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An African “Challenge”: How should the African Union advocate for African solutions to resolve the conflict in Sudan?

By Amel Elleily

International Affairs Analyst

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The United Nations and the African Union have recently reinforced their partnership and met to discuss a new method to conceptualise human rights. This was a productive meeting whereby the Security General, António Guterres, and AU Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, signed a new framework which addressed the state of peace, security and the international economic architecture in Africa. This was a necessary development to consider the impacts of terrorism and extremism, the economic challenges left by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and neighbouring wars, like in Ukraine, which has devasted the food supply on the continent and African livelihoods.

However, both Guterres and Mahamat left more to be explained about how African solutions should be instrumentalised to resolve these African crises. This ethos was standardised within the African Union, and although it surfaces in numerous resolutions, it remains a wishful thought rather than a definable act.

Now that the African Union is "poised for progress" and is undoubtedly becoming a greater geopolitical power, the institution must rigorously grapple and return to the values that make up the organisation's foundations - its responsibility to platform African solutions for African problems. Africa is facing multiple crises: an unprecedented food crisis, a series of coups in the Sahel, a genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan and Somaliland remains a de facto state, to name a few. Thus, it is more pertinent now than ever for the AU to rise above bureaucracy, halt seeking international involvement, and instead turn inwards and evaluate what solutions Africa requires now. This includes a reassessment of how the West has been complicit in the current subjugation of African states as well.

African challenges are nuanced and do not exist in a vacuum. There are historical legacies and implications that have shaped Africa's problems today and are best examined by African solutions that understand, have lived through these intricacies, and do not continue the cycle of oppression. The only institution that can support this principle is the AU; due to its international recognition and currently growing status, there is more pressure to actualise and elevate African solutions for African problems now than ever before. Now that devastations continue to ravage the continent, an opportunity must be given to African solutions, and home-grown methods of conflict resolution must be advocated for.

The idea of African solutions

The idea of prioritising African solutions to African challenges is vital for two reasons: it removes any permeating neo-colonial or imperialistic influence and returns agency to the African statehoods. Since the AU was first established in 2002, such pan-Africanist ideals have been a powerful method of signalling to the international community the competence of African institutions, the determination to create African tools fitting for African issues, and the retirement of Western intervention from this role.

In theory, there is no rebuttal to this sentiment. However, this has not sufficed in practice, despite the gravity of recent African crises, which cry out for thoughtful engagement with the problem and innovative resolutions. So far, the AU has not been able to fulfil the promise of championing African solutions for African problems as Western organisations remain an initial point of call, especially for conflict resolution, and other regional bodies are unequipped to step in.

Despite this, Mr Guterres reassures the AU that Africa remains a key priority and is keen to uphold and work with the principle of African solutions. He describes the African continent as "the double victim of injustice", referring to the effects of the legacies of colonialism and the current imperialistic state of economic relations. As a result, the UN is aware of the context that presupposes the principles that ground the AU.

Nevertheless, the UN mechanisms which have manifested to support this AU principle are lacklustre. So far, Mr Guterres has pushed for continued peace enforcement and counter-terrorism operations led by the AU but mandated by the UNSC, the rationale being that it is the only effective method to fight the violence which devastates the continent. This method is not much different from the previous peacekeeping missions that Africa has experienced in the last few decades – the only difference is that now, the AU is on board.

There is immense dissonance between promoting the logic of peacekeeping missions as a solution for African challenges and qualifying this instrument as an original "African" solution. Historically, UN peacekeeping missions are a Western mechanism popularised in the liberal internationalism era of the 1990s. Thus, it is a solution to challenges of violence, terrorism or humanitarian issues, but it is not devised by African states. Although Guterres has emphasised his willingness to address the root of conflicts through the proposed peacekeeping missions, this performance has been unsuccessful and has often exacerbated the crisis at hand. To combat African problems with African solutions, we must begin at the drawing board, and thus with the AU, African state actors, activists, NGOs and regional organisations proposing innovative resolutions.

The UN New Agenda for Peace does show some promise; this new charter attempts to frame peace in a sustainable paradigm as a cornerstone for security and development. On top of pledging further investment in AU-led peace operations, the UN is in an era where reforming its operations to become more flexible and aware of power dynamics is a priority. Nevertheless, the UN can still do more to reflect on its inherent power and the suspended hierarchy when mandating a peacekeeping mission in Africa. Even if the face of this is the AU, a hierarchical logic between the AU and the UN remains. The UN will mandate the peacekeeping missions, although they are to be led by the AU, which is still a mechanism approved, created, and developed by the UN, leaving little space for original African solutions.

