In March, King Charles III invited himself to Waging Peace, the NGO I founded nineteen years ago after visiting Darfur. Buckingham Palace said His Majesty wished to meet our friends, the British Sudanese community, in the same week the government introduced its Illegal Migration Bill to Parliament. An hour before His Majesty arrived, Foreign Office staff appeared, instructing our forty bemused British Sudanese attendees "not to be political." They were followed by the King's emissary who told us to be as political as we liked.
This anecdote illustrates where the international community has gone wrong in Sudan ("don't be political") and why the Sudanese people face a catastrophe.
It has long been obvious to Sudanese citizens that the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) under General Burhan and the Rapid Support Forces militia (RSF) under General Hemedti would not voluntarily hand power to a civilian authority this month unless that was the best option facing them. It was also clear that the Islamists who have run Sudan for decades would provoke the two warring generals to fight each other, thus stopping the transition to civilian authority. All concerned stand to lose power and immense wealth.
The UK is part of the Quad (UK, US, Saudi and the UAE) negotiation team. For years, we treated the architects of Sudan's decades of violence as our partners in the search for sustainable peace, rather than holding them accountable for their crimes. The past two weeks have proved the generals have no regard for Sudanese citizens. Since the fighting between the SAF and the RSF began, no civilians have come onto the streets to support either side.
On April 26, Bob Fairweather, the UK's special envoy to Sudan, said in due course the Quad will "bring them [the warring generals] back around the negotiating table." The day before, Andrew Mitchell, the Africa Minister, referred to the battling sides "returning to barracks."
Both comments will alarm Sudanese citizens. The international community should be extremely careful about treating Burhan and Hemedti as their partners in the search for peace or a transition to civilian rule. Once a ceasefire holds, the generals will be involved in negotiations, but the voices of civilians must take precedence, and the international community must help build and support the institutions removing the military from Sudanese politics and holding the military accountable to civilian authority.
Far from achieving a comprehensive ceasefire, the RSF may retreat to its home base in Darfur, continuing to ethnically cleanse the Black African Darfuris whom they have been killing since 2003. While an uneasy peace may return to the rest of the country eventually, an area the size of France could be side lined by the international community and left to its dismal fate.
Once a ceasefire holds in the rest of Sudan, it will be impractical to fire everyone in the SAF or RSF (as the allies did to disastrous effect in Iraq twenty years ago). But negotiators must recall that the SAF and RSF have a track record of breaking each agreement they signed, while spinning out talks and telling foreigners what they wanted to hear. As a former US negotiator wrote in yesterday's New York Times, the military representatives were more interested in watching soccer by the hotel pool than charting a road map to a peaceful and prosperous future for Sudan.
Now is the moment to write to MPs, asking them to pass on your concerns to the Foreign Office. The most urgent need is for humanitarian aid to be sent to refugee camps in Sudan's neighbouring countries. Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese are on the move, trying to escape the violence. The UNHCR believes 100,000 in Darfur are heading for Chad, while the Danish Refugee Council predicts vast numbers will go to South Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt, if they can survive the long journeys. Please click here to find your MP's email address.
If you can, please also tell your MP that British negotiators on the Quad, and at the UN Security Council (where the UK has the chair) must be extremely careful in assuming the generals Burhan and Hemedti want peace. There must be sticks as well as carrots. If needed, all concerned (EU, UK, US, Saudi Arabia, Norway, the UAE, and neighbouring nations like Egypt), must take unified, concerted and robust action against the warring generals including targeted smart sanctions, asset freezes, and indictment for war crimes.
There must also be benchmarks to assess whether their promises are enacted, and swiftly imposed sanctions if they break their word. Finally, the international community must fund and support a justice mechanism that ends the impunity of Sudan's men with guns. Thanks to ICN readers who pick up a pen or send an email at this crucial moment.
Waging Peace: https://wagingpeace.info/