Sudan is a country that is currently experiencing a state of strife, with a persistent conflict that has resulted in significant devastation and considerable hardship for its citizens. In mid-April, a series of violent clashes occurred in Sudan, which appeared to be the result of a power struggle between the two primary factions of the military regime. The Sudanese armed forces exhibit allegiance to Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who holds de facto control over the nation. Conversely, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group adheres to the leadership of Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who was formerly a warlord and is also recognised as Hemedti.
Furthermore, the Sudanese crisis has resulted in substantial losses across all sectors of society. The persistent hostilities have significant implications that transcend the territorial boundaries of the nation and pose a potential risk to neighbouring states, the broader area, and international security and stability.
Hence, the ongoing conflict has involved numerous regional and global stakeholders, rendering it a convoluted matter that necessitates a multidimensional resolution. In an effort to address the crisis and establish a peaceful resolution, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United States of America (USA) collaborated to facilitate preliminary discussions, which have exhibited promising indications of potentially culminating in the cessation of hostilities.
Why are the USA and KSA asking for a resolution of the crisis?
The Sudanese crisis holds great significance for the United States, a global superpower, and its involvement in resolving the issue is motivated by a multitude of factors. The primary objective is to revitalise its presence within the locality. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has been a subject of enduring interest for the United States, and the ongoing crisis in Sudan may serve as a chance for the US to reaffirm its influence in the region.
Moreover, the United States aims to hinder the increasing impact of Russia in the area. Russia has been increasing its influence in the MENA region, with Sudan being a notable example. In contemporary times, Russia has endeavoured to establish a presence in the region, predominantly via its military collaboration with the Sudanese administration. The United States perceives Russia’s territorial expansion in the region as a potential hazard to its interests and is actively engaged in thwarting Russia’s encroachment in the area.
Moreover, Sudan possesses abundant reserves of oil, and the United States endeavours to safeguard its vested interests in the region. Sudan holds a notable position as a producer of oil, and the United States has made substantial investments in the nation’s oil sector. The United States is highly motivated to safeguard its interests within the nation and considers it imperative to address the ongoing crisis in order to maintain uninterrupted access to Sudan’s oil reserves.
In contrast, Saudi Arabia possesses distinct incentives for pursuing a resolution to the ongoing Sudanese conflict. Saudi Arabia, being a dominant force in the region, endeavours to establish itself as an intermediary in the dispute and solidify its position as a significant participant in the political affairs of the area. The engagement of Saudi Arabia in the resolution of the aforementioned crisis provides a prospect for augmenting its regional sway and fortifying its connections with global society.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia aims to avert the potential overflow of the conflict, which may pose a risk to its security and stability. The ongoing crisis in Sudan has the capacity to extend beyond its borders and generate instability, thereby presenting a security risk to the surrounding region. Therefore, Saudi Arabia holds a significant stake in seeking a nonviolent settlement to the conflict and containing its potential transboundary ramifications in Sudan.
The negotiation process and results
In the early stages of the crisis, the leader of the RSF, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, conveyed his group’s participation and a positive outlook regarding the negotiations’ ability to effectively achieve their goal of safeguarding the well-being of non-combatants. Furthermore, a delegation from the Sudanese armed forces was deployed to the city located on the Red Sea.
Notwithstanding, Dafallah Alhaj, the designated representative, has affirmed that the military will abstain from participating in face-to-face discussions with any envoy that might be dispatched by the “insurgent” RSF. Conversely, Hemedti has conveyed his resolute intention to capture or eradicate the military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, whereas signs imply that neither faction exhibits a proclivity to engage in negotiations and facilitate a resolution to the persistent hostilities.
The Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Faisal bin Farhan, has expressed his aspiration for a constructive dialogue among the conflicting parties with the ultimate objective of resolving the conflict in the present context. Subsequent to this, a collaborative declaration released by the United States and Saudi Arabia conveyed gratitude for the initiation of preliminary negotiation talks and underscored the significance of sustained global aid in quelling acts of aggression. In accordance with the aforementioned declaration, KSA and the USA advocate for the concerned parties to conscientiously prioritise the well-being of the Sudanese citizenry and participate in productive discourse with the objective of attaining a cessation of hostilities and a resolution to the conflict.
