seeks to establish another platform and peace process. This peace processes, if not rationalised with other existing or emerging processes under US-Saudi or the AU, will be the third peace process. It would thus have the effect of not only multiplication of processes but also if successful can displace the AU’s Roadmap and the envisaged roles of the Expanded Mechanism as well as its Core Group.

It is to be recalled that the 20 April High-Level meeting convened under the auspices of the Chairperson of the AU Commission established the Expanded Mechanism to serve as the main platform to coordinate and consolidate international responses towards the conflict. As the Mechanism is so expanded in its nature, a ‘Core Group’ with smaller number of actors was established pursuant to the AU Roadmap for the Resolution of the Conflict in Sudan for effective action. If conflict and competition between the two processes is to be avoided, there is a need for the PSC to revise the AU Roadmap.

In terms of the regional implications, the lack of progress in the diplomatic efforts for containing the war makes it increasingly worrisome to neighbouring countries. On 15 June, Sudan marks the second month of the conflict, leaving 25 million people – about half of the population of the country – in need of humanitarian assistance. (See below the infographic on the humanitarian consequences of the conflict).

Infographic 1: Humanitarian crisis of the conflict in Sudan and attacks on civilian infrastructures


Despite plethora of diplomatic initiatives to end the conflict, the conflict has continued unabated, causing enormous suffering to civilians and damage to the state infrastructure. Thus far, nearly a dozen ceasefire declarations and agreements have been announced. Some of these ceasefires brought brief respite, allowing evacuation of diplomats and foreign nationals and limited flow of aid, but almost all of the ceasefire initiatives have failed to take hold, including the most recent ceasefire brokered by Saudi Arabia and the US on 9 June.

Infographic 2: Timeline of AU engagement and ceasefire initiatives

Source: Amani Africa’s tracker of diplomatic efforts on Sudan conflict

The impact of the ongoing conflict in Sudan will not be limited to the country, but also has the potential of convulsing the wider region given the geographic location of the country that borders seven countries, most of which are in fragile context. It is within this light that the agenda of tomorrow’s session is framed although the ripple effects of the conflict will be strongly felt even beyond the Horn of Africa, particularly in those countries which borders Sudan to the west, namely Central African Republic (CAR) and Chad.

The ripple effect of the conflict could manifest at least in three ways. The first is in terms of the refugee crisis that the conflict triggered, placing strain on the neighboring countries’ overstretched resources that are grappling with their own humanitarian crisis. IOM, UNHCR and government sources provide that around 476,811 people have fled to neighboring countries as of 4 June, some of them are in fact people displaced by internal crisis in their own countries. The influx of refugees to the neighboring states may fuel ethnic tensions in some context. The disruption of cross border trade because of the conflict is also resulting in food price increases in some countries such as South Sudan, Chad, and CAR.

Infographic 3: Number of people fleeing to neighboring countries

Source: IOM, Sudan Response Situation Update, 6 June 2023

Second, the conflict in Sudan not only risks a spillover into surrounding countries but also could morph into a regional conflict with the high possibility of dragging in its neighbors into the conflict. For the time being, most of the neighboring states seem to have adopted a neutral posture and even some of them offering mediation between the warring parties, but this could change as the conflict becomes protracted and spread closer to their borders. The controversy between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the border dispute between Ethiopia and Sudan over al-Fashaga (a contested territory controlled by Sudan during the Tigray conflict) are some of the dynamics raising the fear of regional spillover. For South Sudan, the conflict has direct economic consequences, which is dependent on Sudan for its oil export – the main source of revenue for the country.

Sudan is also a country where Islamist movements are very active. As a country that in the past hosted the late Al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and sharing a border with Sahel, a state collapse in Sudan will create a vacuum that would be most attractive to terrorist groups both from the Sahel and Horn of Africa and outside of Africa as well.

As the expansion of the conflict towards Darfur looms large, the immediate spillover risk could be for countries west of Sudan, particularly Chad and CAR. West Darfur’s El Geneina, which is very close to the border with Chad, have already experienced the most deadly violence in recent days, raising the spectre of genocidal violence particularly targeting non-Arab communities. The cross-border ethnic dynamics between Sudan and Chad and the history of cross-border raids during the Darfur conflict decades ago; the presence of fluid non-state actors in CAR, Chad, and Libya; the involvement of various Sudanese armed groups in the conflict in Libya; as well as the reported presence of the Wagner group in CAR and its alleged support to the RSF are likely to increase the chance of the regionalization of the conflict.

