Sudan’s transitional government has signed a peace agreement to end a number of long-standing conflicts and civil wars. USIP’s Susan Stigant says this is a positive sign for democratic progress, as “one of the promises of the revolution was to seek peace,” but cautioned that the real “work only begins once the ink is on the paper.”

On Peace is a weekly podcast sponsored by USIP and Sirius XM POTUS Ch. 124. Each week, USIP experts tackle the latest foreign policy issues from around the world.


Olivier Knox: We're gonna go, as I say, we're gonna go, metaphorically, to Sudan now. Susan Stigant of the U.S. Institute of Peace, USIP, director of Africa programs there. Susan, welcome to the show.

Susan Stigant: Thanks, Olivier. Good morning. Thanks for having me on today.

Olivier Knox: Good morning.

Susan Stigant: I'm excited to be here for the 150th episode of On Peace. So thanks to Sirius XM POTUS for the partnership.

Olivier Knox: Excellent. Well, we're glad to. Pease let me know how badly I butchered your last name.

Susan Stigant: Oh, not not terribly at all. It's Stigant, but I take all forms and iterations.

Olivier Knox: Well, you know, as an Olivier, I can get a little sensitive about named pronunciations.

Susan Stigant: Fully understood.

Olivier Knox: So, let's talk about this peace agreement in Sudan. And, well, let's start with with what was agreed to and by whom.

Susan Stigant: You know, this agreement takes place on the backdrop of the broader transition that's about a year and a half in in Sudan, where the people, young people, women, older people across generations and geographies, really rose up, went to the streets, staged sit-ins, put themselves at risk in order to overthrow Omar al Bashir, who had been in power for 30 years as a brutal dictator and who stands indicted for crimes of genocide, and broader human rights abuses.

And so, the agreement that was reached and signed ultimately this week comes between parties from Darfur, which people will be familiar with, given the genocide that took place there several years back now, as well as some of the more marginalized areas that border with South Sudan. These are long standing civil wars that have been simmering and where violence continues. And a really critical step, one of the one of the promises of the resolution, was to seek peace. And this is a really important step in that direction.

Olivier Knox: Susan, how solid do we think this agreement is?

Susan Stigant: Well, in the peacebuilding world, we say that the peace work only begins once the ink is on the paper. And so in any agreement, the hard work comes in the actual implementation. In this case, I think there are two or three major obstacles, and major next steps that we'll have to take. One, not all of the party signs. And so there are some key groups in an area called the Nuba Mountains that that people may be familiar with in the news. The Nuba Mountains is a place where you have a mix of people who have African and Arab identity, people who are Muslim and Christian, and people who had a promise that they would get some sort of autonomy back 10 years ago, or negotiate the relationship with the central government, and that part has not yet been resolved in the peace agreement. There are also some holdout groups in Darfur, and some of whom hold guns and weapons and power. And so that needs to be addressed. And a second challenge is that this was, like many peace agreements, something that was agreed between a elites, signed in conference rooms, and where communities and the women and the youth, who I talked about earlier in the revolution, they didn't necessarily have a voice. And those are the people who were most impacted by the ongoing violence in the civil war over the years. And they need to be brought into the agreement to define what does peace look like for them, and to ensure that there's a new accountability in their government?

Olivier Knox: Susan, the polls and the anecdotal information I've collected tell me that Americans are increasingly leery of overseas entanglements. Does this agreement require, and do you foresee, any kind of U.S. participation to help usher in the steps that you just listed?

Susan Stigant: Yeah, so I think, you know, the U.S. has made a commitment to continue to support the transition in Sudan. And I think, the way that we talk about why that matters is, that as we look at Sudan, it's really strategically placed. It borders with Libya, to the north, with Egypt, with Chad to the east. And so it's in what we think of as a really bad neighborhood. And there's an opportunity there to work with a partner government that wants to uphold democratic standards, that wants to bring forward the values that are very much in line with the U.S. constitution, I think what the U.S. society sees itself as in the world. So that's an opportunity that's good for U.S. national security. And the other thing that I always try to share with people is that the people who went to the streets, even the people who ended up fighting and using violence, these are people who were seeking freedom.