As per the USA, the aim of these deliberations has been notably precise, with a predominant focus on achieving unanimity on a declaration of humanitarian principles, followed by the formation of a cessation of hostilities for a considerable period to facilitate the uninterrupted delivery of crucial amenities.
Furthermore, the mediation process between the United States and Saudi Arabia is considered well-established and appropriate for the present situation in Sudan. The mediation initiative put forth by IGAD in the African region had a narrow focus on the military leaders of the two factions. In contrast, the Saudi-US mediation strategy takes into account all pertinent stakeholders, encompassing those with a vested interest in the democratic transition as well as regional, local, and international partners.
Throughout the mediation process in the last couple of weeks, both parties have explicitly stated their willingness to engage in discussions regarding a humanitarian ceasefire but have not expressed a desire to engage in negotiations. As a result, Sudan’s warring parties signed a late commitment to humanitarian principles in their spiralling conflict but did not yet reach a permanent ceasefire. The agreement commits both sides in general terms to let in badly needed humanitarian assistance after looting and attacks targeting aid in the impoverished country. On the other hand, the USA and KSA see this as a primary step towards a permanent peace process, as the USA officials said.
“We are hopeful, cautiously, that their willingness to sign this document will create some momentum that will force them to create the space”.
How do I achieve a more successful outcome?
The historical trajectory of the African crisis has often been characterised by a range of negative outcomes, including ethnic conflict, famine, refugees, child violence, protracted armed conflict, environmental degradation, violence, mass atrocities, highly repressive regimes, and isolation from the international community. The current crisis in Sudan has once again given rise to such possibilities. Currently, individuals are evacuating from the fire.
Conversely, it can be argued that the negotiation process primarily focuses on humanitarian concerns. However, historical evidence suggests that humanitarian considerations are often absent in African conflicts due to challenging geographical conditions and inadequate socio-economic infrastructure. During times of crisis, even humanitarian actions may have a limited impact on the general population.
Thus, in order to bring an end to the conflict in Sudan, it is imperative that all parties involved come together in a collaborative and coordinated manner. It is imperative for the international community to adopt a more rational approach and establish stronger connections among actors to effectively prevent acts of massacre rather than merely contain their aftermath.
Mediation endeavours that do not exert authentic pressure on the opposing factions are likely to yield only a provisional truce, affording them a momentary respite before resuming their belligerent activities.
For the negotiations to yield a favourable result, it is imperative that both the United States and Saudi Arabia exert tangible, unambiguous, and substantive influence on the conflicting parties. This will effectively deter them from engaging in dilatory tactics, wasting time, or exploiting the negotiation process as a facade while persisting with their hostilities on the battlefield.
The use of sanctions as a mechanism to exert pressure on the warring factions to terminate hostilities and reinstate democratic civil administration is a strategy that carries both benefits and drawbacks. Although the aforementioned approach may yield favourable outcomes, it carries the potential risk of reinforcing the military officials’ entrenched positions, ultimately resulting in Sudan’s international isolation.
To summarise, the Sudanese crisis is a complex matter that necessitates a comprehensive resolution. The protracted hostilities in Sudan have resulted in significant hardship for the people and wide-ranging consequences that transcend its territorial boundaries. The complexity of the situation has been heightened by the participation of diverse regional and international actors. The involvement of the United States and Saudi Arabia in resolving the crisis provides a favourable occasion for both nations to establish their influence in the region and safeguard their respective interests. The preliminary discussions on negotiation that have been instigated by the United States and Saudi Arabia have exhibited some promise in terms of resolving the conflict. However, the negotiation process underscores the recent political transformations that have taken place globally. Therefore, the expeditious resolution of the Sudanese crisis is imperative to avert additional instability in the region.
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About the author:
Research Associate The KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA) Dhaka, Bangladesh