Third, Sudan’s conflict risks proliferation of and easy access to illicit arms and weapons in the neighboring countries, more so in the context of porous borders. Sudan ranks second among its regional neighbor with over three million estimated firearms. According to sources, 2.7 million small arms and light weapons were estimated to circulate outside of state-controlled stockpiles. The ongoing conflict would create fertile condition for the smuggling of firearms to neighboring countries with the possibility of unleashing Libya-like situation where the flood of arms from that country significantly changed the security landscape of the continent for the worse by plunging the Sahel into hotbed of terrorism. Beyond countries in the region, protracted conflict in Sudan is also likely to ignite proxy war involving regional and international powers.

On Ethiopia

The signing of the Pretoria Comprehensive Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) constituted a turning point in bringing to a halt the deadliest war that was raging in northern Ethiopia. Developments since the signing of this agreement on 2 November 2022 indicate that active hostilities involving the signatory parties have come to an end. Follow up steps for the implementation of some of the key elements relating to cessation of hostilities such as the convening of the senior military commanders (which was held on 7 November hosted in Nairobi, Kenya) was held and the process of the handover of heavy weaponry and the deployment of Ethiopian Federal forces to Tigray have largely been undertaken.

As envisaged in the Pretoria Agreement, the AU working with the parties elaborated the terms of reference of the monitoring, verification and compliance mechanism. Subsequently, the Monitoring Verification and Compliance Mechanism (MVCM) comprising the Team of African Experts (Led by Maj. Gen. Stephen Radina from Kenya, the AU-MVCM includes Colonel Rufai Umar Mairiga of Nigeria and Colonel Teffo Sekole of South Africa) and Liaison Officers of the Parties was deployed to Mekele and launched on 29 December 2022. In the second joint Committee meeting of the MVCM convened by the AU on 24 May, the Committee underscored ‘the need to accelerate the demobilization and reintegration of the Tigray armed combatants’, and ‘to enhance the safety and protection of civilians by facilitating the steady return of internally displaced persons and refugees to the affected areas’ in line with the CoHA and the subsequent Nairobi Declaration of the Senior Commanders of 7 November 2023. In the light of the continued need for the work of the MVCM, the AU extended the mandate of the mechanism for further six months period until the end of December 2023.

The implementation of the Pretoria Agreement and restoring relations between Tigray and Federal authorities continues to show remarkable progress. One of the major developments towards the stabilization of the Tigray region and laying the foundation for restoring normalcy was the establishment of the Tigray Interim Regional Administration (IRA) on 17 March 2023. Federal Parliament removed the designation of the TPLF as terrorist organization on 22 March 2023 and federal authorities dropped criminal charges against TPLF leaders.

While the pace and sustained implementation of the Pretoria Agreement and notably the commitment of the parties to the peace agreement have stunned many both within and outside Ethiopia, not surprisingly, implementation has not been without impediments. Despite the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from many parts of Tigray in accordance with Pretoria Agreement, there have been various reports of not just their continued presence in some parts of Tigray but involvement in the perpetuation of violence. Tigray IRA President, Getachew Reda, on 20 May accused Eritrean forces of blocking AU monitors from carrying out their monitoring activities in certain parts of Tigray. There is also the issue of the continued occupation by Amhara forces of the contested Western Tigray. On 23 May, thousands of people have staged protest in Tigray to demand the return of people displaced by the war there and the withdrawal of outside forces in accordance with the Pretoria Agreement.

The agreement outlines other guarantees, including the protection of civilians’ from violations; the resumption of public services in the region; the unobstructed flow of humanitarian supplies to Tigray; and a provision affirming that the two parties will facilitate the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees to the region. While there are positive developments in this respect including the resumption of services that were disconnected during the two years war cutting Tigray off from access to basic needs and the rest of the world, progress in the provision of the requisite support to war affected people and in the rehabilitation of their lives and livelihoods to facilitate return of IDPs remains slow and unsatisfactory to the expectations and demands of the conditions facing war affected people.