These are people who were seeking their fundamental rights. And so that's something that I think inspires everybody. It's something that we all aspire to and seek to do better. In terms of actual commitments, you know, there's, the benefit is, that there are a number of other countries who are involved. U.S. partners in Europe are supporting the transition. U.S. partners in the Gulf states are also deeply engaged. And that's an opportunity for the U.S. to think through how to marshal his leadership, and to bring other partners on board to help to drive this forward so the U.S. doesn't have to stand alone in it.

Olivier Knox: Talking to Susan Stigant at the U.S. Institute of Peace, director of Africa programs there. Tweeting @susanstigant. I can't believe I'm going to say this next sentence, but I'm going to, Susan. Some years ago, when I asked George Clooney whether he thought China was ready to be a responsible partner in Darfur and Sudan more broadly, he said he thought it would. Where do we stand now with China's influence in that neighborhood, that bad neighborhood that you described?

Susan Stigant: That's a great story. I'd love to interview you to hear about your conversation with George Clooney. I lived in South Sudan at the time of independence, and so he made several visits there. And I had a couple of opportunities to chat as well.

Olivier Knox: It was one question. It was one question in the White House driveway, Susan. Don't get excited.

Susan Stigant: Okay, well, I'm willing to stretch the truth of you are. You know, China is definitely involved and engaged in Sudan and in South Sudan. China had significant investments and remains part of the oil extraction in South Sudan. And, oil from South Sudan has to flow through Sudan. So while they are two separate countries, they're economically interdependent. And really, the peace and stability of one depends on the other. China actually played, uniquely for China and Chinese foreign policy, played an important role in the negotiations of peace in South Sudan. In being engaged diplomatically, they helped to create incentives and pressures, particularly on the government at times when the talks were really, really stuck. And, so I think it will be interesting to see how that plays out in the case of Sudan.

I would argue, though, that, you know, we're all concerned, and China gets a lot of space in the news in the headlines. When we talk to our colleagues in the Horn of Africa, in Sudan, in Kenya and Uganda. They're equally, if not more, concerned about how the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, how Qatar and the Gulf states interact in their transition. And they want to be sure that the conflict that is ongoing between those states doesn't get mirrored in Sudan and undermine the really hard won gains that they've had in their transitions.

Olivier Knox: It's been a long time, Susan, since I worked at Agence France-Presse, so I'm not as up on my Gulf state influence in Africa, as I once was, what kind of influence, what kind of effect are we talking about from Qatar, from UAE, from Saudi?

Susan Stigant: Yeah, I think, maybe a couple of really clear places that we can see it. One, there's been a proliferation of ports that are being developed along the coast of the Red Sea. And as you know, the Red Sea borders and connects together the Horn of Africa and the Gulf. And there are investments by a range of different Gulf actors in the space. Now, these are economic court infrastructure. But there are questions about security of that port infrastructure and whether the ports could also be used to establish some sort of military presence in base, as is the case in Djibouti. Last year, when Ethiopia and Eritrea signed to their peace agreements, they actually signed the document in Saudi Arabia. And while this is certainly something that was agreed between the Eritreans and the Ethiopians, there was funding that was provided into the central bank in Ethiopia at a time when the economic situation was pretty dire.

And there was sustained diplomatic engagement to drive this forward. And then in the case of Sudan, last year, during the revolution, when things really started to tilt towards some of the security actors, and there was a terrible massacre in the peaceful sit-in, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates worked really closely with the U.S. and with the UK, to make clear what the boundaries were in the transition and to come to agreement that this needed to be a civilian led transition. And there's funding that goes in behind that. Sudanese troops were the ones who, some of the troops who were deployed in Yemen as part of the coalition's efforts. So there's a connection point and various money flows, as well as leverage and diplomatic engagement there.

