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Leadership Crisis in Sudan’s Armed Opposition Fueling Ethnic Tensions, Impeding Aid Access, Threatening Peace Efforts

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Leadership Crisis in Sudan’s Armed Opposition Fueling Ethnic Tensions, Impeding Aid Access, Threatening Peace Efforts

Posted by Enough Team on July 20, 2017

New Report Calls on SPLM-N to Urgently Address Ethnic Violence and Humanitarian Conditions Resulting from its Leadership Divisions

A report published today by the Enough Project warns that the worsening political divide among leaders of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), one of Sudan’s main armed opposition movements, is exacerbating communal tensions and the humanitarian crisis in areas under SPLM-N control in Blue Nile and South Kordofan (known as the “Two Areas”).

The report, A Question of Leadership: Addressing a Dangerous Crisis in Sudan’s SPLM-N,” by Enough Project Senior Advisor Dr. Suliman Baldo, calls for immediate action by the divided SPLM-N leaders and the international community to address the rift.

Dr. Suliman Baldo, report author and Senior Advisor at the Enough Project, said: “What began as an internal political crisis among opposition leaders now threatens to undermine peace negotiations with the Sudanese government, compromise desperately needed humanitarian aid, and unleash dangerous military dynamics that could bring more suffering and death. These divisions have already led to ethnic polarization and violent intercommunal conflicts in areas under the control of the movement in Blue Nile state. Refugees fleeing the conflict in Blue Nile to South Sudan are now caught in the crossfire of intercommunal clashes and confrontations among opposing units of the movement’s army. Each of these ominous signs heightens the urgency for the convening of SPLM-N’s National Convention, the body empowered to designate a fully mandated new leadership for the movement. The new leadership must rapidly deploy to address the current risks to the prospects of lasting peace and democratic transformation in Sudan and to populations in areas controlled by the movement.”

John Prendergast, Founding Director at the Enough Project, said: “Regional and international actors with influence should engage constructively, and not remain on the sidelines, in this SPLM-N dispute. External actors should actively encourage both of these opposition factions to resolve their differences in ways that would spare their constituencies the worst risks, address the worsening humanitarian situation in the Two Areas, and reinvigorate talks with the Sudanese government that can result in a lasting and just peace for all Sudanese people.”

Baldo said: “The SPLM-N leaders must address the deadly violence their own personal disputes have unleashed. They can prove their leadership by allowing an independent human rights investigation into the circumstances that led to the fighting between units of the movement’s army in Blue Nile and to intercommunal violence among refugees in Doro and Gendrassa camps in late May. All those identified by such an investigation as responsible for the violence should be held to account.”

The report notes that the SPLM-N has served in recent years as a militarily and politically strong and cohesive core of the Sudanese armed opposition coalition.

Baldo added: “The resignation of Abdel-Aziz El-Hilu, the deputy chairman of the SPLM-N, in early March laid bare the political weaknesses of the movement. These include glaring gaps in its framing documents, lack of properly empowered institutional bodies, and differences over the strategic objectives among the tripartite leadership. In early June, the regionally-based Nuba Mountains/South Kordofan Liberation Council dismissed SPLM-N Chairman Malik Agar and appointed his deputy Abdel-Aziz El-Hilu as the interim chairman charged with convening the movement’s national convention. This followed the Council’s earlier dismissal of SPLM-N Secretary-General Yasir Arman. The two disputed leaders rejected these decisions and described the move as a coup d’état driven by narrow ethnic motivations.”

• Click here for the full report.

• Click here for the full report in Arabic.


The report lays out recommendations to reverse the current trends and increase the chances for positive outcomes from this leadership crisis:

To the fractured leadership:

  • Instruct all forces under your command to immediately stop the violence in all areas, including the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile state, and the refugee camps in South Sudan.
  • Launch immediate investigations into reported incidents of attacks on civilians in SPLM-N areas to identify those responsible for such attacks and to hold perpetrators accountable.
  • Authorize independent human rights investigations into the violence.
  • Authorize unfettered humanitarian access to areas under your control to conduct needs assessments and to identify, with local humanitarian actors, the mechanisms for the delivery of aid to those most in need.
  • Facilitate the work of local initiatives for community peace building that have independently helped to contain the escalation of violence in the refugee camps and SPLM-N areas in Blue Nile and which are helping to maintain societal peace in the Nuba Mountains.

To those working to address the underlying political issues:

The convening of the SPLM-N National Convention to resolve the constitutional and institutional issues at the origin of the recent tensions should aim to result in the following:

  • The adoption of an SPLM-N manifesto with a clear vision, mission, and objectives.
  • An agreement on a revised SPLM-N Constitution.
  • The reconstitution of the SPLM-N’s governing bodies and clarification of their respective mandates.
  • The adoption of a document or statement outlining strategy and tactics on multiple issues, including self-rule and self-determination.
  • An agreement on a strategy for the humanitarian negotiations.
  • Last, but not least, the mandating of an independent investigation into the deadly violence that occurred following the leadership dispute, and holding those responsible for it to account.

To regional and international actors:

  • Engage constructively with multiple parties to the divisions; do not remain on the sidelines in this crisis.
  • Support local peacemaking efforts by civil society groups in the Two Areas.
  • Actively encourage both SPLM-N factions to resolve their differences peacefully.
  • Consider providing logistical support if asked to enable the timely convening of the SPLM-N National Convention.
  • Promote leadership that responds to and represents broad constituent interests.
  • Assist humanitarian actors present in the Two Areas in addressing the urgent humanitarian needs of populations affected by the recent violence and reported shortages of food and medical supplies.

• Click here for the full report.

• Click here for the full report in Arabic.

For media inquiries or interview requests, please contact: Greg Hittelman, Director of Communications, +1 310 717 0606, [email protected].

ABOUT THE ENOUGH PROJECT – an anti-atrocity policy group
The Enough Project supports peace and an end to mass atrocities in Africa’s deadliest conflict zones. Together with its investigative initiative The Sentry, Enough counters armed groups, violent kleptocratic regimes, and their commercial partners that are sustained and enriched by corruption, criminal activity, and the trafficking of natural resources. By helping to create consequences for the major perpetrators and facilitators of atrocities and corruption, Enough seeks to build leverage in support of peace and good governance. Enough conducts research in conflict zones, engages governments and the private sector on potential policy solutions, and mobilizes public campaigns focused on peace, human rights, and breaking the links between war and illicit profit. Learn more – and join us – at