Beyond False Dichotomies in Debates on Migration

Is there really an inherent conflict between pursuing national interests and acting in globally responsible ways on migration?

We call for a debate that moves beyond an artificial dichotomy between the “headless heart” and the “heartless head”. A good start would be to acknowledge the salience and value of binding international agreements, regarding refugees and other migrants.

Photo: ResoluteSupportMedia / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Since 2015, debates about migration in Europe have increasingly been dominated by voices urging to avoid that our hearts rule our heads on migration policy. Often, these calls have explicitly referenced the ongoing humanitarian crisis at Europe’s borders, where people continue to drown at sea. In the Scandinavian context, a concern for the future of welfare states is often connected to an alleged need for stricter policy on immigration. However, the dichotomy between a “headless heart” and a “heartless head” , as advocated by Paul Collier, among others, contributes neither to informed debate, nor to realistic policy. On the occasion of the World Refugee Day, we argue for the need to go beyond such simple dichotomies and instead consider both national interests and states international responsibilities in migration policy.Read More

Crisis in Sudan: Who Can Unlock the Current Impasse?

Since the eruption of the Sudanese popular uprising on 19th December 2018, the protesters have made history.

Not only have they unseated one of the longest serving dictators on the continent, Omer El Bashir, their determination and persistence have stunned the world and inspired uprising in other African countries.

Sudanese protesters chanting. Photo: M. Saleh / Wikipedia / CCBY-SA 4.0

This uprising is changing the Sudanese political marketplace every day, and is providing much-needed optimism for the new dawn in Sudan after 30 years of misrule through political Islam. The African Union and the international community are in support of the call by the protesters for the Transitional Military Council (TMC) to transfer power peacefully to the civilian transitional government.

Despite this optimism, the uprising in Sudan reached boiling point on the 3rd of June. In a violent crackdown on protesters and sit-inners, which was led – directly or indirectly – by the TMC, more than 100 people were brutally killed, more were injured, and many have been arrested. Some described this incident as the massacre of the Sudanese National Army Headquarters. The African Union, the United Nations and the international community have condemned this violent attack on peaceful demonstrators and called for a thorough investigation. Amnesty International has called on the international community to impose sanctions on members of the TMC responsible for the deadly attack on innocent and sleeping protestors.

What is very disheartening is the timing of this violent attack against the peaceful protesters who have inspired the world with their civility and persistence, qualities that have undoubtedly contributed to cleansing the ugly image of Sudan created by three decades of misrule under the agenda of political Islam.

The attack came at a time of optimism, when the TMC and protesters were about to conclude an agreement on the composition and leadership of the transitional ceremonial sovereign council.

Furthermore, the timing of the attack was unreligious as it coincided with the last days of the holy month of Ramadan, when the Sudanese and protesters wanted to enjoy and celebrate the festival of breaking the fast: Eid al-Fitr. This deadly attack on protesters raises many questions about the motives of the TMC, the future of the uprisings, and prospects for unlocking the impasse.

After the brutal massacre on the 3rd of June, the TMC and the Sudanese opposition have almost reached the point of refusing to meet with each other again. The TMC cancelled the previous agreements on transitional arrangements and called for general elections in nine months. The opposition on the other hand suspended talks with the TMC and called for general strike and mass disobedience with the intention of forming its civilian transitional government without the TMC.

The extreme positions of the TMC and the Sudanese opposition led some observers to paint a pessimistic picture of the Sudanese uprising’s future, evoking the 2011 Tahrir Square revolution in Egypt and the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in China. Although these three uprisings are far from the same, they do have one thing in common: the ability of military-led governments and autocratic states to crack down on any protest or uprising that challenges their legitimacy and power. Yes, the Sudanese protesters may have a chance to break this cycle of state or military subduing the uprising, but this will require sophisticated and innovative forms of resistance, as the regime may curtail access to internet and social media as the main strength and power calculus of the protesters.

Many observers and even protesters agree that the TMC’s decision to unseat the former president Bashir was in response to persistent pressure by the protesters, rather than constituting a coup d’état.

