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How Sudan’s rebel deal offers lifeline for peace

Sudan’s peace agreement signed last week finally promises to end the devastating wars in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile that have cost hundreds of thousands of lives, but as Alex de Waal and Edward Thomas explain, it comes with a huge price tag.

The deal was negotiated between the transitional government and a coalition of rebel leaders in South Sudan’s capital, Juba.

Its strength is the goodwill on both sides.

Its weakness is that Sudan is trying a bold experiment in democracy in the middle of intersecting crises with practically no international help.

In August 2019, Sudanese military and civilian leaders agreed to cohabit in a transitional government, fulfilling a central demand of the protesters who had overthrown the 30-year dictatorship of President Omar al-Bashir.

A top priority was ending the wars that had long ravaged Sudan’s peripheries.

The rebels were confident that those in the civilian cabinet, led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, were sincere.

Lt-Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, known as "Hemeti"
Hemeti is the commander of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which grew out of the Janjaweed militia accused of carrying out atrocities in Darfur. PHOTO/COURTESY

They did not trust the generals, especially Lt-Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, known as “Hemeti”, whose paramilitaries had waged terrifying counter-insurgency campaigns.The agreement was reached after almost a year of peace talks.

Once-in-a-lifetime chance

The military chairman of the transitional council, Lt-Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy, Hemeti, need the international legitimacy that would come from a deal.

But their preferred approach was divide-and-rule: offering money and jobs to individual rebel leaders to co-opt them one-by-one.Decades of this strategy had splintered the rebel forces along ethnic lines.

Map of Sudan showing Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile

The largest grouping, the Sudan Revolutionary Front, is a fragile coalition. And although it shares many of the same goals as Khartoum’s non-violent protesters, they come from very different backgrounds.

The urban protesters endured decades of surveillance and police repression.

Their leaders are drawn from the professional elite and expected to inherit government, as had happened with the previous “Khartoum Spring” uprisings in 1964 and 1985.

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Key dates in Sudan:

  • 1956: Sudan becomes independent, 27 years later Islamic law is introduced
  • 1989: Omar al-Bashir comes to power after a coup
  • 2003: Darfur conflict starts after rebels accuse the government of favouring Arab groups, leading later to International Criminal Court arrest warrants against President Bashir for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide
  • 2005: Deal signed ending long-running conflict between north and south. It leads to South Sudan’s independence six years later
  • 2011: Conflict begins in South Kordofan and Blue Nile after rebels who fought alongside the southern Sudanese find themselves in the north after secession
  • April 2019: Army ousts President Bashir after months of protests against his rule
  • Sept 2019: New government takes office under PM Abdalla Hamdok as part of a three-year power-sharing deal between the military, civilian representatives and protest groups
  • August 2020: Sudan’s transitional government signs a peace deal with five rebel groups.
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The rebels fought bloody wars in the dust and mud of remote peripheries.

They were marginalised by previous governments and do not have experience of civil politics.So the rebels were slow to trust the urban political class – even though the 2019 revolution offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to transform Sudan.

Sharing power

The peace agreement brings the rebels into the transitional government.

They have been allocated hundreds of legislative and executive posts, which they will hold until elections take place in three years’ time.

Quote card: Alex de Waal and Edward Thomas: "This time it's different: it is a Sudanese deal, negotiated by the Sudanese without external deadlines or arm-twisting"

Thousands of rebel fighters will be incorporated into the military.Millions of people displaced by war will be helped to return home.

A reworked federal system will give more power to local administrations.

There is to be land reform and courts to bring war crimes suspects to justice.These prescriptions for peace are not new.

Deals with similar formulae have fallen apart over the last 15 years.

This time it is different: it is a Sudanese deal, negotiated by the Sudanese without external deadlines or arm-twisting.

Both sides know that it must work or the democratic experiment will fail.

‘Serial naysayer’

There are two holdout rebel groups, but it is likely that they will come around.

About BBC For Kurunzi News

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