Tuesday 21 January 2020
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Sudan: Navigating crisis and opportunity: The peacekeeping transition in Darfur

Source: International Peace Institute Country: Sudan
by Daniel Forti Executive Summary In the face of evolving security dynamics and geopolitical pressures, the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) and the UN Security Council initiated the withdrawal of the AU-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) in 2017. This transition is a uniquely complex undertaking. This is in part because UNAMID is a hybrid peacekeeping operation, is not integrated with the UN country team (UNCT) headquartered in Khartoum, and has historically had weak support from the government. The transition also confronts difficult humanitarian, security, and economic conditions in Darfur, where violence is ongoing and many underlying drivers of conflict remain unaddressed. Because of these conditions, the transition began before a comprehensive peace agreement—the central pillar of the mission’s exit strategy—could be achieved. To mitigate these difficult circumstances, the UN and AU’s initial concept for the transition focused on a “whole-of-system” approach. This concept placed peacebuilding at its center and prioritized collaboration between the mission and UNCT on planning and decision making. Central to this collaboration were the state liaison functions, an innovative model whereby UNAMID officials collocate in the offices of various UN agencies to undertake joint programming. As UNAMID reduced its footprint in Darfur, the mission and UNCT also pursued new avenues to protect civilians and monitor human rights. These largely programmatic efforts progressed further than the political and security aspects of the transition. On top of an already complex transition process, a nationwide political crisis erupted in Sudan following protests beginning in December 2018 and the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir several months later. This tested the UN and AU’s ability to adapt the transition to changing conditions and led to a temporary pause in the mission’s drawdown. Following months of uncertainty, the Sudanese adopted a new constitutional declaration and inaugurated a three-year power-sharing government in August 2019. These momentous changes present a unique opportunity for the Sudanese people to pursue a comprehensive peace agreement. As Sudan embarks into this new transitional period with a sense of cautious optimism, so too do the UN and AU enter a new stage of the peacekeeping transition. Darfur’s deep structural challenges—especially those related to protecting civilians, respecting human rights, and providing basic services—will persist well beyond the mission’s exit. While the AU and the UN can help address these challenges, they should not lose sight of the significant investments needed to adapt the transition to the new political reality while ensuring it is effective and sustainable. To this end, their efforts should focus on five broad priorities: Strengthening political engagement between the UNSC and AUPSC: The two councils’ political engagement in Sudan is imperative for the success both of the peacekeeping transition and of Sudan’s governance transition. To sustain this engagement, the councils need internal political unity as well as aligned strategies. Translating the joint political strategy into an effective follow-on presence: The AU and UN need to ensure the primacy of any follow-on presence’s political mandate, which should be reinforced by all other aspects of its work. In designing a new presence, they will need to consider whether to maintain a Security Council–authorized mission, whether to expand its focus beyond Darfur, and how to divide up the work. Reinforcing the transition concept: The mission and UNCT should reinforce joint planning efforts and strengthen national ownership over the transition process. They should also scale up peacebuilding work, identify opportunities for new actors to complement ongoing initiatives, and focus on questions of long-term sustainability. Integrating human rights and protection into all areas of work: The UN and AU should integrate protection and human rights into their political engagement at the national and subnational levels, continue prioritizing efforts to strengthen justice and the rule of law, explore new approaches to early warning, and accelerate planning for the security transition. Sustaining international attention and financial support: To avoid a financial cliff after the mission leaves, the UN and AU should consider how they can make funding more predictable and streamlined. The international community also needs to sustain political engagement on the mission’s transition and in Darfur more generally. UNAMID’s drawdown and reconfiguration are the first of many complex peacekeeping transitions the international community will need to manage over the coming years. UNAMID’s exit strategy, drawdown, and reconfiguration may offer lessons these future transitions could learn from.


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