Sudanese leader’s diplomatic tour renews hopes for a peace deal

Sudanese leader’s diplomatic tour renews hopes for a peace deal

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the de facto ruler of Sudan, arrived in Qatar Thursday on an official visit to discuss the ongoing crisis in his country. The trip, which comes after similar visits to Egypt and South Sudan in recent days, has prompted speculation that he is willing to seek a negotiated solution to the war that has been raging since April 15 between the Sudanese military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

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By making three high-profile trips abroad in less than a week, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has fuelled rumours that negotiations may be underway to end the war between his troops and the RSF forces led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, a former ally – notably during the October 2021 coup that brought Burhan to power – turned political rival.  

In late August, on his first official trip since the start of the conflict, Burhan was received by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo.

Sisi has been Burhan’s main international ally since the coup d’état that brought him to power. As mediation attempts led by Saudi Arabia and the United States failed, Egypt offered to facilitate discussions between Sudanese belligerents and, in July, created a group of Sudan’s neighbours and six other countries to find solutions to the violent conflict.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi welcoming General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane at the el-Alamein Presidential Palace near Cairo on August 29, 2023 © Egyptian presidency via AFP

After receiving Cairo’s support, Burhan flew to South Sudan on September 4 and held talks with President Salva Kiir in the country’s capital of Juba.

Burhan’s third meeting took place Thursday with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in Doha. In a statement, the ruling Sovereignty Council in Sudan said al-Burhan intended to hold talks with Thani on “issues of common interest, and the situation in Sudan”.

From a political standpoint, these three trips enable Burhan to demonstrate his authority as chairman of the Sovereign Council even though his Khartoum headquarters have been under siege by the RSF for nearly five months.

On the diplomatic front, these visits – which have likely been made possible thanks to an agreement between the two belligerents allowing him to leave his headquarters – have renewed hopes of a negotiated solution to the crisis.

“By visiting Egypt and South Sudan, albeit briefly, Burhan is showing that he is willing to seek a rapid political solution at a time when several international initiatives are on the table,” said Muhammad Khalifa al-Siddiq, professor of political science at the International University of Africa in Khartoum. “If he thought he could resolve the conflict by military means alone, he would have stayed at home and used all available means to defeat the RSF.”

On the eve of his departure for Egypt, Burhan nevertheless dampened expectations. Speaking to his soldiers, he called on them to focus on the war rather than on discussions. But Siddiq said the speech was designed more to boost troop morale.

“Burhan’s travels signal the beginning of political and diplomatic action,” he said.

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For close observers of the war, Burhan’s trip to South Sudan is particularly symbolic. Since the independence of South Sudan in 2011, Salva Kiir has established himself as the principal mediator for talks with Sudan.

South Sudan understands the complexities of Sudan’s current crisis, said Siddiq.

“It was Juba-sponsored negotiations that led to the historic peace agreement between the Sudanese authorities and several rebel movements in August 2020,” he said.

South Sudan’s key role in shaping whatever peace will look like has also been acknowledged by people in Burhan’s close circle.

“In Sudan, we believe that South Sudan is the best country to mediate the conflict because we have been one country for so long and we know each other. We know the problems and we know what we need,” said Ali al-Sadiq, Sudan’s acting head of diplomacy, according to a statement from the South Sudanese presidency after the meeting between Burhan and Kiir. 

In addition to the regional discussions, and while awaiting news of the intentions of the RSF’s General Dagalo, Burhan is expected to lead his country’s delegation to the annual United Nations General Assembly in September.

The trip to New York could be a significant step forward if Burhan show his intention of stopping the war, said Siddiq.

“He will meet the secretary general of the United Nations and a number of leaders of influential countries and institutions,” he said. “It is hoped that this will lead to the unblocking of specific humanitarian and political issues, as each passing day of war means more victims and more violations.”

The conflict between the two generals has already claimed at least 5,000 lives, according to an estimate by the NGO Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. The UN also estimates that the fighting has left 5.1 million people displaced both inside and outside the country.

This article was adapted from the original in French.