What’s Left of Sudan After a Year At War?
What’s Left of Sudan After a Year At War?
Report / Africa 5 minutes

Darfur: Revitalising the Peace Process

Almost a year after Sudan’s government and one of three rebel factions signed the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), the humanitarian and security situation has deteriorated in the troubled western region of Sudan. Despite a recent lull, the post-DPA period has seen increased combat, including further government reliance on aerial bombardment and its allied Janjaweed militia.

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Executive Summary

Almost a year after Sudan’s government and one of three rebel factions signed the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), the humanitarian and security situation has deteriorated in the troubled western region of Sudan. Despite a recent lull, the post-DPA period has seen increased combat, including further government reliance on aerial bombardment and its allied Janjaweed militia. Civilian displacement continues while humanitarian space shrinks. If there is to be peace, the international community will need to coordinate better to surmount significant obstacles including Khartoum’s pursuit of military victory and growing rebel divisions. Over the last year, the primary focus has been on overcoming resistance of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) to deployment of UN peacekeepers (or an AU/UN hybrid) so that civilians can be better protected; that remains essential but elusive, even after the NCP’s 16 April acceptance of the UN heavy support package for the AU force, as does an effective ceasefire. Equally important, however, and the focus of this report, is revitalising the moribund peace process.

The DPA has failed because it did not adequately deal with key issues, too few of the insurgents signed it, and there has been little buy-in from Darfur society, which was not sufficiently represented in the negotiations. A lasting solution to the conflict can only come through a revised political agreement but there is no consensus on the way forward. In November 2006, after months of inaction, the AU and UN announced joint efforts to renew political talks between the government and the rebel factions that did not sign the DPA but there has been little progress, while concurrent initiatives by Eritrea, Libya, Egypt and others have created confusion.

Darfur is the epicentre of three overlapping circles of conflict. First and foremost, there is the four-year-old war between the Darfur rebel movements and the government, which is part of the breakdown between Sudan’s centre – the NCP in Khartoum, which controls wealth and political power – and the marginalised peripheries. Secondly, the Darfur conflict has triggered a proxy war that Chad and Sudan are fighting by hosting and supporting the other’s rebel groups. Finally, there are localised conflicts, primarily centred on land tensions between sedentary and nomadic tribes. The regime has manipulated these to win Arab support for its war against the mostly non-Arab rebels. International interests, not least the priority the U.S. has placed on regime assistance in its “war on terrorism” and China’s investment in Sudan’s oil sector, have added to the difficulty in resolving the conflict.

What happens in Darfur may well be decisive for Sudan as a whole, where calculations about its political future are affecting the preparations of all parties for the vital 2009 elections scheduled by the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The NCP insists, as it pursues its familiar divide-and-rule tactics, that the DPA remain the basis of any new talks and seems unwilling to consider more than a few small changes. The rebels demand the agreement be reopened, with the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) calling for a radical restructuring of national governance as well. The major northern political opposition parties, which want a new national consensus on the country’s direction, are trying to use the Darfur issue to isolate and pressure the NCP. The losers in the cacophony are Darfur’s suffering civilians.

The haphazard, NCP-directed, Khartoum-centric effort to implement a fundamentally flawed DPA – most recently the formal launch of the new governing body for the region despite a lack of popular support – creates opportunities for confusion and conflict. The new peace talks that are necessary would be best served by freezing further efforts to apply the DPA’s political and wealth-sharing provisions. Likewise, the DPA’s Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation, a potentially important conflict-resolution mechanism, should not be discredited by attempting it now, as Khartoum urges, before the main flaws of the agreement are fixed.

The mediation team needs to engage in a carefully prepared process. Artificial deadlines weakened the DPA, and there must be realistic expectations this time about how long it will take. The mediators must take control of the process and design a framework for renewed talks that responds to the conflict’s complex nature. Peace can be built on the constitutional framework established by the CPA, signed in 2005, but some CPA provisions – particularly on power sharing – need adjusting. The Darfur conflict increasingly undermines CPA implementation and the fragile relationship between the NCP and its minority partner, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). Collapse of the CPA would lead the country to a new civil war. Regionally, there is need to integrate Eritrea’s parallel initiative, while bringing Chad into the process to limit its capacity as a spoiler and encourage political resolution of its own internal conflict. The conference in Libya which ended on 29 April appears to have been a positive step towards a single, common approach.

To maximise prospects in a new round of negotiations the AU/UN mediation team should take a number of steps:

  • Build international consensus on strategy, particularly with the U.S. and China, to obtain leverage over the parties to the conflict.
  • Work to unify the rebel movements, helping the political and field commanders develop a common negotiation agenda. Earlier rushed attempts have led to further factionalisation and difficulties in negotiations. International efforts need to be unified and supported. Pressure will have to be brought to bear on intransigent movements and their supporters, and on the NCP to halt military efforts to disrupt a unification conference.
  • Broaden participation by creating a formal group of representatives from key Darfur constituencies left out of past rounds, including Darfur’s Arab tribes, IDP communities, women’s groups and civil society. This will facilitate wider buy-in to a new agreement and positively impact the eventual Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation.
  • Restructure the mediation process along the lines of the model that produced the CPA, including by forming a limited contact group of international partners, made up of the U.S., China, the UK, France, Norway, the EU, the Arab League, Eritrea and Chad, to support the core mediation team.

Beyond this, the negotiations should initially be focused on attaining a functioning ceasefire, accepted by all parties, and deployment of both the AU/UN hybrid force in Darfur and a UN force in Chad. There is no quick fix for Darfur: the broader issues of power and wealth sharing and security may well take many months. A functioning, well-monitored and enforced ceasefire on both sides of the Sudan/Chad border would help build trust and facilitate an eventual agreement.

For negotiations ultimately to succeed, however, a fundamental adjustment is required in the international approach to Khartoum. Effective pressure is essential on all sides to abandon attempts to achieve a military victory but the NCP regime in particular will continue to wage war and defy international demands as long as it fears no reprisal. Its analysis of costs and benefits can realistically be expected to change only if punitive multilateral measures are imposed or otherwise made unmistakably credible. A U.S.-China understanding is central to this, which in turn requires Beijing to recognise that its legitimate interests and investments in Sudan are threatened by the continuation of the Darfur crisis and its impact on the CPA.

Nairobi/Brussels, 30 April 2007

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