On 31 August 2020, the Sudanese transitional government signed a peace agreement with the armed insurgency movements, in what was considered by the ruling authorities in Khartoum a re-establishment of the Sudanese state and an end to the course of the long civil war that erupted decades ago in the southern and western regions of Sudan.
This paper sheds light on the terms of the peace agreement and seeks to explore the prospects of the agreement and its implications for the Sudanese political situation.
Background to the armed political conflict in Sudan
The 2011 referendum that resulted in the secession of southern Sudan and its declaration of an independent state did not end the internal Sudanese crisis that accompanied the emergence of the modern Sudanese state. The crisis is summarised in the failure by this state to build a political system that suits the country's ethnic and religious diversity. The six decades that have passed since the state's independence (1956) were characterised by the dominance of the northern Muslim Arab groups from which the military, religious and political administrations were formed, despite the change in the interface of governance between civil rulings and military regimes.
The Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), founded by John Garang, began its armed activity in 1983. However, it was not a separatist movement but rather called for a unified secular federal state. After a long period of armed conflict, in 2005, the Movement reached a peace agreement with the Khartoum government (Naivasha Agreement) that allowed power-sharing with it until the self-determination referendum which led, in June 2011, to the independence of the state of the South.
However, the Movement remained militarily and politically active in the two provinces bordering South Sudan, namely South Kordofan and Blue Nile, which are characterised by a dense national and religious interaction with the State of South Sudan. While the armed groups in Kordofan reached a truce with the government army in 2016, the armed conflict did not practically stop during the era of former President Omar al-Bashir.
As for the armed conflict in the Darfur province (western Sudan), it broke out in 2003 under the leadership of the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement. It focused on the groups descending from the three main tribes in the region (Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit), and resulted in 300 thousand deaths and 4 million displaced people (according to United Nations (UN) estimates). While the Khartoum government reached a preliminary peace agreement with the armed factions (the Justice and Equality Movement in particular) in 2010, the essence of the proposed solution (semi-autonomy for the province) was not ultimately clear, and remained a subject of tension and dispute.
With the fall of the Bashir regime in April 2019, new opportunities for comprehensive reconciliation emerged in Sudan, after the settlement reached with the civilian political factions, which opened the way for the current negotiations that resulted in the recent agreements.
The Juba Agreement: Terms and Outcomes
Four Sudanese armed factions affiliated with the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF, founded in November 2011) signed the Juba Agreement with the Khartoum government. These factions are:
1. The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM): one of the most important armed insurgency movements in Darfur. It is mainly composed of the Zaghawa tribe, led by Khalil Ibrahim, who is believed to have Brotherhood leanings.
2. The Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM-MM) (Minni Arcua Minnawi’s Wing): is one of the most important armed insurgency movements in Darfur.
3. The Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) (Malik Agar's Wing): an armed insurgency movement in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
4. The Sudan Liberation Movement-Transitional Council (SLM-TC) which includes groups that broke away from the Darfur armed movements, and is led by el-Hadi Idris.
Two major movements broke away from the agreement: the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA-AW) (Abdul Wahid al-Nur’s Wing), which is militarily active in Darfur, and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) (Abdel Aziz al-Hilu's Wing), which fights in South Kordofan and Blue Nile and has suspended its participation in the negotiations in objection to the representative of the government delegation Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti), Deputy Chairman of the Transitional Sovereignty Council (TSC).
The agreement revolves around three items, as follows:
1. Constitutional review of the political system: the agreement provides for a political system that takes into account the specificities of the three regions, granting them expanded legislative and administrative powers that would be taken into account in the final constitution brought about by the current transitional phase. With regard to the South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions, the agreement provides for the recognition of religious diversity in the two regions in accordance with the provisions of the 1973 constitution, with the required legislative rights for Christians. The agreement also provides for the establishment of a national commission for religious freedoms represented in the two regions to monitor and guarantee the rights of non-Muslim groups. According to the terms of the signed document, the two regions are granted constitutional rights that amount to expanded autonomy within a religiously and nationally diverse federal state.
2. Sharing of wealth and power: the agreement stipulates the representation of armed groups in all legislative and executive governance structures, and granting the aforementioned regions fixed rights in their local wealth, along with some positive discrimination measures to fix the effects and imbalances of decades of marginalisation and persecution. According to the agreement, the signatories will be represented by three seats in the ruling Sovereignty Council, five seats in the Council of Ministers, and 75 seats in the Legislative Council, together with the appointment of 40 percent of regional government officials from the regions’ residents. The agreement also stipulated the allocation to the concerned regions of 40 percent of their local wealth and tax revenues collected in them, and the establishment of a fund for the development of the three regions with a budget of 750 million dollars.
3. Security arrangements include merging the armed movements with the Sudanese army and government security agencies, provided that special forces would be formed to maintain security in the three regions in which the armed movements would be represented by 30 percent.
Prospects for reconciliation in Sudan
Despite the importance of the agreement that was supported and participated in by the Government of South Sudan, and that was signed by important parties of the armed movements, there are many obstacles and difficulties that continue to hinder the possibility of its practical success, the most important of which are:
1. The exit of two important movements from the agreement, namely, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA-AW) (Abdul Wahid al-Nur’s Wing), which is the main force on the ground in Darfur, and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) (Abdel Aziz al-Hilu's Wing) which is strong in the Kordofan region. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok is obviously making strong efforts to win over the two movements that are still outside the settlement framework.
2. The difficulty of implementing the agreement in terms of its ramified and complicated provisions, especially those related to the sharing of wealth and power, positive discrimination measures, and liquidation of the legacy of the previous era, with the required trials that involve a number of military leaders close to the current regime.
3. Conflicting interests and visions of regional parties that are intertwined with the Sudanese political situation, in particular Chad and the Central African Republic with regard to the Darfur region, and the Republic of South Sudan and Ethiopia with regard to the South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions.
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