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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Africa > Horn of Africa > Sudan > Sudan: Preserving Peace in the East

Sudan: Preserving Peace in the East

Africa Report N°209 26 Nov 2013


The situation in Sudan’s forgotten East – without deadly conflict since the 2006 Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement (ESPA) – stands in contrast to the fighting besetting the country’s other peripheries. But this peace is increasingly fragile. Seven years after the ESPA’s signing, the conflict’s root causes remain and in some respects are more acute, due to the failure to implement many of the agreement’s core provisions. Mirroring elsewhere in the country, with no sign of genuine efforts by Khartoum to address the situation, conflict could erupt in the East again and lead to further national fragmentation. All ESPA stakeholders urgently need to reconvene and address the deteriorating situation; the leading signatories need publicly to concede that the promises of the original agreement have not met expectations and reach a consensus on remedial measures.

The ESPA’s failure is another example of Khartoum’s piecemeal approach to resolving conflicts and the divide-and-rule default politics of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). Post-2006, attention and resources rapidly shifted to Darfur and now Blue Nile and South Kordofan. The failure to implement the ESPA, together with NCP machinations, has hopelessly divided – mostly along tribal lines – the Eastern Front (EF), the alliance of armed groups that signed the agreement.

At the same time, continued exploitation of the region’s resources by a centre that shares little is fuelling a secessionist agenda even among the eastern branches of the NCP. Various eastern factions now call for toppling the regime and joining the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), an alliance of essentially southern and Darfur-based rebel groups. Renewed armed conflict is more likely, especially given the spreading war in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur.

Meanwhile, the government is allowing local tribal militias to arm, as communal relations deteriorate. Residents worry that eastern Sudan will become the next Darfur, with conflicts developing between local actors over claims to land and resources, some backed by the state. The trafficking of arms and people attests to a creeping criminalisation of local state structures. Finally, the unpredictable relationship between Sudan and Eritrea and the growing Israeli-Iranian competition around the Red Sea could lead to national, regional and other international actors using aggrieved eastern factions as their military proxies.

Ultimately, the East’s grievances are due to elites’ decades-long failure to achieve national consensus on how the country should be governed and to build an inclusive and peaceful state. As Sudan prepares to write a new constitution, a truly comprehensive national mechanism – as Crisis Group has recommended in its last three Sudan reports: Sudan: Major Reform or More War; Sudan’s Spreading Conflict (I): War in South Kordofan; and Sudan’s Spreading Conflict (II): War in Blue Nile – is needed that addresses the core questions of its identity, governance, wealth and power sharing.


To address increasing communal tensions and growing insecurity

To the government of Sudan, the NCP and the Eastern Front (EF):

1.  Convene the Consultative Conference on the Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement (CCESPA) to provide a forum for all stakeholders to discuss the failure to implement the ESPA and propose recommendations to correct this.

2.  Establish an independent review process to address perceived shortcomings in the original program of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of EF combatants.

3.  Establish the Panel of Experts under the National Civil Service Commission (NCSC) to determine the representation of eastern Sudanese people in the National Civil Service, identify imbalances and recommend practical measures to redress them.

4.  Fulfil financial obligations to the Eastern Sudan Reconstruction and Development Fund (ESRDF); establish effective anti-corruption mechanisms to ensure a transparent and accountable disbursement of development funds; include local stakeholders in decision-making, management and monitoring of projects; establish development priorities; and improve basic services, especially in war affected areas.

5.  Allow immediate international access to South Tokar to assess the humanitarian situation.

To the UN, European Union and neighbouring states:

6.  Support the convening of CCESPA; promote local efforts for tribal reconciliation in all eastern states; and encourage the engagement of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s (IGAD) national Governmental Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN) with state and tribal authorities.

7.  Support the national and local authorities in undertaking an independent review to address perceived shortcomings of the original program for DDR of EF combatants.

8.  Call on the government to allow immediate humanitarian access to South Tokar.

9.  Support credible national and regional efforts, in line with international standards, to combat arms and human trafficking.

To initiate a meaningful national dialogue and transition

To the government of Sudan:

10.  Bring the NCP, the SRF, other opposition forces and civil society groups, as well as the EF and other Eastern parties, together in an arrangement to govern for a limited period with well-defined parameters (based on agreed principles reiterated in previous agreements) that is intended to lead first to a comprehensive ceasefire and humanitarian access to conflict areas; and allow the political forces to flesh out a roadmap for a durable peace process, perhaps taking the 28 June 2011 framework agreement and the 24 April 2013 Africa Union High-Level Implementation Panel draft Declaration of Common Intent as a basis for discussion of a national transition that includes:

a) debate and agreement on a system of governance that can end the conflicts between the “centre-Khartoum” and Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as the growing grievances in the East and North; and

b) drafting of a permanent constitution.

To the UN Security Council, AU Peace and Security Council, Council of the League of Arab States, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea:

11.  Demand and work for a single, comprehensive solution to Sudan’s multiple crises in a process that runs in parallel with the negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan but is not conditioned on them; and coordinate the two tracks so as to prevent obstacles in one delaying or derailing the other.

Nairobi/Brussels, 26 November 2013
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