Generally speaking, peacekeeping missions have yet to resolve African crises effectively. Although they have been reformed through a new UN Agenda for Peace, the AU has gained more agency to lead these measures, and there is growing awareness of the factors which exacerbate and cause African problems, there is still a lack of advocacy for African voices to get involved in this process. This does not correspond with the principle of using African solutions for African problems, and the continued use of mandated UN peacekeeping missions cannot resolve the crux of African crises. The ongoing war in Sudan will exemplify this.

A study of Sudan

During their meeting, both General Guterres and Chairman Mahamat were questioned about the call to withdraw UN peacekeepers from Sudan despite the continued atrocities in West Darfur. In response, Guterres attributed Sudan's crisis to power struggles among rival generals, emphasising the sacrifice of Sudanese lives and their interests. The conflict, primarily between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), has led to significant humanitarian consequences, with around 4 million internally displaced and millions fleeing to neighbouring countries, and the death toll continues to rise. Yet despite this dire circumstance, UN, and thus AU, peacekeeping missions have been halted.

After the war began, the AU attempted to broker peace between the two Sudanese warring parties. On the 28th of April, Chairperson Assoumani, in an official AU statement, described his discussions with the two generals as "rich, constructive, and promising." He urged all international actors to support the African Union's efforts to restore peace in Sudan. Yet despite the optimism, these promising talks yielded no substantial result. The extension of the April 24th ceasefire was later brokered by the US and Saudi Arabia and not secured by any AU official or African leader, underscoring the limited impact of the AU's involvement in the peace process.

Despite a few ceasefires, Sudan is possibly in the worst civil conflict in its history. The country is on the verge of state failure and has yet to receive much help from international organisations, namely the AU. This has opened the door for other states to start mediation between the warring parties, thus introducing many vested interests into the peace-making process. Examples of states that have shown interest in spearheading the mediation talks are Sudan's neighbouring countries, but more notably the US, UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who were also involved in brokering a ceasefire.

The mediation efforts conducted so far include talks in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which included the US as a mediator. Key stakeholders that should have been included in the process, including other international meditators, the AU and Sudanese civilian leadership representatives, were excluded, hindering progress immensely. Notably, the AU was not invited despite its supposedly pivotal leadership. Because of this, not only was there a necessity for other mediation forums to emerge for the excluded parties and Sudanese actors to work towards a resolution, but this mediation was unsuccessful. The SAF and RSF failed to implement confidence-building measures and to withdraw their military forces. Peace for Sudanese civilians was not the priority here.

As a result, various forums emerged, such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and a neighbouring countries initiative by Chad and Egypt, complicating the resolution process. Both Egypt and Chad were excluded from the mediation process in Jeddah and by the IGAD despite harbouring the heaviest spill-over of Sudanese refugees. The involvement of numerous states has complicated the mediation process, distancing peace from being the main objective, and many more interests are currently at play that do not address the severity or immediacy of the conflict.

The AU has attempted to standardise the mediation process and has produced some initiatives to focus on Sudanese civilians. However, the organisation has yet to advocate for African solutions to this African problem. The current conflict in Sudan is the result of decades of oppression, weakened governmental structures and ethnic divisions, which is evidence of a legacy of colonialism. To eradicate this, the institution is responsible for being the first point of call in times of conflict and uncertainty and a platform for African actors and organisations to assess the crux of their challenges. This is the best method to successfully achieve conflicts and apply them to problems that Africa faces whilst engaging with the undercurrent of international power relations. The AU's continued incapability to lead the continent with African solutions and maintain African unity, especially in times of crisis, imperatively requires review.

The Path Forward

The IGAD has recently announced that it has secured a commitment from both Burhan and Hemedti to resolve the conflict. This marks a crucial development after months of limited dialogue between the warring actors and as a step forward to finally resolve the war. There is a lot of hope and promise for this meditation.

While the African Union (AU) aims to be a people-orientated Pan-African organisation, it has failed to mitigate and resolve the conflict in Sudan and, instead, has been criticised for allowing a regressive military complex to grow to this scale. The AU's involvement is crucial for addressing political dynamics within the continent and with the international community. Thus, it is pivotal for achieving a lasting peace agreement in Sudan. The institution must develop to create progressive African interventions and solutions which promote good governance without ulterior motives or conflicting interests, as seen with the UN-mandated peace operations. The AU is the only fit institution that can lead with the principle that the continent requires African solutions for African problems, and it must begin to fulfil this promise.


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