In the aftermath of the massacre, this perception has started to change, and many observers and Sudanese opposition are increasingly convinced that the actions of the TMC to oust Bashir were more a coup d’état than a response to the Sudanese uprising. This change of heart and the hijack of civilian revolution by the TMC may be attributed to power struggle from within as well as the political aspirations of some members of the TMC.

In light of the increasing division within the Sudanese opposition and the prolonged and unfinished negotiations, the TMC started to build its political support base away from the opposition.

Meetings between the TMC and clerics, Muslim Sufi, and traditional leaders and chiefs, along with recent pro-political Islam demonstrations orchestrated by the former regime gave the TMC the appetite to do without the opposition. This change of heart towards the Sudanese opposition is attributed to both the dynamics of power struggle within the TMC and external factors. The chair of the TMC is not Islamist but he relies on his deputy, who is Islamist and part of the former regime, to soothe and contain Islamists and former regime members. Due to the fact that the TMC and the opposition were unable to agree on the formation of a transitional sovereign council, along with the existence of divisions within the Sudanese opposition, the deputy chair of the TMC started rallying his political Islamic base as an alternative to the opposition.

During his speech to traditional leaders, the deputy chair of the TMC, Dagalo (Hemeti), was clear in his intention to crack down on the uprising and sit-in demonstrations. Although there are conflicting views of whether the TMC directed the attack of the sit-inners and protesters, most sources seem to confirm that the rapid deployment forces under the command of the deputy of the chairperson of the TMC were responsible. Unfortunately, the chairperson of the TMC seems to succumb to the political agenda of his deputy, who is unfortunately part and parcel of the former regime and the agenda of political Islam.

Besides these internal dynamics and power struggles, the TMC engaged in diplomatic shuttling to support its agenda of maintaining leadership during the transitional period rather than transferring power to a civilian transitional government. The visit of the chairperson of the TMC to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and South Sudan and that of his deputy to Saudi Arabia, as well as his attendance and address to the meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Mecca in Saudi Arabia, provided the necessary support for the TMC not only to crack down on the protesters but also to maintain power as an effective way of weakening political Islam and Shiite influence in Sudan.

This diplomatic shuttling resulted in a commitment of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to the immediate transfer of USD 250 million to the Bank of Sudan out of USD 3 billion for stabilization of Sudan’s economy during the transition period. Some analysts argued that the Arab autocrats are deliberately intending to foil the much-needed transformation in Sudan. In other words, the TMC received not only political and diplomatic support from its most important neighboring countries, Egypt and South Sudan, but also financial guarantees from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

These internal and external factors have undoubtedly exacerbated the crisis in Sudan and contributed to the impasse to its resolution, as neither side would compromise. If such an impasse persists, some observers predict that the crisis in Sudan may deteriorate into a chaos similar to that of Syria and Libya or a post-uprising political environment similar to Egypt. The Sudanese are different from Syrians, Libyans and Egyptians in that they have memories of the uprisings in 1964 and 1985 and are determined to have a civilian transitional government and to supplant the Sudan of Bashir and his political Islam with a new Sudan that reflects the aspirations of the people of Sudan. Yet, the protesters may need to come to recognize that they will not have transitional arrangements without the TMC.

The real challenge for the opposition is how to influence the power dynamics and struggle within the TMC to support their long-term agenda of transforming Sudan into a democratic country and away from the thirty years of misrule by political Islam.

The decision by the African Union (AU) to suspend the membership of Sudan and to support the opposition’s demand for civilian rule has counterbalanced the diplomatic support enjoyed by the TMC from the Gulf countries and Egypt. This decision was followed by the mediation efforts by the Ethiopian Prime Minister and Chairperson of Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Abiy Ahmed, which resulted in the resumption of negotiation between the opposition and TMC.

Given the political weight of Ethiopia and its neutral role in the Sudanese crisis, some observers think the Ethiopian mediation stands the best chance to unlock the impasse and halt the violence. However, such regional mediation efforts did not come to fruition, as the TMC arrested some members of the opposition immediately after the visit of the Ethiopian Prime Minister. Such arrests caused some observers to conclude that the TMC is not serious about negotiating with civilians. This lack of trust between the TMC and the Sudanese opposition led the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Tibor Naji, to call for external mediation led by the African Union (AU) and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to resolve the crisis in Sudan.

