With little fanfare President Omar Al-Bashir announced late last month a permanent ceasefire in the two areas of South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. "I announce from Kadugli here an extension of the ceasefire until peace is achieved," the president said in a public rally. For more than two years the two areas have been enjoying unilateral ceasefires as Khartoum takes the initiative to announce one that is reciprocated by rebel groups, but without entering into a formal ceasefire.
Though announcing a ceasefire till peace is achieved amounts to a permanent declaration, yet it suffers from the same problem: It is unilateral and more important it was not followed by a concerted effort that opens the way for a political settlement that addresses the root causes that led to resorting to arms in the first place.
Clearly this initiative was lost in the events gripping Khartoum, which is trying to find a way to deal with a two-month of continuous anti-government demonstrations. Last month saw a slipping away of a possibility to push forward for peace in Darfur. Hopes were high that this time could be different following a German involvement to mediate between the government and two Darfur rebel groups and engage in talks along the Doha peace agreement, but following the outbreak of demonstration the rebel groups announced that they will postpone their participation for the time being.
The failure to settle the dispute in the far away war zones led eventually to Khartoum being crippled by political inability to stand up to challenges. This is not something new. Twice before in the history of Sudan the failure to tackle problems of the civil war in south Sudan before led eventually to a political change in the center of power in Khartoum in 1964 and 1985.
But that relates to the armed fight going on for years. What the demonstrations revealed now is that unlike in the past, social unrest broke this time in Damazin before moving to Atbara and eventually to Khartoum. So it is the country side that was taking the lead this time. And this is a new dimension that should be taken into account in addition to the fact that most of the participants are among the age group of a younger generation with girls and women representing the bulk and taking the lead,
Though the rebel groups did not reciprocate the government's unilateral permanent ceasefire, but it was interesting to note that all rebel groups have supported the peaceful anti-government demonstrations. This represents a stark deviation from what happened during the popular uprising of 1985. Then the SPLA, which was fighting the government refused to lay down arms because it was suspicious and was harboring its own agenda, that stand helped in undermining the nascent change towards democracy and created a conducive environment for the coming third coup.
However, this supportive position from rebel groups falls short of what could be done, namely denouncing resorting to violence and arms to effect political change. The mere fact that ceasefires have been holding for more than two years, though they were unilateral shows clearly that there is no future for resorting to arms and it is high time for those in that camp to throw their full weight behind the peaceful movement for change and to break the impasse of state of no war, no peace.
The government has adopted a new strategy of playing a more active role regionally as demonstrated in the involvement of peace talks in South Sudan and Central African Republic. That was seen as a prerequisite for Sudan to engage with western powers. Six weeks after the South Sudan peace deal was signed Washington agreed to engage in the dialogue to lift the name of Sudan from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism and Eldredeiry Mohamed Ahmed became the first Sudanese foreign minister to visit Paris in a decade.
It remains to be seen whether such breakthroughs still holding after two months of anti-government demonstrations and the concerns expressed by western powers regarding the way the government has been dealing with these demonstrations. The answer lies more inside Sudan than in foreign capitals. There is no more time left to waste or buy, but a pressing need for a substantive breakthrough and turn the current crisis into an opportunity.