Another setback to the implementation of Pretoria Agreement and in the normalisation of relations between Tigray and Federal authorities is the decision on 13 May 2023 of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) rejecting the TPLF’s request to restore its legal registration as a political Party, which was cancelled in January 2021 in the context of the designation of TPLF as terrorist organization after the outbreak of war. The TPLF and Tigray’s IRA denounced the decision, characterising it as being contrary to the Pretoria Agreement and developments since then.

Despite these various challenges and setbacks, the parties to the Pretoria Agreement continue to display commitment to follow through the implementation and build on the progress made so far. In this respect, one important positive recent development was the visit by the President of the Tigray IRA to the Amhara region on 11 June which, according to the President, was ‘as part of the efforts to address challenges to peace.’ One area that requires the most urgent attention for sustaining momentum in restoring normalcy in conflict affected areas including Tigray is the pace of implementation of rehabilitation and reconstruction programs which are key for delivering peace dividends to conflict affected populations. Also not any less important is ensuring that humanitarian assistance that is disrupted due to the reported widespread diversion of aid is restored and those in desperate need of support receive the much needed aid while those responsible for diversion are held accountable.

The expected outcome of tomorrow’s session is a communique. In relation to Sudan, PSC is expected to take note of IGAD’s 14th ordinary session of Heads of State and Government, held on 12 June in Djibouti. PSC may welcome the decision of the summit to expand IGAD Troika on Sudan and establish the quartet to lead the mediation effort in Sudan. In light of the decision of the summit, PSC may take a decision to adjust AU’s role with a focus on supporting the IGAD initiative, and to this end, it may request the AU Commission to designate an AU envoy that is fully dedicated to the Sudan file and provides the leadership for AU’s engagement in supporting the peace process. PSC may also task the AU Commission to reorganize the Expanded Mechanism to become the platform that facilitates coordination and information exchange among the countries neighbouring Sudan and for mobilizing support from the wider membership of the AU. It may also request the Commission to update the AU Roadmap for the Resolution of the Conflict in Sudan with a focus on active engagement of the neighbouring countries while securing their neutrality vis-à-vis the two fighting sides. In relation to the regional implication of the conflict, PSC is expected to express its concern over the spillover risks of the conflict in Sudan to the neighboring states and the wider region. Cognizant of this, the PSC may stress the need for devising strategies on how to contain the multifaceted implications of the conflict in Sudan to the neighboring countries, the Horn of Africa region and beyond. In this regard, the PSC may follow-up on the initiative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission to dispatch emissaries to neighbouring states and the Horn of Africa region to commend the countries of the region for their restraint thus far and to encourage them to refrain from taking sides in the current conflict. The PSC may also commend neighbouring countries who allowed access to Sudanese who are fleeing the fighting and seeking refuge in the neighbouring countries. It may also request the AUC to facilitate support from within the continent and beyond for helping the neighbouring countries in their efforts to welcome and host Sudanese refugees. The PSC may call for the fighting parties to extend full cooperation for the IGAD peace plan and may task the AUC to also focus on supporting the efforts of civilian actors in Sudan to play active role in the Sudan peace processes. On the Ethiopia peace process, the PSC may welcome the significant progress made in the implementation of the Pretoria Agreement and the firm commitment that the parties have continued to display for sustaining progress despite challenges they are facing. It may commend the parties for the restoration of essential services, flow of humanitarian aid, TPLF’s turnover of heavy weapons and the establishment of the Tigray IRA. The PSC may also commend the high-level panel under the leadership of Olusegun Obasanjo. The PSC may call on the AU to continue its support for the implementation of CoHA and encourage the parties to remain committed to sustaining the progress they have made so far. The PSC may encourage the parties to handle the issue of reinstatement of the political party status of TPLF by dialogue and in accordance with the spirit of the CoHA. It may call for further efforts of the parties particularly in meeting the expectations of those affected by the war through speedy mobilization and implementation of rehabilitation and reconstruction projects and in addressing challenges faced including with respect to demobilization and reintegration of forces and the presence of forces other than Ethiopian Federal forces. The PSC may welcome the work of the MVCM and endorse the recent extension of the mandate of the mechanism.

