In a clear signal of shift in the international perception of issues of war and peace in Sudan the UNAMID chief called on the UNSC to consider imposing sanctions on Darfur rebel Abdel Wahid Mohamed Nur, leader of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA).
The UNAMID head and chief mediator Jeremiah Mamabolo told the 15-member UN influential body that, “I urged the Council to consider stem action against SLA leader because, from all accounts, he prefers belligerence and armed struggle to the cessation of hostilities and a political process.”
His request was supported by the Ethiopian Ambassador Taye Atske Selassie, who went a step further to include other rebel groups adding that the "Darfur rebel groups show no meaningful interest in ensuring peace in Darfur…They are amassing huge benefits from criminal activities in neighboring states and have no real incentive to pursue peace," Selassie stressed in reference to the reports by the UN panel of experts on Darfur about their participation in the Libyan and South Sudan civil wars.
The remarks of the Ethiopian ambassador are not significant only because of the weight of his country, which hosts the African Union in its capital, but more because is championing for regional peace out of direct engagement. Addis Ababa has extended an olive branch to its arch foe Eritrea as well as to Somalia, a move that has put the region onto a new mood of peace and reconciliation. That has an indirect impact on the push for a South Sudan peace deal, which is still holding.
This development makes a significant journey since former US Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Donald Booth broke the taboo of not criticizing rebel groups, who have been occupying the high moral ground for long. He told audience at the US Peace Institute back in January of last year in the closing days of Obama administration that, “"I have found that some of the leaders of the Sudanese opposition, especially those with guns, are more than willing to ignore the interests and well-being of ordinary civilians, in favour of their own political ambitions".
The UNSC may lead the way in imposing some sanctions that may be symbolic like revoking visa or freezing assets, though some are skeptical citing the case of Abdel Wahid himself, who manages to stay in Paris without a permit. However, such steps, if taken, will be important as they will be sending a signal to the region to follow suit and restrict the ability of these groups to move around.
Yet as making some progress on the military front against the rebel movements does not mean the issue is closed, equally branding those outcast and sending them into a diplomatic cold will not wipe the issue away from the table.
And that is where the government needs to move on and quickly to utilize such conducive climate to forge ahead with a sustainable peace.
The root causes lie in underdevelopment and feeling rightly or wrongly that these regions are marginalized in all aspects. Resorting to arms is intended first to attract attention and then to redress that imbalance. However, using bullets as the ultimate tool to achieve peaceful goals and sometimes against the interests of those in whose names guns were raised as in the case of blocking humanitarian aid requires rethinking the whole issue.
By their very nature regional and international organizations are slow to act and when they do there is no guarantee that their decisions will be respected and implemented. Enforcing those decisions depends to a large extent on the willingness of those countries to implement them, who may or may not have different agenda.
And that brings the issue back home and how the government can make use of this turn around and how quickly it can act.
Historical as well as recent experiences have shown clearly that things don’t remain in the mode of stand-still for long. Failure to grasp an opportunity will simply lead it to slipping away and potentially opening the way for a counter development.
Sudan is about to enter a presidential and parliamentary elections in two years and that provides a good chance to exert good effort to make a breakthrough and achieve peace before then, thus pave the way for a more credible, inclusive elections that will provide a base for a political and socio-economic stability.
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