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.