The real question is whether this external mediation will unlock the impasse in the Sudanese crisis.

There is no doubt that the hybrid mediation by the AU and OIC will provide a trusted platform, but it may lack the nuance of the Sudanese context. For this external mediation to be effective it has to be anchored to the national mediation initiative.

The initiative by eminent Sudanese personalities, including the well-known and highly respected journalist, Mahjoub Mohamed Saleh, to find a homegrown Sudanese solution to bridge the gap between the TMC and the opposition needs to be embraced by the external mediators. Their proposal that the military has the leadership of the transitional sovereign council during the first one and a half years of the transitional period, and that civilians assume the leadership in the remaining period is the best and most realistic way to unlock the impasse.

The TMC is aware that they cannot be active players during the transition period without the opposition, and the opposition is cognizant of the critical role that could be played by the TMC in maintaining law and order during the transition period.

Given the existential synergy and interdependence between the TMC and the opposition, the leadership of both parties have a moral duty to come together for a genuine dialogue under the auspices of Sudanese and external mediators, and to honor the selfless sacrifices of the Sudanese people and protesters with a better, more stable and prosperous new Sudan.

  • Luka Biong Deng Kuol is a Global Fellow at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

Can Businesses Play a Role in Peace and Sustainable Development?

The role of business in society is as contested as ever.

Coal Mine in Central India. Photo: Jason Miklian / PRIO

Business can help grow local communities, or they can exploit them. Economic growth can bring states together as it did the European Union, or it can help trigger conflict if the benefits are not distributed equitably, as we have seen in Myanmar, Sudan, and Sri Lanka, among others. Working in challenging environments across the developing world, firms can use either peace or conflict as a window to profit.

On the plus side, this can mean companies changing their operational strategies to better support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, or more engaged Corporate Social Responsibility action. On the negative side, firms can also use the same platforms to ‘peacewash’ their activities, arguing that their mere economic presence in conflict zones improves local communities when the reality leads to the opposite.

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The Lifelong Peace Advocate: A Portrait of Marek Thee (1918–1999) by Marta Bivand Erdal


Marek Thee as head of Polish Consulate General in Tel Aviv in 1950–1952. Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Republic of Poland Archives

Marek Thee (1918–1999), a portrait written by Marta Bivand Erdal

The opposite pole of globalisation is fragmentation – the exclusion of a majority of the world’s population from the benefits of human development, generating a frustrated drive to defensive postures in violent and suicidal ideologies of nationalism, ethnicity and political-religious fundamentalism. Fault-lines are erected across the globe both vertically and horizontally by economic and military power relations on the one hand, and by gross inequalities between the rich and the poor on the other hand. (Marek Thee, personal, unpublished memoirs)[1] 

In his personal and unpublished memoirs My Story: A Journey Through the 20th Century, Marek Thee, in the late 1990s, soon before his death in 1999, reflects on the state of the world. He does so as a child of twentieth century Europe, but also to a significant extent as a child of the twentieth century world. His twentieth century perspective, as a historian by discipline, and a truth-seeking activist at heart, are strikingly accurate comments on the present, some twenty years after they were written.[2]

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Congo and Structural Violence: Helge Hveem Interviewed by Per Olav Reinton

Helge Hveem, ca.1981. Photo: PRIO Photo Archive

Helge Hveem, interviewed by Per Olav Reinton

There is no country that illustrates large-scale violence better than the Democratic Republic of Congo. That is why the Nobel Peace Prize to Denis Mukwege is so well deserved, and why it also affirms the validity of structural violence as a concept. Even if the causes may vary – and physical violence may also breed structural violence – I believe that the DRC demonstrates that physical violence follows from structural violence. Or rather: the two types are interrelated; structural violence makes physical violence easier.

