Date: Tuesday, 18 July 2023
Egypt’s hosting of a summit meeting of neighbouring countries was the first genuine effort to find a solution to the crisis in Sudan, writes Mostafa Ahmady
Now entering its third month, the fighting in Sudan between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the rebel militias of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has, as anticipated, cast a shadow over the future of the region.
It is essential to draw a firm distinction between a party that seeks stability and security for an integrated Sudan and with no foreign agendas in mind, namely the SAF, and another party that is not much concerned with the interests of the state but only with its own separate interests, namely the RSF.
The latter has been working since day one after its inception by the regime of former Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir to serve its own agenda and that of others in the region, be they African or non-African powers.
For any meditation between the two parties to work, the sovereignty of the country cannot be put at risk. The summit of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Addis Ababa on the situation in Sudan was doomed to failure even before it convened, as Ethiopia and Kenya, the two countries leading the process, are apparently at odds with Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan, the commander of the SAF.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, with his own notorious record in the Ethiopian region of Tigray that has left thousands of civilians killed or injured and between two and three million people internally displaced, called for imposing a no-fly zone and the neutralisation of heavy artillery in Sudan. But he turned a deaf ear to similar calls when the fighting was raging in the northern parts of his own country.
The position of the Ethiopian leader may be grounded in the fact that Al-Burhan led the SAF to launch an offensive to liberate Sudanese territories occupied by Ethiopia in Al-Fashaga, with the latter’s immense resources directly channelled into the coffers of Ethiopia, a landlocked Horn of Africa nation. Ahmed wants the SAF to engage in lengthy battles with the RSF as these may favour the latter, given the experiences it has gained fighting in Sudan’s Darfur region and other African hot spots.
Kenya, rejected by Sudan as chair of the IGAD-led process due to partiality issues, should not have taken sides if it truly wanted to be a mediator in the crisis. Sudan accuses Kenya of “sheltering” RSF leaders and supplying the militia with logistical support. Kenyan President William Ruto is also believed to have “close economic” ties with RSF leader Mohamed Dagalo, also called Hemedti. In June this year, Ruto received the public face of Hemedti, Youssef Ezzat, an adviser to the RSF leader, on a trip to Kenya in defiance to the Sudanese government.
Kenyan and Ethiopian leaders, coupled with UN Special Envoy to Sudan Volker Perthes, officially declared by Sudan as persona non grata, are treating the incumbent Sudanese government as if it were some kind of phantom. They speak of a “power vacuum” in Sudan. Ahmed and Ruto also seem to be on the same wavelength on what they call the need for “fresh” leadership in the country.
There are fears that the IGAD initiative will thus turn out to be a backdoor for regional and international military intervention in Sudan, since it has officially requested the Eastern Africa Standby Force (EASF) to gear up for “possible” deployment in Sudan. As a result, the fighting in Sudan is likely to continue for years to come, with devastating impacts on the Sudanese people and the entire region.
Given its historical bonds with Sudan and the adverse impacts it has been sustaining since the first bullets were fired in the country, Cairo hosted a summit with participation from all Sudan’s neighbours, among them South Sudan, Chad, Eritrea, the Central African Republic, Libya, and Ethiopia, along with African Union (AU) Chairperson Moussa Faki.
The final communique of the summit read that “Sudan’s territorial integrity” must be respected and that there must be no interference in its internal affairs.
It also concluded with the formation of a ministerial mechanism drawn from the foreign ministers of Sudan’s neighbours that would regularly convene to monitor the unfolding situation in the country. This is the first real instrument that has been put in place since the war erupted in Sudan. The mechanism is meant to look into the measures required for dealing with the impact of the Sudanese crisis on the future stability of the country.
It aims to make sure that Sudan’s territorial integrity remains intact and that the Sudanese people have access to humanitarian aid. Above all, it endorsed further meetings by Sudan’s neighbours on a regular basis to assess the situation whenever necessary.
It is in this way that mediation can bear fruit. Unlike others in the region, Egypt’s main concern remains the protection of solid national institutions in Sudan. Egypt, which has no axe to grind other than seeing a stable Sudan, is now assuming the part it should have been invited to assume in putting out the fire in its southern neighbour.
Unlike what Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki dubbed as “political bazaars,” a reference to meetings prior to the Cairo-hosted summit which he attended in person, the summit meeting organised by Egypt has provided ways forward for a sustainable ceasefire in Sudan. At the same time, the regional and international partners should not put the Sudanese crisis on the back burner.
Western or Arab powers unaware of what can best serve the interests of a given African people have meddled in Sudan, hoping to “usher” it down the path of a democratic transition, a move that has had the effect of an imposed and top-down solution. Some have wanted to hold all the aces, while others have been satisfied with just a bite of the cherry. But they have all shared one thing: they have left another critical country in Africa to twist in the wind.
Sudan’s neighbours are now left to face the music on their own accounts. Egypt, already battling to provide basic commodities to its own 110 million people, has already received some 300,000 Sudanese refugees, adding to the four million Sudanese nationals who fled their country before and after the war.
This is happening while the international community is doing little as far as providing funds to Sudan’s neighbours to assist in dealing with the crisis is concerned. A better solution would be to let Sudan do its own homework without assuming the “Big Brother” role. Another would be to stop paying lip-service to dealing with the crisis and to help Sudan’s neighbours mitigate the colossal damage the war has caused.
* The writer is a former press attaché in Ethiopia and an expert on African and international affairs.