Last week, the voices of a burgeoning African civil society were heard loud and clear on the topic of Sudan. In the lead up to the African Union (AU) Summit, around 100 civil society leaders from within Sudan, South Sudan, and across Africa, as well as a few westerners like myself, came together in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the Civil Society Forum on Sudan and South Sudan.
As an activist and analyst based in the United States, I rely heavily on the voices on the ground in areas where United to End Genocide engages. The Civil Society Forum was an invaluable chance to hear many of those voices and to test the assumptions behind the message we bring to the U.S. government and international community. From the stirring videos and testimonies of women facing abuses in Khartoum to the pleas of activists advocating on behalf of stateless persons in Sudan, it was an opportunity to hear stories that rarely make it to the mainstream media.
From the discussions it was clear that the humanitarian crisis in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile were a priority. Indeed, many of the participants had joined some 350 other African groups in signing a letter calling on the AU to make South Kordofan and Blue Nile a priority at the Summit.
But several other topics were also discussed, reflected in a series of resolutions that were submitted to the AU ahead of its high-level meetings on Sudan and South Sudan:
- The Situation in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile;
- Armed Militias in Sudan;
- Status of Stateless Persons in Sudan;
- Human Rights in South Sudan;
- UN-AU Operation in Darfur;
- Report of AU High-Level Panel on Darfur;
- Situation in Darfur;
- Critical Situation of Women in Sudan and South Sudan;
- Civil Rights and Political Freedoms in Sudan;
- Situation in Abyei. Ultimately, all of the topics discussed reflected the need for governmental reform at the center of Sudan, a goal many of the participants were taking great pains to bring forward.
The resulting Communiqué released by the AU reflected many of these core concerns shared by the civil society, but left plenty unaddressed. The AU used some of its strongest language yet to push for resolution of the crisis in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, expressing “grave concern” and calling for a Cessation of Hostilities Agreement that would facilitate humanitarian access and create a monitoring mechanism. It gives Sudan and South Sudan two months to complete negotiations over key issues like the status of Abyei and border demarcation.
However, the communiqué did not include any consequences for non-compliance, nor did it refer the humanitarian crisis or key remaining Sudan-South Sudan issues to the UN Security Council. This leaves the negotiating process open to the same delays that the Government of Sudan has been carrying out for months.
As negotiations and abuses continue it will be vital for the world to support a growing civil society within Sudan and South Sudan, but to remember to listen and reflect their voices. As one of the participants, a leading voice in African civil society put it, “We need to speak with them, not for them.”