Helge Hveem: My experiences in the Democratic Republic of Congo put me on a path towards the type of theory-driven, but also policy-oriented, empirical research that I followed at PRIO and the University of Oslo, and still pursue. It was a significant day for me when the Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.Read More

A Historian’s Paths to Peace: Reflections from Stein Tønnesson

Stein Tønnesson in the early 1980s, when he held a student scholarship at PRIO. Photo: Stein Tønnesson’s archive

When looking back, I find nine paths I have explored in a quest to understand war and peace: War as war, war as horror, outbreaks of war, severity of wars, war endings, peace viability, regional transitions to peace, peace practices, and peaceful “utopian moments”, such as 1948, when the UN Declaration on Human Rights was adopted. A possible tenth path is one I have mostly shied away from: major peaceful utopias, such as a Harmonious or a Classless Society. While I have walked on all nine paths, the three I have travelled the most are outbreaks of war (in Indochina), transitions from widespread war to relative peace (in East Asia), and a peaceful utopian moment (the 1973–82 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).

My studies of revolution and war in Indochina (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia), and also elsewhere, have led me to a conviction that peace, almost any kind of peace, is preferable to war. War rarely leads to any positive improvement, and entails enormous suffering. I define “peace” as absence of war and violence, and I see such absence as desirable in almost every situation. Since war and violence are negatives, the mere absence of war and violence is already positive peace. The term “negative peace”, I think, is a misnomer. If the absence of war is “negative peace”, then violence – the opposite of peace – would be positive, which is absurd. A mere absence of war is already positive peace. Yet it may be just a minimal, fragile or shallow peace. Peace building, as I see it, is about transforming a minimal peace to a deep and viable peace.

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Eid Celebrations and Muslim Generosity

Sudanese muslims from El Fasher, North Darfur, attend the morning prayer at the outskirts of the city to celebrate the Eid ul-Fitr, the feast marking the end of the fast of Ramadan in 2012. Photo: Albert González Farran – UNAMID

Today is Eid, the Muslim festival that marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Families and friends will gather today to enjoy good food and each other’s company. Many Norwegian Muslim children look forward to celebrating Eid, and for many people the social aspects are just as important as the festival’s religious significance. In addition, many Muslims use Eid as an occasion to help those who are less fortunate, by making their annual payment of obligatory alms (zakat in Arabic), which in Sunni Islam are equivalent to 2.5 percent of annual income after living expenses. Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam, together with the Declaration of Faith, Prayer, Fasting during the month of Ramadan, and the Pilgrimage to Mecca.

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A Social Democratic Peace: Nils Petter Gleditsch Interviewed by Hilde Henriksen Waage

Nils Petter Gleditsch. Photo: PRIO

Nils Petter Gleditsch, interviewed by Hilde Henriksen Waage

If you read my older publications, you will find very little about democracy, but a lot about equality, justice, and peace. The idea of a liberal peace, built on ties through international trade, became a major theme in peace research at the end of the 1990s. I was actually skeptical in the beginning, even after I had embraced the idea of a democratic peace. But I have come to realize that economic cooperation and development are important drivers of peace. … Thinking of all the crimes committed in the name of socialism, I find it difficult today to call myself a socialist. However, I have no problem calling myself a social democrat. … I have actually tried to launch a new formula for stable peace, ‘the social democratic peace’, combining democracy, a strong state, economic development, international political and economic cooperation, and a policy of non-discrimination of minorities. I think this makes a lot of sense as a policy, but I must admit that as a slogan it has fallen flat.

The above programmatic statement comes from my long-standing supervisor and colleague at PRIO, Nils Petter Gleditsch. In connection with PRIO’s 60th anniversary, I was asked to interview him.

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Will There Be Peace in Westeros?

Photo: HBO

In my last Game of Thrones blog post I looked into whether there were any similarities between the War of the Five Kings and modern war in the real world. I found a surprisingly large number of similarities. Now that we have seen the end GoT, and we know who sits on the (non)-Iron Throne (and other thrones), the question remains: can we expect peace to last in Westeros? To answer this, we need to know a bit about how conflict ends and what makes peace stick.

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Pitfalls, Policy, and Promise of the UN’s approach to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence and the New Resolution 2467

Photo: PBS CC

Since 2012, April has been the traditional month of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) open debate to discuss the annual Secretary-General’s report on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence. And while for the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) community it is always a major event on the calendar, with the prospect of a US veto of a new resolution, the debate this year suddenly became a must-watch event in New York and around the world.

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