Fixing the Broken Approach to Peace Between the Sudans

Posted by Carrie Beason

Earlier this week, UN Interim Security Force for Abyei, or UNISFA, completed the first verification mission to confirm troop withdrawal on both sides of the highly disputed 14-mile area. While this success is reason for cautious optimism in the peace process between Sudan and South Sudan, a new Enough Project policy paper presents critical contextual perspective on the ongoing cycle of progress and setback that has become typical of peace negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan.

The report, The Broken Approach to Peace Between the Sudans, by Omer Ismail and Akshaya Kumar, argues that the slow and incremental progress toward peace is a result of Sudan’s continued and unchallenged bad faith actions in negotiations, the use of highly publicized but shallow and insubstantial presidential summits, and a general lack of political will in both countries.

The paper also suggests that these cycles of engagement, agreement, and stagnation are actually sowing the seeds for continued conflict. For example, even in the wake of the “successful” UNISFA mission confirming troop withdrawals, conflict continues. The Sudan Tribune reported that on March 27 Sudanese nomad rebels attacked South Sudanese civilians, killing two policemen and one civilian. This is exemplary of the ineffectiveness of the current peace process and the disconnect between upper-level action and events on the ground. While governments agree to implement security measures, there seems to be no resulting guarantee of safety and security, which creates a serious lack of incentive for the parties to continue comply with and implement their agreements.

Ismail and Kumar provide a valuable and underrepresented perspective on the Sudans’ peace process that ultimately brings to the forefront a need for a sustainable solution. The new report outlines three mechanisms for change that represent a departure from the status quo:

  1. Leverage international pressure for meaningful censure on signals of bad faith.
  2. Focus on building substantive technical bilateral dialogue instead of high-stakes summits
  3. Strengthen Sudanese opposition and civil society in an effort to create space for crucial political will.

Current strategies are seeing measured success, but have the potential to fall back into another cycle of progress tempered by reneged promises and counterproductive preconditions. A new strategy that places more emphasis on strengthening opposition and civil society voices in order to broaden political space and local ownership over the peace process will be crucial to the conflict mitigation between Sudan and South Sudan.