Diplomacy Now – Edition 11, March 2024 – ‘The Forgotten Wars’

As the carnage in Gaza and territorial losses in Ukraine make global headlines, both recent and long-standing wars in Africa and the Middle East show no signs of abating and continue to have devastating consequences for civilians. In Africa, where too many armed conflicts continue to rage, the African Union (AU) has failed to make headway in some of the deadliest wars on the continent: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, and the Sahel to name a few. The AU has made serious efforts in the last decade to develop a full fledged architecture for the prevention and management of conflict, however, that is so far yet to produce tangible results. Its performance has continued to be mixed.
The African Union is still struggling with how to work with subregional organizations who take the lead role in their subregions even when their performance is weak and marred by national political interests. The AU continues to struggle with inconsistent funding and resources (provided largely by the European Union), and political divisions and lack of political will among its member states. This situation has meant that mediators, often from outside of the region, who are part of the problem, have taken leading roles in conflicts like Sudan and Libya.
Furthermore, the democratic backsliding and military coups in West Africa and the Sahel have raised additional challenges for the AU and subregional organizations attempting to mediate conflicts and political crises. The political developments in Senegal have shown that democracy remains fragile even in countries where there is a long democratic tradition.
The March edition of Diplomacy Now, titled ‘The Forgotten Wars’ focuses on long-standing conflicts from Africa to Yemen. Our authors explore why international and regional actors have failed to mediate these conflicts and the consequences of the backsliding of democracy in places like Senegal. We also feature an article on the ongoing crisis in the Red Sea that has brought the United States and United Kingdom into armed conflict with the Houthis in Yemen and its ties to the ongoing conflict in Gaza.
While the articles in this edition explore the crisis of mediation, on both international and regional levels, there is some cause for hope in Sudan. While international mediation has been failing, and no progress has been made since the war began, a local all-Sudanese initiative in Darfur has been remarkably successful. Drawing on long-standing traditional mediation structures, the North Darfur Elders Mediation Commission, has negotiated with the Sudanese Armed Forces, the Rapid Support Forces, and other armed groups known as the Joint Forces of Darfur Movements, to protect civilians and ensure access to humanitarian aid. While the structure has faced challenges, it offers a model in a conflict where international mediators and regional bodies have failed, that could be used throughout Sudan and perhaps elsewhere in the region.
As with every edition the views expressed by these authors are not all necessarily our own. However, ICDI remains committed to the ethos and philosophy that open debate, dialogue, diplomacy, and mediation, rather than armed conflict and war, offer the way forward to resolving any conflict.

Thank you for following Diplomacy Now. We hope you will continue to follow our leading analysis on mediation in 2024 and welcome your feedback at diplomacynow@dialogueinitiatives.org.

Jamal Benomar
Chair of ICDI 

The African Union and its Peacemaking Paralysis

After last month’s AU summit Liesl Louw-Vaudran, explores the body’s failure to make headway in some of the continent’s worst conflicts, such as the wars in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia, to name a few. Louw-Vaudran outlines the reasons for this – “institutional weakness,” “bureaucracy,” lack of finance to send mediators to conflict zones, delays in donor funding and “competition between member states,” which was one of the reasons the body was cut out of Sudan negotiations.

But with the ongoing crisis in UN peacekeeping in Africa, and plans in the works to give the AU a new leading role, consensus and strengthening institutions has become much more important. “Despite the AU’s current problems, it may soon be required to step in and organize military deployments as big UN peacekeeping missions on the continent are withdrawing. That makes the need for improvements to the AU’s structures in Addis Ababa even more urgent,” writes Louw-Vaudran.

Local Mediation Leads the Way in Darfur

In El Fasher, North Darfur, elders and dignitaries have mobilized to negotiate with the warring Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and other armed groups to protect civilians and ensure access to humanitarian aid. Drawing on traditional mediation structures, the North Darfur Elders Mediation Committee (EMC), has succeeded where international actors and regional bodies like the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have failed, according to a report by the Sudan Transparency and Policy Tracker (STPT). “Local mediation efforts like that in El Fasher have presented a glimmer of hope for peace in Sudan even as national efforts with regional support founder,” the report says. “This offers lessons both for similar local mediation initiatives that have come to encompass all other Darfur states, West and North Kordofan and further afield.”

