Towards a Solution to the Humanitarian Crises in Sudan

On Thursday, February 13 at 6 pm, Edward Abedian, Charlotte Kelly, Jacob Lypp and Mohamed Osman are presenting their paper on the ongoing humanitarian crises in Sudan, edited by Gabriel Lambert. The venue of the event is Emmanuel College’s Harrods Room.

Guest speakers include: Dr Abdelwahhab El-Affendi (Reader in Politics at the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster and coordinator of the Centre’s Democracy and Islam Programme), Dr Sarah Nouwen (Lecturer in Law at the University of Cambridge and former consultant for various NGOs, Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Department for International Development (DfID) on rule-of-law building and transitional justice), and Dr Laura James (Independent Consultant and Former Economic Adviser to African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan). 

Below, the authors blog about their work:

Ever since its independence in 1956, the Republic of the Sudan has been bedevilled by multiple humanitarian crises and armed conflicts that have claimed millions of lives. Even after the preliminary closure of the country’s longest running high-profile conflict – the civil war between the North and the South – with a peace agreement in 2005 and Southern secession in 2011, humanitarian disaster continues to loom large. The ‘Northern’ Sudan, on which the paper’s attention is focussed, continues to face a multiplicity of conflict arenas ranging from ongoing violence in Darfur in the West to continuing ethnic unrest in the Beja areas of the East; from full-scale war in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State in the South, to simmering popular discontent in the North. All of these conflicts have given rise to and continue to exacerbate a range of humanitarian crises.

While focussing on material drawn from the two best-covered cases, namely Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, the paper argues that there is a common structural dynamic underlying all of these humanitarian emergencies the Sudan is facing. Sudanese politics of pre- as well as post-independence times has been characterised by imbalances in wealth and power between the central government in Khartoum and local factions and groups. This has led to tremendous regional inequalities within the country, with the narrow elites from the Nile Valley of the North benefiting greatly, economically as well as politically, from being in a position to dominate the state apparatus. Hence, political contestation in the Sudan has turned into a zero-sum game, with control of the state and its resources as its prize. In such a climate, any form of compromise has been hard (if not impossible) to achieve, and political actors and movements of all shades have been quick to resort to armed violence in order to push their demands.

The Republic of the Sudan’s humanitarian crises are thus of a distinctly political origin: The skewed and dysfunctional nature of the Sudanese polity per se has led to the neglect of whole provinces and the outbreak of armed conflicts; subsequently, violent strife has exacerbated patterns of developmental failure and devastation, leaving substantial swathes of the population vulnerable. Convinced that any serious proposal seeking to resolve the humanitarian disasters unfolding in the Sudan has to take these structural dynamics of Sudanese politics into account, the paper sets out to provide a model for a pre-eminently political solution strategy that moves beyond simple ‘humanitarianism’.

Such a political strategy needs to fulfil five benchmark conditions:

1. Accommodation of the ruling NCP regime

As unsavoury as this aspect of the proposal might be – most notably with its implications for the ongoing proceedings against leading regime figures by the International Criminal Court – it is crucial so as to bind the current ruling elite to the political process, thereby breaking the vicious cycle of ‘zero-sum politics’.

2. Bring all relevant Sudanese actors to the table

It is only by means of an inclusive approach that the development of a new political framework for the Sudan stands a chance of being recognised as legitimate by all necessary Sudanese players.

3. Develop a bold, federal constitutional arrangement

It is within such an arrangement that the structural drivers of conflict and humanitarian crises in the Sudan can be adequately addressed. Hence, the paper sets out a clear demarcation of powers between the national and the state levels, and lays out mechanisms that can alleviate regional disparities via instruments of wealth- and power-sharing.

4. Address local sources of grievances

In Sudan, local factors have been caught up and exacerbated incessantly in large-scale conflicts; and for many people on the ground, these local issues remain of the utmost importance. The paper demonstrates this at the example of the question of land and seeks to address problems pertaining to land by developing political and environmental tools to alleviate them.

5. Engage neighbouring states and regional players

The way towards the development of such a new political framework for the Sudan lies in the engagement of Sudan’s neighbouring states. To this end, the paper propounds the idea of a panel of international guarantor states; i.e. a group of states which – due to their historical ties, economic interests, or political leverage – can influence the relevant domestic Sudanese actors, inducing them to participate in the negotiation process, as well as enticing them to stay at the table and abide by their commitments.

Due to current circumstances, all parties – including the Bashir regime and the NCP – may be more willing to engage in a process of change than it perhaps appears. Against this backdrop, the aim of the paper is less to provide a meticulous description of potential political reform than to advance a bold model of a solution strategy that addresses some of the most crucial sources of conflict in the Sudan.

So do come along, hear our proposals, and join a hopefully lively discussion on Thursday evening, 6 pm, at the Harrods Room in Emmanuel College.


Cambridge Global Health Policy Conference

TWS is running Cambridge’s first Global Health Policy Conference. Gabriel Lambert writes about what it hopes to achieve, and why you should get involved. 

In May 2013 a group of policy authors responsible for the Wilberforce Society paper on using a marketing approach to prevent Non-Communicable Diseases in the developing world presented their work to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Global Health at the House of Lords. It was very well received, to the extent that both Lord Kakkar and Lord Crisp contributed a Forward to the paper for its publication. It served as a simple but powerful reminder that a group of motivated and intelligent students can create a meaningful contribution to public policy.

This episode was one of the motivating factors behind wanting to organise the Global Health Policy Conference. Its primary aim is to follow in the footsteps of previous Wilberforce Society authors and create a whole body of well-researched policy papers that we hope will have an impact on some of the central global health debates of recent years. By working with Medsin Cambridge, it is hoped that some of these papers will form the basis for future campaigning work.

It will seek to reinforce the idea that students can and should be providing fresh ideas for policy-makers – it is rare for politicians to have either the extended length of time in which to engage with a single issue or the ideological freedom to come up with novel approaches to old problems. This is where groups like the Wilberforce Society can excel. Finally, it should demonstrate to students that as well as traditional engagement with the ‘Third Sector’ involving fundraising and awareness-raising, they should be critically engaging with the issues they are campaigning about to come up with practical policy solutions themselves.

We have a wide range of positions available for the conference – we need a committee to handle the logistics leading up to and on the day of the conference itself as well as a large group of authors and editors to work on our policy papers. Absolutely no experience in policy-writing is necessary – almost all of the Wilberforce Society’s authors have never written a policy paper before. All we look for is  enthusiasm about the subject of global health policy.

We expect the conference authors, as well as the satisfaction of pitching and publishing their policy ideas, will gain a good understanding of what makes a persuasive paper.This valuable experience would assist in any future job offers to the development, public health or charitable sectors in particular. As for the conference committee, you will be instrumental in securing the success of the conference whether it be by selecting and managing the right venue, fundraising, or creating our promotional materials. The process of helping to manage such a large project should again, provide useful experience whatever future work one wanted to pursue.

You can find out more about the roles available, some provisional themes we may explore, and how to apply on our Facebook page: