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East African Bloc’s Peace Efforts Don’t Violate Sudan’s Sovereignty

People board a truck as they leave Khartoum, Sudan, Monday, June 19, 2023. (AP Photo)
People board a truck as they leave Khartoum, Sudan, Monday, June 19, 2023. (AP Photo)
Ali Al-Sadiq

Ali Al-Sadiq

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sudan

“Sudan considers these actions to be a violation of its sovereignty and a serious breach of IGAD’s charters.”


On January 20, Sudan’s army-allied government suspended its membership in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), after the eight-country East African trade bloc offered to mediate a peaceful resolution in the civil war-ravaged country.

Troops loyal to Sudanese Armed Forces chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan have been fighting for control over Sudan with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) troops led by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti. The nine-month war has left at least 15,000 people dead and displaced more than 7.5 million others.

IGAD was created in 1996 to promote cooperation on peacebuilding, security, agriculture, environment, and economic and social development in the region. In early January, IGAD invited the two warring Sudanese leaders to meet and negotiate a cessation of hostilities.

Hemedti accepted the invitation and later attended an extraordinary meeting IGAD held on January 18 in Entebbe, Uganda.

However, Burhan’s government interpreted the bloc’s peacemaking efforts as a threat to its rule and did not attend.

On January 16, Ali Al-Sadiq, the Sudanese foreign minister loyal to Burhan, accused IGAD of “violating Sudan’s sovereignty” and setting a ‘’dangerous precedent’’ by inviting RSF leader Hemedti to IGAD's assembly.

“Sudan considers these actions to be a violation of its sovereignty and a serious breach of IGAD’s charters,” Al-Sadiq said in a statement.

That is false.

IGAD’s efforts to end Sudan’s bloody civil war are in line with its mission. Conflict mediation implies the conflicting sides entering a constructive dialogue facilitated by a neutral third party, the IGAD. That is the opposite of infringing on Sudan’s sovereignty.

Moreover, the Burhan government’s refusal to take part in negotiations reduces the already slim chances that the war-torn country can reach a peaceful resolution, as all previous international peace efforts have failed, leaving IGAD’s peace commitment essential to ending the war.

The United States and Saudi Arabia suspended similar talks last June, after the two sides systematically violated the cease-fire agreement.

On January 18, with Burhan voluntarily absent and Hemedti present, along with a score of foreign envoys and United Nations observers, IGAD’s extraordinary assembly adopted a communique reinstating conditions for a roadmap to peace.

The document reiterated IGAD’s commitment to facilitate “an all-inclusive peace process to end the conflict in close collaboration with all Sudanese stakeholders, African Union, and regional and international actors.”

IGAD stated that “[t]he Republic of the Sudan does not belong to the parties to the conflict, only to the Sudanese people.” It called for an “immediate and unconditional cease-fire as well as cessation of hostilities” and gave the warring generals 14 days to meet for peace talks.

The bloc member states promised to “utilize all means and capabilities to ensure the conflict in the Sudan is resolved peacefully.”

Sudan's government responded by suspending the country’s membership in IGAD, with its foreign ministry saying the reason for the suspension was the “language” of IGAD’s resolution.

"The communique included a language that Sudan deemed disrespectful to its sovereignty and offensive to the families of victims of atrocities committed by rebel [RSF] militias,” Al-Sadiq said in a statement, ignoring the fact that his own side stands accused of committing similarly large-scale atrocities.

“People are being killed inside their homes, or while desperately searching for food, water and medicine,” Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said last August introducing the watchdog’s report on the crimes committed by the warring sides in Sudan.

She added:

“They are being caught in crossfire while fleeing and shot deliberately in targeted attacks. Scores of women and girls, some as young as 12, have been raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence by members of the warring sides. Nowhere is safe.”

The United States formally determined last December that both warring sides in Sudan have committed war crimes.

Calling the conflict “needless,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the parties must "stop this conflict now, comply with their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, and hold accountable those responsible for atrocities."

The United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported last December and on January 15 that the nine-month conflict had brought to Sudan “one of the fastest unfolding crises globally, with unprecedented needs emerging in such a short period.” It warned of an “impending humanitarian catastrophe.”

Some 25 million people, including 14 million children, need humanitarian aid, the report said.

With close to 80% of Sudan’s hospitals no longer functional, and no access to medical and hygiene supplies, water or electricity, Sudan faces a rapid spread of infectious diseases, including nearly 10,000 suspected cholera cases.

The OCHA also warned that Sudan is “slipping into catastrophic hunger conditions.”

In September 2023, both Hemedti and Burhan were given the opportunity to address the 78th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

The two generals said they were committed to negotiations and ending the conflict.

Burhan, however, asked the U.N. to designate the RSF as a terrorist organization. He claimed the RSF had brought in thousands of foreign mercenaries to help it in the ongoing war.

However, the U.S. said in 2020 that Russia’s Wagner was “providing arms and training” to both “military and paramilitary factions” in Sudan.

Since 2017, news media and international observers have reported about the RSF’s leader Hemedti’s ties with Wagner Group.

While Hemedti and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the now-deceased Wagner founder, denied the connection, numerous journalistic investigations documented Wagner’s footprints in Sudan.

CNN reported in July 2022 that “Russia’s meddling in Sudan’s gold began in earnest in 2014 after its invasion of Crimea prompted a slew of Western sanctions.”

The U.S. Treasury Department said in a July 2020 Russian sanctions announcement that a Prigozhin-owned company called M Invest was serving “as a cover for PMC Wagner forces operating in Sudan.”

The U.S. said M Invest “was awarded concession agreements to explore gold mining sites” in Sudan. An M Invest subsidiary engaged in the actual gold extraction. The U.S. imposed sanctions on both companies.

U.S. Secretary of State Blinken said last April that Wagner “simply brings more death and destruction,” adding that “it is very important that we not see its further engagement in Sudan.”

Hemedti has since denied any involvement with the Russian mercenary group, saying that he “advised the Sudan government to cut ties with Wagner after the U.S. government put sanctions against the group.”

Hemedti has been gaining ground in the war in Sudan. With his RSF now controlling 70% of the country’s territory, Hemedti has established authority over 30 million of Sudan’s 45 million people.

The RSF leader recently toured six African countries, including IGAD members states, seeking diplomatic legitimacy.

Kenya was among those countries, and his visit there was not taken lightly.

Sudan’s army-aligned government recalled its ambassador, condemning the Kenyan government for giving Hemedti a “warm reception.”

While the two warring sides in Sudan have repeatedly stated their openness to mediation efforts led by regional and international actors, so far, those efforts have not resulted in a sustained cease-fire.

Last July, Burhan ended mediation talks led by the Kenyan President William Ruto, accusing him of “favoring” RSF and “having business deals with Hemedti.”

Burhan and Hemedti took power in Sudan in April 2019 following a coup that ended the 30-year rule of Omar al Bashir.

After the coup, Hemedti was appointed Burhan’s deputy. They later formed a partnership with Sudan’s civilian government and promised to hand over power to the civilians.

But in October 2021, when Burhan was supposed to transfer power to a civilian government, he instead spearheaded a military coup and dissolved the civilian-military partnership, splitting with Hemedti.

The fighting between the two broke out on April 15, 2023.