Drawing on the example of the EMC, STPT argues that the initiative could be used at a national level. “Local communities have a unique ability to understand and analyze conflicts, actors, and interests, and possess a vast reservoir of local sensitivity that is difficult for external parties to match. This constitutes a crucial asset for mediation efforts and conflict resolution.”

“Mediation efforts entail real risks to the participants, but can be mitigated to some extent by community trust. Therefore, it is critically important to ensure mediation work is inclusiveness to reinforce legitimacy, and through it, protection,” they add.

No War, No Peace: Yemen’s Ceasefire in Choppy Waters

Yemen expert Gabriele vom Bruck, explores the current crisis in the Red Sea that has brought the United States and the United Kingdom into battle with the Houthis. She traces Yemen’s long history of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and suggests that the attacks on US and UK shipping vessels are a means through which the Houthis are attempting to gain regional legitimacy.

“The attacks, declared as a jihad by the Houthi leader, have served to mark regional fault lines more poignantly and solidified the Houthis’ position in the so called “Axis of Resistance.” In parts of the Middle East their campaign has gained them kudos for being the only Arab leadership that has acted against Israel’s retaliatory assault of Gaza, and for standing up against the US and Britain for providing arms and diplomatic cover to Israel,” vom Bruck writes. “While the struggle for power in Yemen is ongoing, the Houthis seek to legitimize themselves domestically and regionally by defending the rights of those widely regarded as having been wronged.”

US missile strikes have been unable to stop the attacks, putting the United States in a difficult position in the Red Sea.

“If the US were to hit targets deep inside Yemen and/or engage its Special Forces, Houthi forces (who claim to be in possession of hypersonic missiles) could retaliate by either focusing more strongly on hitting US ships or resuming attacks on neighboring countries that are still occupying parts of Yemen. Such an exacerbation and an increase in civilian deaths due to US / UK military operations would serve to mobilize an enraged population and nurture the Houthis’ victimhood narrative, and possibly provoke them to use their sea drones which Ukraine has recently used successfully to strike Russian ships,” vom Bruck writes.

Political Turmoil in Senegal

Babacar Ndiaye, a Senegalese analyst with the West African Think Tank (WATHI) takes us through three years of jailing opposition leaders and undermining democracy under the regime of president Macky Sall. After fiercely opposed attempts to delay elections, and a Constitutional Council ruling, Sall finally had to concede to elections being held in April and the release of Ousmane Sonko, his main opponent from prison.

“The postponement of this year’s election is thus worrisome given Senegal’s reputation as a beacon of democracy in a region that, since 2000, has seen an uptick in coups, with countries like Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and even Guinea under transitional military governments,” Ndiaye writes. “Even at its most difficult moments, Senegal has always found a way to preserve its tradition of democracy, and in this current and crucial sequence of political events, it has done so once again. The Constitutional Council proved both its courage and sense of responsibility. The judicial body stepped in, as it needed to, and ensured that the Constitution be respected.”

But does that mean Senegal, West Africa’s celebrated democracy is out of the woods? Ndiaye is not so sure, and as results from the polls come in on Sunday he is waiting to see.

“We can only hope that the March 24 election proceeds peacefully and transparently, and that the next president can open a new chapter in Senegal’s democratic history,” he concludes.

Sudan Conflict Fact Sheet

Diplomacy Now has launched a series of’ explainers’ on the conflicts it covers that outlines, history to the conflict, parties to the conflict, internal dynamics, international actors influencing the state of the conflict, mediation initiatives and ongoing diplomatic efforts. This month ICDI’s Ismail Jamai Ait Hmitti authored our first explainer/fact sheet of the ongoing conflict in Sudan.

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Nelson Mandela

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