Darfur's tenuous peace deal penned in blood

Darfur's tenuous peace deal penned in bloodAs both signatories to peace and devotees to conflict, the Sudanese government has mastered the art of juggling the pen and the sword. The Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was ratified in May of this year. It set out an agreement in principle for the deployment of a UN-mandated peacekeeping force. Since then, the Sudanese government, led by the inscrutable President Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, has variously courted, confused and harangued the international community in an apparent effort to create discord in the peace process. To this end, Bashir and his cronies have been largely successful.

In January 2005, Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party inked the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with the southern Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM), ending what had been Africa’s most protracted civil conflict. Since the signing, progress towards implementation of the CPA has been laboured, though agreement on an interim constitution—looking towards a referendum on autonomy for the south in 2011—and the establishment of a Government of National Unity has given some cause for optimism.

Issues of border demarcation and more precisely, the division of oil reserves continue to dominate negotiations though, and threaten to undermine what was proposed as an equitable wealth sharing agreement. With the DPA now ratified, albeit without unanimous support, the Government of National Unity stands poised over two tenuous agreements; one which has taken stuttering first steps, the other remaining in delicate infancy.

The Darfur conflict is difficult to abridge or situate in a potted history. Many an editorial has been devoted to the subjugated rebel militias, the tensions between Arabs against black Africans, the predatory janjaweed proxy army, and attendant government forces. Less reported but equally compelling are historical tensions over land and natural resource entitlements, essential to the security of livelihood. Nomadic pastoralists and sedentary farmers, often divided along ethnic lines, have clashed frequently, particularly over livestock routes and access to water resources.

Devastating periods of drought have exacerbated these tensions, as have inter-tribal skirmishes and perceptions of neglect between the Darfur periphery and the Khartoum centre. The publication of ‘The Black Book’ in 2002, a statistics-based diatribe on the dominance of Arab tribes in all facets of Sudanese rule since independence fueled these ethnic fires further. All of these issues are conflated and relevant, making the notions of ‘livelihoods’ and ‘security’ equally current and connected to the current crisis in Darfur.

Darfur's tenuous peace deal penned in bloodThe ambitions of the Darfur rebel movements, initially unified under the banner of the Sudanese Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M), and later the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), are borne out of years of perceived neglect by successive Khartoum governments. The rebels' offensive in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur in April 2003 was testament to their hatred of the Khartoum government. The government’s response was swift and merciless, marked by large-scale civilian massacres targeting ethnic African tribes. Certainly in scale and strategy, the government offensive recognised the wider threat of a unified non-Arab alliance in the west of Sudan, and the necessity of an absolute military victory.

A number of ceasefire agreements and humanitarian protocols between the warring parties have been negotiated in the intervening years; they have subsequently been violated almost without exception. At present, the cause for peace is couched within the terms of the DPA, brokered in Abuja by the African Union and a bevy of frantic international delegates. The DPA, while not endorsed wholeheartedly even by the signatory parties, does provide a range of guarantees for peace and development. Notably the agreement provides targeted deadlines for disarmament and demobilisation of the warring parties, establishes buffer zones for the containment of troops and heavy weapons and a provision for the reintegration of the rebel militias into the Sudanese Defence Forces.

The agreement also proposes more representation for Darfur in the transitional government, a timetable for elections on a vote for autonomy, the establishment of a compensation commission, funding for a reconstruction effort and a development program in Darfur. A number of the deadlines set in the DPA have passed without consequence, and there remains a number of contentious issues, including verifiable disarmament of the janjaweed, expanded Darfurian representation in the transitional government in Khartoum, and meaningful compensation for the refugees from the conflict now gathered in squalid camps around provincial Darfur cities and Khartoum. The Coalition for International Justice documented an estimated 400,000 deaths from the conflict in an April 2005 report, which gives some idea of the scale of the humanitarian tragedy that has occurred.

Darfur's tenuous peace deal penned in bloodSecurity, or lack thereof, is one of the major sticking points in the implementation of the DPA. The beleaguered AU monitoring force, the African Mission in Sudan, is currently charged with maintaining the Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement established in April 2004 and has assumed further ‘peacekeeping’ responsibilities under the terms of the DPA. However, the AU protection force, even under a revised mandate, has largely failed to protect civilians or win the hearts and minds of the affected population.

Criticism has emanated from all quarters, with international donors and human rights bodies, the UN Security Council, non-government organisations and the displaced communities all taking issue with the security situation on the ground. Only the Sudanese government, comfortable with the AU’s relatively passive mandate, and mindful of the UN peacekeeping alternative seems content with the status quo. Compared with the noises being made about war crime prosecutions, and with a more rigorous enforcement under a chapter VII agreement mooted through the Security Council, the relatively toothless AU force is a preferred option.

The security situation in the Darfur states has declined markedly since the signing of the DPA, an ominous portent given the hope it offered at the Abuja signing. While there are now fewer incidences of janjaweed attacks of rebel-held villages, there has been a dramatic increase in attacks between factions of the rebel forces after a splintering of the rebel militia along political and tribal lines.

These bloody vendettas, eerily similar to the wanton slaughter and pillage of previous engagements between the janjaweed and rebel militias, have again engulfed ordinary Darfurian civilians, causing further population displacements and severely compromising humanitarian operations in the wider Darfur area. This rekindled bloodshed has also demonstrated that without a platform for consensus within the rebel groups, and a potent protection force to circumvent the cycle of violence, the DPA remains a disappointingly false dawn.

A failing peace in Darfur has widespread consequences within Sudan, and in the countries on its borders. It is therefore critical for all parties, both implicated and engaged, to address issues of ‘peace’ and ‘security’ through the instruments of the DPA, and the mandated protection forces. However contentious the current agreement, for the displaced and conflict-affected population of Darfur, it is at this point in time the only hope the cycle of violence can be ended, and this fact alone marks the DPA worthy of a chance to take hold.



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