African Union’s Mediation Efforts in Sudan: More is Needed

The African Union has recently named a team to work on a peaceful end to Sudan’s civil war. The team will engage Sudan’s feuding military factions alongside civil society and international players to resolve the conflict that has been raging since 15 April 2023.

The opponents in the conflict are the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces.

The AU’s High-Level Panel on the Resolution of the Conflict in Sudan is made up of Ghanaian diplomat Mohamed Chambas, former Ugandan vice-president Speciosa Wandira-Kazibwe and Mozambican diplomat Francisco Madeira. It has a mandate “to ensure an all-inclusive process towards the swift restoration of peace, constitutional order and stability” in Sudan.

Sudan, under armed forces chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has recently suspended its membership of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. The bloc’s eight country members are from the Horn of Africa, the Nile Valley and the African Great Lakes. Sudan’s suspension came after leaders from the Horn of Africa met with Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti), the commander of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces.

The AU’s work should be to create an environment within which the people of Sudan can craft a mutually acceptable solution.

Hemedti had visited Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia, South Africa and Uganda to present what he claimed was his “strategy to cease hostilities and start negotiations for a comprehensive resolution”. Al-Burhan had undertaken similar visits to Eritrea, Egypt and South Sudan.

I have studied various aspects of Africa’s governance failures for more than 30 years. These include military elites and coupscorruption and state capturepolitical instability, and constitutional coups.

I see a number of reasons why the AU and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development should take an active role in returning Sudan to democratic governance.

The ripple effects

African leaders should understand that if a similar calamity ever befell their own countries, other Africans would help them restore peace and provide humanitarian assistance.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has stated that close to “1.1 million women, children, as well as older persons” have fled Sudan and crossed into neighbouring countries. This is creating “economic, social and political ripple effects”. It is in the best interests of neighbouring countries that Sudan returns to its peaceful transition to democracy, in order to arrest what is becoming a serious refugee crisis.

Sudan is geographically important for countries in north and east Africa. For example, Khartoum is where the White and Blue Nile merge to form the Nile River. Prolonged instability in Sudan could create problems for the management of the Nile’s resources, affecting all 11 riparian states. It is in their best interests to help return Sudan to its path of peaceful transition to democratic governance.

Sudan’s location on the Red Sea means that continued political and economic instability in the country could negatively affect trade flows through the Suez Canal. That would affect most African countries.

Sudan is an important transit country for thousands of Muslims from other parts of Africa who embark every year on the hajj to Mecca. Many pilgrims from Sudan and neighbouring countries usually travel to Port Sudan and then to Jeddah Islamic Port by boat. The war is a threat to the ability of many of the region’s Muslims to complete this important religious ritual.

In addition, many air carriers transit through Sudanese airspace on their way to Mecca. The war has already closed Khartoum airport and the country’s airspace remains closed to civilian flights. This is forcing carriers from other parts of Africa to search for other routes which may be more expensive.

Port Sudan is Sudan’s main international trade gateway, a terminal for a regional oil pipeline and a hub that can serve landlocked neighbours. For example, South Sudanese oil, which accounts for 90% of public revenue, must travel through the Greater Nile Oil Pipeline via Khartoum to Port Sudan. A peaceful Sudan is critical for economic and social development in South Sudan and the region.

Returning Sudan to its democratic transition can be achieved via a process that uses the offices of regional organisations. These include the AU, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the East African Community.

Limitations to the African Union’s solution

None of the regional organisations can impose a solution to the conflict on the Sudanese people. The AU’s work should be to create an environment within which the people of Sudan can craft a mutually acceptable solution. All the country’s stakeholders must buy into and own the solution for there to be lasting peace.

The two main actors in this civil war – the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces – must be made to understand that a sustainable solution cannot be achieved militarily. Continued fighting will eventually ruin the country’s productive capacity. That includes its scarce human resources, infrastructure, potential for peaceful coexistence, and sustainable economic and human development.

John Mukum Mbaku is a Brady presidential distinguished professor of economics and John S. Hinckley fellow at Weber State University. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Article first appeared in The Conversation.

Photo by Solen Feyissa via Unsplash.