Sudan needs UN help to achieve lasting peace
The onus is on the AU and the UN to clearly articulate their complementary advantages and resulting division of labor for supporting both the transitional government and the envisioned comprehensive peace process.
Developments around Sudan's transfer of political power demonstrate why a more strategic partnership between the African Union (AU) and the United Nations, especially at the council levels, matters. The recent volatility shows both the fault lines and the significant opportunities for the two bodies to work together in their efforts to stabilise Sudan.
On July 5, a preliminary power-sharing agreement was reached between Sudan's Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition. The agreement was elaborated into a draft document called the Constitutional Charter for the 2019 Transitional Period, which the two sides approved on August 4. The UN Security Council and AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) now have a significant opportunity to forge a joint strategy to support the Sudanese people. Both councils have unique political entry points to support the Sudanese efforts to resolve their political and security instability.
The provisional arrangement and Constitutional Charter were partly facilitated through AU mediation efforts and others spearheaded by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. They followed months of civil unrest, a coup d'état, atrocities committed against civilians by Sudan's Rapid Support Forces, and a breakdown in communication and trust between civilian protesters and the military junta.
Throughout the latest crisis, the PSC has been responsive to developments on the ground. It has issued at least four key communiqués since April 19 condemning the Transitional Military Council's actions and calling for power to be vested in a transitional civilian-led political authority. On June 6, Sudan was suspended from all AU activities. The continental body's credibility was further bolstered by the PSC's rejection of a Transitional Military Council decree calling for the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) to hand over its assets to the Rapid Support Forces.
Importantly, the three African member states (A3) on the UN Security Council-Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, and South Africa-have remained united in their support of positions stemming from the PSC, and a joint media stakeout on June 6 was one of the first times the A3 provided such an assertive statement on a country-specific situation. This collective approach is encouraging given the generally weak historical institutional links between the A3 and the PSC.
However, numerous fault lines have emerged within the UN Security Council since April, demonstrating how more meaningful cooperation with the PSC can help achieve collective impact. One key challenge was how both councils understand the relationship between Sudan's current political crisis and the scheduled withdrawal of UNAMID. While some Security Council members (including the co-penholders) advocated for a more cautious drawdown in light of the developments in Khartoum, other members advocated for maintaining the schedule of UNAMID's transition. This position was largely informed by their deference to the views of the Sudanese government, and their general adherence to principles of state sovereignty and non-interference in member states' internal affairs. These Security Council divisions were reflected in negotiations leading up to UNAMID's mandate renewal on June 27.
While significant attention has been paid to the agreements between the TMC and the FFC, it is important to consider how they may impact the future of the peace process for Darfur. While the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) coalition initially approved of the provisions to include in the draft Constitutional Charter, the text was allegedly not reflected in the August 4 agreement and led the SRF to reject it. A prominent coordination body for displaced persons in Darfur rejected the draft charter. The next few months become all the more critical as the draft charter identifies one of the immediate priorities for the transitional government as the completion of a peace process for Sudan within six months of its ratification.
The onus is therefore on the AU and the UN to clearly articulate their complementary advantages and resulting division of labour for supporting both the transitional government and the envisioned comprehensive peace process.
The AU's prominent role in the Khartoum mediation process will likely give the body some role as a guarantor to the agreement moving forward. And while the UN Security Council has been reluctant to pronounce on Sudan's national political dynamics, much of UNAMID's underlying impetus has been to support Darfur's peace processes, therefore giving them a clear but narrower angle for engaging.
Moving forward, both the AU PSC and UN Security Council will need to monitor the adoption and implementation of the Constitutional Charter.
A scheduled council-to-council working visit in Addis Ababa in October is an important occasion to strengthen the critical working relationship and offset challenges caused by power imbalances between the two bodies. Sudan presents a key opportunity for both sides to harmonise their efforts, based on a mutual understanding of how to manage the crisis. This window of opportunity cannot be squandered, least of all by concerned multilateral actors.
- IPI Global Observatory
Priyal Singh is a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria. Daniel Forti is a policy analyst at the International Peace Institute (IPI).