Darfur Peace Efforts Must Embrace New Reality
Darfur Peace Efforts Must Embrace New Reality
Working with Others to Halt Sudan’s Collapse
Working with Others to Halt Sudan’s Collapse
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Darfur Peace Efforts Must Embrace New Reality

Darfur has dropped out of Western headlines again for the moment, eclipsed by events in Pakistan, the Middle East and Iraq. But while the erratic attention of the international community is focused elsewhere, the seeds of Sudan's next civil war are being planted. And the costs of global complacency are growing intolerably high.

In just a few years, the Darfur situation has evolved from a rebellion with defined political aims and a clear set of actors, into a conflict increasingly marred by shifting alliances, regional meddling and a growing complex tribal dimension. The main constant has been the actions of Khartoum's ruling National Congress Party, which continues to pursue destructive policies in the region. But the dynamics have changed radically since the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed in May 2006, requiring the international community to reconstruct its strategy for peace from its very foundations.

Start from the basics: the Darfur Peace Agreement has failed. Whatever promise it held as a step towards ending violence and creating power-sharing structures when it was signed by the National Congress Party and a faction of the insurgent Sudan Liberation Army, has long since evaporated. There is no settlement, and the international community has struggled to unify its approach towards one. Meanwhile, the situation on the ground has been deteriorating.

In part because of the National Congress Party's divide-and rule-policies, rebel groups have splintered. After years of suffering brutal raids by government forces and their proxy militias, civilians are increasingly at risk from rebel groups, as are aid workers, African Union peacekeepers and even internally displaced persons in the camps.

Dissent is also growing among Darfur's Arab tribes, leading to new alliances with non-Arab groups, and sparking clashes between and within Arab tribes and Arab-led groups. Some simply want to secure their gains from the last few years of war, especially before the peacekeepers arrive.

Sudan's Arabs are also faced with a new choice: confront the incoming African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force and continue fighting a proxy war for the government, or distance themselves from the National Congress Party and engage with the international community.

More and more Darfurian Arabs feel betrayed by the party, whose strategy is based on a belief that the longer Darfur remains disunited and in disarray, the longer the party will stay in power. But Arab defections from the Khartoum-led fold have not brought about stable alliances or a coherent opposition, only a murkier picture and more chaos on the ground.

International peace efforts must align themselves with this new reality in Darfur. The only way to make progress is to give enough time for ongoing rebel unification efforts to succeed, and to broaden talks to involve the full range of actors in the conflict. On the latter, the AU-UN joint mediation team must return to Darfur for further consultations that bring in all constituencies on core issues such as land tenure, grazing rights, local administration and the cessation of hostilities.

They must seek to identify individuals to represent the interests of these groups at the peace talks, giving specific attention to the representation of women, civil society, the internally displaced and Arabs. Full participation can be achieved either by convening a Darfur-wide forum with representatives of all constituencies, or by expanding the consultations conducted earlier in 2007 through the existing, though moribund, Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation process.

Neighbouring countries need to be involved in the Darfur peace process. Chad and the Central African Republic receive thousands of refugees. Libya, Chad, Eritrea and Egypt, are all integral players with influence over various rebel movements and the National Congress Party. If any peace is to be negotiated, they need to be included in the mediation. The top priority in new negotiations should be a ceasefire agreement, incorporating all actors to the conflict.

Despite the urgency generated by ongoing bloodshed in Darfur, the international community must avoid the trap of thinking there are quick fixes. Indeed, too much haste to do a deal was a key reason the Darfur Peace Agreement failed to deliver.

The Libya peace negotiations are now in recess. The international community would be wise to use the delay to organise an effective and appropriate strategy for the months ahead. More generally, coordinated international focus must also be directed at supporting the implementation of Sudan's North-South peace agreement, which provides the constitutional basis for peace in Darfur and Sudan's democratisation process.

The stakes are high. If we get it wrong this time, the chaos will accelerate, and the AU-UN force arriving in Darfur will not only have no peace to keep but may even find itself surrounded by a spreading civil war in Sudan.

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