Four decades ago, Marina Peter, a German expert on intercultural education and a teacher of German language and history, did not know much about Sudan, except for its hot weather and its refugees. However, after she got a job with a German agency working in Sudan, she began an experience that would make her one of the most renowned experts in the world who have a love for Sudan, both its north and south sides. On 8 September 2023, a day of solidarity with Sudan was organised in Sweden, in which Marina Peter presented a paper titled “Possibilities for Peace in Sudan”. She was kind enough to share the paper with me and agreed for me to translate and publish it.
Marina says, “My first visit to Sudan and my first direct encounters with the wonderful people of Sudan were at the end of 1986 – nearly four decades ago. Already, by then, I thought the situation could not get worse, with the very hot and dry, in parts inhuman climate; the poverty, the hunger, the displacement; with people in Darfur just trying to deal with the aftermath of the terrible famine of 1983; with the Sharia laws, the many human rights abuses; with the war in South Sudan and parts of the Nuba Mountains, in Blue Nile and in Eastern Sudan and with IDPs struggling for survival in camps on dump sites in the capital, etc., but unfortunately matters became worse after the coup by the National Islamic Front in 1989.”
“When, in 2005, the peace agreement with South Sudan was signed, Darfur was already set into flames by the Sudanese army, and the ethnic militias that were allied with it. As for the elites, they continued plundering the wealth of the country, be it gold, oil or fertile land, without giving any attention to the lives of the people. Instead, they aligned with the interests of outside players to take their share of the wealth or to pursue their own military-strategic goal,” she noted.
Peter added, “What was new, this time, was that the war reached the country’s capital with unthinkable violence and brutality, in addition to the speed at which the country was being destroyed. The situation in the world today makes it unlikely that peace will prevail in Sudan soon. On the contrary, I fear the worst is yet to come, and we would all better prepare for it. There are reasons for my pessimistic view, including:
Any military confrontations, if not resolved in the first days or weeks, will continue for a long time. With every passing day of Sudan’s war, the chances of reaching a ceasefire diminish.
The longer the conflict lasts, the more the number of armed actors increases, and the more they fall out of the control of their central leadership. They begin to act like bandits, with some trying to settle old scores over resources in a particular area. With the Rapid Support Forces, soldiers from Chad, Mali, Niger and Libya are fighting, and they may want to stay forever because war is what they make their money from. What they all have in common is their complete disregard for any law or human rights.
The war has become increasingly tribal in nature and, by abusing the pretext of tribal/ethnic discrimination, both the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces are trying to mobilise and recruit civilians who see the horizon blocked before them.
Anyone who believes that sustainable peace can only be achieved through an agreement between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces is completely wrong. It is true that all armed groups must be part of ceasefire mechanisms and peace-building efforts, but they should never be part of any new political settlement. This must be negotiated, agreed upon and implemented by Sudanese civilians in a comprehensive process, no matter how long it takes.
The longer the war lasts, the more likely it is to expand and spread to other regions of the country and beyond. Sooner or later, regional and international players will openly support one side of the fight. Without these people removing their hands from Sudan, the Sudanese state will inevitably collapse, bearing in mind that the entire region is already vulnerable to explosion.
All current initiatives, international and regional, run in parallel and compete on equal terms, leaving room for the armed forces to play their own games. If there is a sincere interest in a peaceful future for Sudan, the international community must agree on just one platform, which must include Sudanese civilians from the beginning.
Sudan is suffering a terrible drain of intellectuals and activists and, for older migrants, this is the second, third or fourth time they have been forced to leave their homes. Traumas that were already significant in the past, including the violence used during and after the peaceful revolution, are now even more profound. What these traumas can cause, and how difficult it is to build a country in which people have deep psychological breaks, can be seen in the sad case of South Sudan, for example.
Now, taking all of the above into consideration, are there any prospects for peace in Sudan? Of course, nothing lasts forever. We are all slaves to hope, as Desmond Tutu once said. Surrender is never an option, and there are so many great Sudanese people continuing to work for peace; the elderly, and especially the youth, the backbone of the peaceful December revolution, are doing their best at this moment, once again, to help their fellow citizens in any way they can. They are all the ones who will find the solution and, the sooner they do, the less interference there will be from outsiders that have their own agendas. It is also important that outsiders stop asking Sudanese civil forces to speak with one voice.
How on earth should they do this, and why?
Just imagine asking all kinds of different people in Sweden or Germany to speak with one voice, otherwise you would not be able to deal with them! It will never work, and there is absolutely no need to do so. Just help Sudanese civil groups meet, discuss and make their voices heard and help all local reconciliation and peace-building efforts, wherever possible and be patient, even when hosting refugees.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabiya on Sunday, 17 September, 2023.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.