Kenya's experience could boost AU-led Sudan peace initiative

Sudanese anti-military protesters take to the streets demanding an immediate transfer of power to civilians, in Khartoum, Sudan, September 29, 2022. [AP Photo]

The dynamics of the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Sudan, that began in April 2023, have evolved intensely as other armed groups engage actively in the fighting by supporting either SAF or RSF.

Despite multiple mediation initiatives since the early days of the conflict, both sides seem determined to secure decisive military victory.

IGAD’s proposal for the deployment of a regional peacekeeping force for civilian protection and ensuring humanitarian access was rejected by the government. Nevertheless, a lasting solution to the complex conflict might require integrated measures that will not only prevent atrocities but also stabilise the entire country.

Adoption of the Roadmap for the Resolution of the Conflict in Sudan by the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) on May 27, 2023, signalled a more assertive approach from the African Union (AU) to find a lasting solution to the Sudan crisis through a centralised mediation by avoiding proliferation of peace initiatives.

The AUPSC underscored the importance of a single, inclusive, and consolidated peace process that is expected to be coordinated by the AU, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), League of Arab States, United Nations, and extra-regional partners to foster political consensus and common global support for Sudan.

In the proposed Expanded Mechanism, the strategic role of Sudan’s neighbours in the peace process is still relevant despite a few hiccups. The roadmap envisages identification of a structure for addressing the immediate and long-term impact of the conflict and laying a groundwork for the political process that will return Sudan to the path of transition to democratic and inclusive civilian rule as contemplated in the 2020 Juba Agreement for Peace in Sudan and the 2022 Political Framework Agreement.

Despite the complexity of the conflict, regional countries including Kenya have an exceptional role to play in the conflict resolution process as the ongoing violence has significantly impacted on Sudan’s geostrategic and economic importance to the region.

Continued conflict could affect the operation of Port Sudan that is an important commercial sea gateway for neighbouring landlocked countries. Furthermore, insecure Sudan also has ramifications on South Sudan’s economy as Juba relies on refineries and pipelines of Sudan to export its crude oil to international market. Sudan’s geopolitical location along the Sea Line of Communication across the Red Sea is critical for global maritime trade in the Indo-Pacific region.

Likewise, Sudan’s involvement in Nile hydro-diplomacy and negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam are of regional importance. Given the implications of the Sudan crisis on its citizens and the region, Kenya’s mediation experience in several regional countries and past involvement in the Sudan peace process could boost the renewed peace initiative by the AU and IGAD.

However, navigating the current contending issues between the SAF and the RSF will be the greatest test for the regional and continental actors. Kenya’s interest in finding amicable solutions to the crisis in Sudan is driven by the country’s national interests as well as its commitment to Pan-Africanist solidarity.

The bilateral cooperation between Kenya and Sudan spans various sectors, including economic and security cooperation. Trade between Kenya and Sudan has played a significant role in fostering economic cooperation between the two countries.

Since 2018, Kenya’s exports to Sudan have grown by 11 per cent from $61 million to $68 million in 2022, while imports, on the other hand, have grown by 72 per cent from $6.5 million to $11 million over the same period. Majority of Kenyan exports in 2022 were composed of coffee, tea, tobacco, and pharmaceutical products, while imports were cereals, other made-up textiles, and nuclear reactors.

The bilateral trade relations have created opportunities for economic growth and development. However, the ongoing armed conflict has inevitably disrupted trade activities and hindered the smooth flow of goods and services between the two nations. Restoring peace and stability in Sudan is crucial for reviving and strengthening trade relations, as well as promoting cross-border investments and economic cooperation.

It is, therefore, in Kenya’s interest to contribute to Sudan’s peace process. Kenya’s foreign policy on mediation is guided by its location in Eastern Africa and its recognition of the interconnectedness of stability and security in the region. Underlying Kenya’s peace diplomacy is an acknowledgement that peace and stability are pre-requisite for development and prosperity.

Sudan’s political stability and security is, therefore, critical for regional security, peace, stability, and socio-economic development hence the need for regional countries to wholly support the conflict resolution initiative.