Olivier Knox: Talking with Susan Stigant, U.S. Institute of Peace director of Africa programs, @susanstigant on Twitter. So let me just then circle back around to sort of try to wrap this up. If you were, let's say, in an airport bar, and someone asked you, an American asked you, why they should care about the developments in Sudan, about this peace deal, about why the United States had a stake in what was going on there, what would you say?

Susan Stigant: Well, I'd say three things. One, we should be inspired by the once-in-a-generation opportunity for people who have suffered some of the greatest ills that humans can do to other humans to shift and to push and to make some hard one change towards a democratic system. That's what they aspire towards, and a democratic, accountable country where citizens and governments have a healthy relationship. We know that's the best recipe for stability and peace. And we know that's good for U.S. national security and for global security overall. So I think there's a clear economic, there's a clear security case, and there's a case for for people who really believe in these values that are enshrined in the U.S. as a society and as a political body.

Olivier Knox: Susan, I'm not sure how separate this issue is, but we had this weird hiccup with Sudan recently, where at one moment they were going to normalize relations with Israel, and the next moment they weren't, and I don't know where we are now. But what is happening with that phenomenon?

Susan Stigant: Yes, and so Sudan remains on the U.S. designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. And this dates back to the previous regime. And there have been court cases in the U.S. that have found that Sudan, the government of Sudan is responsible to compensate victims of bombings, that took place at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in the 1990s. You'll probably remember that from your time and so there's an ongoing court case. A settlement was reached with the victims. However, there have been questions about the fairness of the compensation. And so along the lines of removing Sudan from the state sponsored terrorism list, there have been reports that as a matter of policy...

Olivier Knox: Susan, you're gonna hate me. I wasn't watching my clock, and I'm gonna run out of time. So you're gonna have to come back on the show and explain this to us. Okay?

Susan Stigant: I'd be happy to do that. Thank you so much. I appreciate all your time.

Related Publications

42 Months on, How Does Sudan’s Democracy Movement Endure?

42 Months on, How Does Sudan’s Democracy Movement Endure?

Thursday, October 6, 2022

By: Jawhratelkmal Kanu;  Jonathan Pinckney, Ph.D.

Three and a half years after Sudan’s military deposed the authoritarian ruler, Omar Bashir, in response to massive protests, the current military leadership and divisions among political factions are stalling a return to elected civilian government. This year has brought a deepening economic crisis and violent communal clashes — but also a new wave of nonviolent, grassroots campaigns for a return to democracy. As Sudanese democracy advocates and their international allies seek ways to press the military for that transition, all sides should note, and work to sustain, Sudan’s nonviolent civic action.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & GovernanceNonviolent Action

Sowing the Seeds of Nonviolent Action in Sudan

Sowing the Seeds of Nonviolent Action in Sudan

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

By: Marija Marovic;  Zahra Hayder

From 2013 to 2018, Sudanese civil society actors carved out a variety of civic spaces that laid the foundation for Sudan’s 2018–2019 December Revolution. This report assesses the factors that gave rise to this remarkable mobilization—in particular how civil society development ultimately enabled the Sudanese opposition to sustain a decentralized, nationwide, and robust nonviolent campaign characterized by widespread mass participation, unity of leadership and purpose, and a commitment to nonviolent discipline—and what it will take to keep the country’s democratic transition on track.

Type: Special Report

Nonviolent Action

Darfur after Bashir: Implications for Sudan’s Transition and for the Region

Darfur after Bashir: Implications for Sudan’s Transition and for the Region

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

By: Jérôme Tubiana

This report examines the role of Darfur in Sudan’s domestic politics and international relations since the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir in 2019. It traces how Darfur’s importance has shifted with the growing aspirations and power of Mohamed Hamdan Daglo – more commonly known as Hemetti – and the Rapid Support Forces that he governs. It concludes by examining where Western actors may have leverage to push for both peace in Darfur and civilian rule.

Type: Special Report

Conflict Analysis & PreventionDemocracy & GovernanceGlobal Policy

View All Publications