Kenya’s new US-backed bid to save Sudan from ‘genocide’

Sudan war

People fleeing the violence in West Darfur, cross the border into Adre, Chad, August 4, 2023.

Photo credit: Reuters

Sudan’s 13-month war is generating the highest amount of displaced people and hurtling towards genocide, a special envoy told the United Nations Security Council this week. 

The horrifying details emerged even as Nairobi pushed backchannels for a new track seeking to coalesce movements opposed to main warring factions and help weaken the desire for war.

It is a plan backed by Washington but bequeathed to Nairobi to help end one of the deadliest wars on the continent today. Kenya’s President William Ruto has been encouraging civil society groups and other armed groups not part of either the Rapid Support Forces or the Sudan Armed Forces to sue for non-violence and put forward solutions that will be Sudan-led.

Diplomatic sources told Nation.Africa this week, the idea is to deal with accusations previous peace bids in Sudan were an imposition from foreigners. President Ruto met with his US counterpart, Joe Biden, in Washington on Thursday.

“I expressed optimism that Kenya and the US will innovatively design appropriate defence and security frameworks to help Kenya as the anchor state and the region to deal with the peace and security challenges that are undermining human wellbeing, development and democracy,” Ruto said after the meeting, generally referring to the situation in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes.

But Nation.Africa understands Ruto’s role is now focused on alleviating Sudan, even though he has been pushing behind the scenes to de-escalate tensions between Somalia and Ethiopia.

On Saturday, Ruto convinced some stakeholders in Sudan to sign a commitment to pursue a peace-building mission, a crucial step to bring them under one umbrella of opposing violence.

Former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, the Chairman of the Leadership Committee of the Coordination of Sudanese Civil Democratic Forces, also known as TAQADDUM, and the head of the Sudan Liberation Movement, Abdul Wahid Mohamed Nur, signed the "Nairobi Declaration" after negotiations that lasted two days.

The deal stipulated the establishment of a democratic and federal civilian rule in Sudan that guarantees the establishment of a civil state and the fair and equal participation of all citizens in power and wealth, guarantees freedom of religion and thought, and ensures the separation of cultural, ethnic, religious and regional identities from the state.

Sudan war

Adam Abdullah, 45, who survived because he pretended to be dead when Rapid Support Forces (RSF) attacked the hospital where he was being treated, speaks as he sits with his daughters inside their makeshift shelter in Adre, Chad July 27, 2023.

Photo credit: Reuters

The Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM, not to be confused with South Sudan’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement), led by Abdul Wahid Mohamed Nur, has been fighting in the western Darfur region and controls a large swath of the Jebel Marra region. 

Diplomatic sources

Diplomatic sources say the idea, supported by the US, is part of efforts to provide some localised solution to the Sudan war by prompting suggestions from stakeholders to galvanise a popular third movement that seeks non-violence.

After a meeting in Nairobi, President Ruto said civil society groups must be central to the peace in Sudan.

“It is important for civil society and organised groups to be part of the process that will culminate in not only peace, but also the creation of a civilian government,” he said before he flew to Washington.

But the complexity of Sudan’s war since it erupted in April last year is such that it looks hopeful just as destruction continues. Over 15,830 people had died at the start of this week, according to data collected by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).

On Tuesday, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, told the UN Security Council that Sudan was hurtling towards genocide.

“Genocide does not happen overnight. Genocide is part of a process that is well planned, prepared and followed through. This situation today bears all the marks of risk of genocide, with strong allegations that this crime has already been committed,” she said.

According to the Genocide Convention, crimes that fit a series of acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group fall under genocide.

Kenya’s arrangement, quietly endorsed by the US, will also mean targeted dissuasion of those fanning the war through weapons supply to cease, including by deterrence with sanctions, if possible, to those financing the transactions.  A diplomat in Nairobi indicated the idea is to gradually align the civilian movement with a warring side that promises peace and transition, leading to isolation of the other if it doesn’t change its ways. 

