Since independence, Sudan has undergone a number of national peace agreements, some of which were observed and honoured for short periods. The net result of broken agreements has driven the country into deep conflict, leading to the secession of South Sudan in 2011, and creating a crisis which still threatens the country with further violence and dismemberment.
While Sudan embarks on an internal dialogue and reform process, there is no consensus on the direction change should take: how far, how inclusive, how substantive? This paper argues that agreeing on and developing a Shared Dialogue Framework for national dialogue is essential if key issues and modalities for negotiations, and a mechanism to oversee the overall process, are to be laid out.
Sudan’s most successful past experiences of political dialogue of 1972 and 2005 were shaped by a combination of national conditions and drivers, and intervention from an international third party. Comparing the present conjuncture with those relatively successful experiences, the author suggests that conditions are different now. Regional and international actors no longer have the same appetite with which they pursued past national dialogue processes, and nationally, parties to the conflict are too weak to force an ‘endgame’, either through military means as in the experience of Sri Lanka, or through a peaceful settlement similar to the South Africa model.
The paper provides a comparison between successes and failures of past national dialogue and peace processes in Sudan, and identifies options to promote a genuine, inclusive and accountable national dialogue as a means to address the root causes of Sudan’s crisis. It identifies the fundamental obstacle to a meaningful process as the lack of faith by the belligerents (the Government, SRF, other political opposition) that a national political process will sufficiently both serve their interests and address the political and security risks they face. This is compounded by an ingrained lack of trust. Even if a Shared Dialogue Framework is agreed, without significant political change in the form of real concessions from all sides, a peaceful political settlement seems a long way off. While this may be the case, the status-quo is untenable, which adds to the sense of urgency to find a way forward.