Briefing on the situation in Sudan

Briefing on the situation in Sudan

Date | 27 May 2023

Tomorrow (27 May), the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is expected to convene its 1156th session at the level of Heads of State and Government to consider the situation in Sudan.

Uganda’s President and chairperson of the PSC for the month of May, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, will preside over the session. President of the Union of the Comoros and Chairperson of the AU, Azali Assoumani, is expected to make remarks while the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, will brief the PSC. Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Workneh Gebeyehu; Executive Secretary of the League of Arab States, Ahmen Aboul Gheit; Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres; as well as the representative of Egypt are also expected to deliver statements.

The PSC is convening on Sudan for the second time in less than two weeks, constituting the third session of the PSC since the outbreak of the conflict on 15 April 2023. The last time the PSC met on Sudan was on 16 May, at its 1154th session, with a press statement released as the product of the session. In the press statement, the PSC, apart from condemning the ongoing fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), warned that ‘all perpetrators of criminal actions will be held accountable.’ This warning came against the backdrop of the widespread looting and destruction of civilian infrastructure, as well as diplomatic missions in violation of international law.

As the fighting continued, new dynamics are emerging in the conflict while exacerbating the existing ones. On 22 May, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sudan and Head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), Volker Perthes, in his briefing to the UN Security Council, raised alarm over the ‘growing ethnicization’ of the ongoing fighting and its risk of ‘engulfing the country in a prolonged conflict, with implication for the region.’ This was particularly manifested in West Darfur’s El Geneina where the fighting between SAF and RSF morphed into ethnic violence on 24 April while ethnic mobilization is simmering in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile region.

As the belligerents opted for urban warfare with sheer disregard for international humanitarian law and international human rights, the humanitarian consequence of the conflict in Sudan has become devastating. Sources indicate that more than 850 civilians have been killed and over 5,000 injured since the fighting began. The number of displaced people due to the conflict has now topped the 1 million mark, fleeing to safer locations inside and outside the country. Despite the pressing need for humanitarian aid, the revised Humanitarian Response Plan launched by OCHA was able to secure 12.4% of the required $2.6 billion funds to reach 18 million people in need.

Looting has become rampant in Khartoum and elsewhere and key civilian infrastructures have been targeted, severely restricting the accessibility of essential goods and services to those who are caught in the crossfire. During the 22 May briefing to the UN Security Council, SRSG Perthes highlighted the collapse of the health sector with more than two-thirds of hospitals being closed. International organizations such as the UN, humanitarian actors and diplomatic missions are not spared from the attacks and the widespread looting.

As documented by Amani Africa, ten declarations for ceasefire have been announced with many of which represent the parties’ expression of readiness to observe the declared ceasefire. However, almost all of the ceasefires did not hold. The latest of these is the Short-Term Ceasefire and Humanitarian Arrangements signed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on 20 May. Envisaged to become effective on 22 May, this latest ceasefire seeks to facilitate the delivery of emergency humanitarian assistance and the restoration of essential services. Unlike the previous ones, the ceasefire agreement is the first with a monitoring mechanism comprising the representatives of Saudi Arabia and the US, albeit it lacks effectiveness in the absence of presence on the ground or the involvement of Sudanese on the ground. It is hoped to provide a brief respite for the civilians from the enormous suffering, but the fighting has not meaningfully stopped as in the previous ceasefires.

Tomorrow’s session will present PSC members with the opportunity to take stock of the ongoing diplomatic efforts and discuss the next steps to end the conflict. Given that the session is convened at the highest (summit) level, the PSC is expected to take strategic decisions based on the De-Escalation Plan, which is expected to guide tomorrow’s discussion on Sudan. It is to be recalled that the 20 April Ministerial Special Session on Sudan requested the development of an urgent plan for de-escalation. In his briefing to the UN Security Council on 22 May, Bankole outlined the six pillars of the Plan that need to be addressed for a sustainable resolution of the conflict in Sudan. These pillars are:

  1. Co-ordinated international action to avoid a proliferation and duplication of mediation initiatives;
  2. Immediate, comprehensive and unconditional ceasefire;
  3. Urgent humanitarian action to relive the suffering of the Sudanese people;
  4. Protection of civilians, state infrastructure and ensuring accountability;
  5. Firm support to neighboring countries of the region impacted by the crisis; and
  6. Resumption of inclusive and fully representative political process towards a democratic, civilian-led government.