One other source also said Khartoum would be offered alternative ways to offload its gold legally if it starts to open up humanitarian corridors, protection of civilians and gradual discussions around peace. 

Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are also expected to play a vital role in supporting peace processes to weaken the influence of those accused of supplying weapons. The source said the US has directly asked the United Arab Emirates, said to be closer to the RSF, to stop providing weapons.

Sustainable solutions

The declaration signed last week said generally that the parties will, in the next phase, confront all the threats that threaten Sudan and find sustainable solutions.

However, Hamdok and Nour left a window for the RSF and SAF to choose a ceasefire and cooperate with mediation efforts. The SAF under Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, in particular, had been jittery about Ruto’s role in peace-building there, accusing him of taking sides. Ruto denied the claims. 

His new bid also reflects their gradual acceptance that a solution in Sudan will come from the Sudanese themselves.

The declaration stressed "the need to work for a comprehensive treatment of cumulative crises through a foundational process based on key principles, the most important of which are - the unity of Sudan, its sovereignty over its lands and resources, and the voluntary unity of its peoples and decentralised democratic governance.  

In Sudan, where the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudan Armed Forces have fought since last year, the immediate need, however, is to stop rape, gender-based violence, scorch-earth policies and forced displacement. The UN Special Advisor also spoke of deprivation of conditions of life, including bombing of medical facilities and transportation and deliberately limiting access to water and electricity; these have all happened, all of which amount to patterns of genocide.

The latest incidents in Darfur and el Fasher have mostly followed ethnic patterns, with the Masalit in particular targeted. Nderitu had warned of the same thing back in April and had issued at least eight statements in the last year, all of which she warned of escalating violence.

It indicates the difficulty for the international community to deal with what has become Africa’s deadliest war this year. In Sudan itself, warring factions have been taking to social media to boast about their killings or torture. 

Last month, fighters associated with the RSF posted an atrocious video online, further proving previous findings of war crimes even as the international community called for a ceasefire.

The video showed troops executing civilians and gory acts of rape and slavery in Nyala, Zalingei and Al-Geneina in the Darfur region. The video also captured scenes in Khartoum and Darfur—showing victims, both men and women, being whipped with their hands tied behind their backs.

Later, the RSF issued a statement pledging to investigate but did not identify the fighters in the video. 

By May, Sudan had become the largest source of people fleeing danger in Africa, displacing some 9.1 million people over the last year, according to UN estimates.

Conflict displacements

The Annual Displacement Report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) released on May 14 said that Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) account for almost half of all conflict displacements worldwide.

Overall, the number of internally displaced people in Africa has tripled in the last 10 years to reach an alarming level of 34.8 million due to conflicts and climate change.

But the report says that Sudan recorded the highest number in a single country since records began in 2008. 

Sudan’s six million internal displacements, or forced movements, by conflict during 2023 were more than its previous 14 years combined and the second most recorded in one country after Ukraine’s 16.9 million in 2022. There are currently 75.9 million people living in internal displacement globally.

According to IDMC director Alexandra Bilak, there has been a 49 per cent increase (22.6 million) of people living in internal displacement as a result of conflict and violence in the last five years, with two huge increases in 2022 and 2023.

She said that the millions of people forced to flee in 2023 were just the “tip of the iceberg” since tens of millions of IDPs had already been displaced from previous and ongoing conflicts, violence, and disasters.

Part of the problem, argued Nderitu, is an insufficient reaction to Sudan by the global community coupled with impunity.       

“Perpetrators of past violence have largely not been held accountable. The absence of accountability for genocide and related crimes perpetrated in Darfur twenty years ago is contributing to the current episodes of horror,” she said, referring to the past war crimes in Darfur in 2003, which caused then Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir an indictment at the International Criminal Court (ICC). He was never tried.

Additional reporting by Fred Oluoch