Hopes high for Sudan’s peace deal, but challenges remain

USA & World

Hopes high for Sudan’s peace deal, but challenges remain

Leaders from Sudan’s transitional government and key rebel groups are set to formalise a peace deal that many hope will turn the page on decades of violence and chaos in the African country.

The long-awaited peace deal between Khartoum and a coalition of armed groups called the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) is slated to be inked on Saturday in Juba, the capital of neighbouring South Sudan, after months of negotiations.

If the deal sticks, it could ease Sudan’s transition to civilian rule after the overthrow of military strongman Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. But analysts point to a track record of failed peace bids in Sudan, potential rebel spoilers, power plays and other stumbling blocks.

For Jonas Horner, a senior Sudan analyst at the International Crisis Group think-tank, the “devil will be in the implementation” of the deal in a country that has been ravaged by food price hikes, locust swarms and record-setting floods.

“Sudan’s economy is in freefall and there has been limited international assistance, and none pledged specifically to support the implementation of the [peace] agreement,” Horner told Al Jazeera.

“Without robust external buy-in and support, the deal will go unimplemented, causing a new wave of frustration and disappointment with the fragile transition.”

The SRF coalition includes the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and Minni Minawi’s Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), both from the western Darfur region, where some 300,000 people have been killed since rebels took up arms against Khartoum in 2003, according to United Nations figures.

It also includes rebel groups from the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where fighting broke out in 2011 after unresolved issues from fighting there in Sudan’s 1983-2005 civil war, which led to the south’s secession.

Sudan’s rebel movements are mostly drawn from non-Arab minorities that long railed against economic and political marginalisation by successive Arab- or Islamist-dominated governments in Khartoum, including that of al-Bashir.

The deal broaches key issues around security, land rights, transitional justice, compensation, power-sharing, the return of people displaced by fighting, and the integration of rebel troops into Sudan’s national army.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it a “historic achievement”. Hopes are high that Sudan’s civilian-led transitional government under Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok is more committed to peace-making than al-Bashir’s government.

Ahmed Soliman, a researcher at the London-based think-tank Chatham House, said that by offering government jobs to rebel chiefs, the deal could “lay the foundations for democratic transition and economic reform” across the $177bn economy.

“But for many people in Sudan’s conflict-affected regions, the real dividends of peace means going beyond assigning posts to the armed movements and other elites and delivering tangible improvements to their security and livelihoods,” Soliman told Al Jazeera.

“This requires the forces of change to share responsibility for implementing peace above their own interests and will also necessitate a commitment to devolve genuine authority to communities and people at the local level.”

Stumbling blocks

Two key rebel groups will not sign the Juba deal; a faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu, and a wing of the Darfur-based Sudan Liberation Movement led by Paris-based Abdelwahid Nour.

“These are the only armed groups in Sudan with meaningful military capacity and who represent significant constituencies,” said Horner, who previously worked with the UN and the European Union.

Earlier this month, al-Hilu, who leads a large Christian community among a mostly non-Arab population, struck a separate deal with Hamdok in Ethiopia, agreeing to a truce until Sudan’s constitution is changed to separate religion and government.

Tom Catena, an American doctor who works in the remote, war-ravaged Nuba Mountains, told Al Jazeera that “everyone here is waiting to see the result of the direct negotiations between Khartoum” and al-Hilu’s negotiators.

For Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College and a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute research group, the biggest threat for Sudan’s 47 million people may be power-struggles in Hamdok’s “nominally civilian government” in Khartoum.

Hamdok has been “undermined and side-stepped” by the transitional government’s military chiefs, including Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagolo, whose Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have been accused of atrocities in Darfur and during last year’s revolution, said Reeves.

“The armed Arab groups – the RSF as well as many less organised militias – have seized lands, livestock, and goods and see these as payment for their military undertakings to the Khartoum regime,” Reeves told Al Jazeera.

“Until there is a restoration of lands and compensation for the victims of the [Darfur] genocide, it is difficult to see how Sudan can heal itself. Here, Hemeti, part of the government, is largely to blame.”

Hamdok is also under pressure from the United States, which wants Sudan to follow the UAE and Bahrain in normalising ties with Israel, as Washington weighs removing Sudan from a list of sanctioned “terrorism-backing” states.

Jehanne Henry, East Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said the Juba deal has “good provisions on justice for serious crimes in Darfur” that should lead to prosecutions in domestic or international courts.

”The call for justice has underpinned this revolution,” Henry told Al Jazeera. “The transitional government should now prioritise turning these commitments into reality to make this transition stick.”