Indeed, one of the concerns emerging out of the ongoing diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict is the proliferation of actors and mediation initiatives. Despite that the key actors who participated during the 20 Ministerial Special Session agreed to ‘coordinate, collaborate, and harmonize their respective initiatives to resolve the conflict’, the initiatives are not only uncoordinated but also at times competing.

The 16 April emergency session of the PSC as well as the Ministerial Special Session envisaged the Chairperson of the AU Commission to take the leadership in coordinating international responses to the crisis within the framework of the Trilateral Mechanism (AU-IGAD-UN). On the other hand, IGAD’s 16 April extraordinary summit formed a high-level delegation led by South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit. The 7 May emergency ministerial level meeting of the League of Arab States (LAS) established a contact group on Sudan composed of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the LAS Secretary-General to find a peaceful settlement for the conflict. It was in addition to these diplomatic initiatives that Saudi Arabia and the US created a separate mediation track that culminated in the signing of two important agreements: the Jeddah Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians of Sudan and the 20 May Short-Term Ceasefire and Humanitarian Arrangements.

Regional actors such as the AU and IGAD may appreciate the outcomes of the Jeddah mediation process, but are likely to remain unhappy with a process that has sidelined them. The need for the involvement of regional actors has been a major issue emphasized by the different speakers during the 22 May UN Security Council briefing. For instance, IGAD’s Executive Secretary stressed the importance of involving Sudan’s neighbors, while the African Members in the UN Security Council (A3) reaffirmed ‘the central role of the AU, IGAD and the Trilateral Mechanism in stabilizing Sudan’.

The other key concern is that ongoing diplomatic efforts have failed to include one of the key stakeholders in Sudan’s peace process – the civilians. This is a major omission considering that civilian actors in their various formations continue to play, as they did during and since the 2019 Sudan revolution, a vital role towards the achievement of democratic transition. Since the outbreak of the war, civilians continue to display their organizational ingenuity in identifying safe corridors for civilians to escape the sights of fighting to safer areas, in organizing humanitarian help of various kinds including medical assistance in their neighborhoods and in signing local peace agreements. In light of the nature of the conflict, it is a missed opportunity that international diplomatic efforts are not leveraging these various local initiatives for enhancing the space for civilian protection, ceasefire monitoring, local level peace building and humanitarian protection. Tomorrow’s session is an opportunity for the PSC to call on the representation of civilians in all diplomatic efforts.

The expected outcome of tomorrow’s session is a communique. It is expected that the PSC will endorse the De-escalation Plan developed by the AU Commission pursuant to the 20 April Ministerial Special Session. PSC may welcome the signing of a Seven-day Agreement on a Short-Term Ceasefire and Humanitarian Arrangements in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on 20 May, while expressing its deep concern over the reported violations of the Agreement by both sides. It may remind the parties of their obligations under international law and urge them to fully uphold their commitments under the Agreement. As the duration of the ceasefire agreement expires early next week, the PSC may urge the parties to extend the agreement for additional periods so that it paves the way for talks towards a more comprehensive ceasefire agreement. The PSC may commend various civilian actors in Sudan for their efforts in lessening the impact of the war on civilians through local humanitarian action, peace agreements and identification of safe corridors. It may emphasize the need for international diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to leverage and support these local civilian initiatives and ensure that civilians are represented in negotiations. Against the widespread looting and violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights by the parties, the PSC may call for the documentation and reporting of the various acts of violations as the key measure for ensuring the protection of civilians. While noting Saudi Arabia/US facilitated talks in Jeddah, the PSC may stress not only the imperative of a coordinated and consolidated diplomatic effort to resolve the conflict but also the centrality of the region (AU, IGAD, the Trilateral Mechanism, and the neighboring countries) in this process. In this respect, the PSC may call for the establishment of an international contact group on Sudan co-chaired by the AU and the UN and represented by all regional and international actors including the sponsors of the recent ceasefire.