Peace in Darfur: Next Steps after Arusha
August 21, 2007
Between August 4 and August 6, 2007, the African Union (AU) and United Nations Special Envoys for the peace process in Darfur, Salim Ahmed Salim and Jan Eliasson, convened a meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, with the aim of corralling Darfur’s armed movements into adopting a single negotiating platform. This represented the second stage of their three-stage plan for achieving peace in Darfur, subsequent to the failure of the May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) to obtain an inclusive peace. Stage one was to align the different peace initiatives, including those sponsored by Libya and Eritrea. In July, a meeting in Tripoli obtained the agreement of those governments to support a unified peace process. Following Arusha, the third stage will be to launch negotiations with the government of Sudan to achieve an agreed text that can bring the movements into a peace deal.
The Arusha meeting was boosted by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1769 of July 31, 2007, which provides for a 26,000-strong hybrid African Union -United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). Many of the rebels have vested high hopes in the United Nations, and they were not in a position to resist the summons to Arusha after passage of the resolution. The UN called the meeting because the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission in the absence of a workable ceasefire, let along a full peace agreement, would be a novel and perilous step. The UN is counting on sufficient progress being made in the peace talks so that, by the time that UNAMID becomes properly operational at the end of December, a negotiated peace settlement will have been concluded. Unless the rebels can agree on a common negotiating position, reaching such a settlement will be all but impossible.
Four sets of challenges face the Special Envoys in the next stage of the revived process, namely (a) representation in the peace process of all the armed movements, not just those that came to Arusha; (b) the need to include other political forces beyond the armed movements; (c) continuing opportunities for spoilers to disrupt the peace process; and (d) the probability that inflexible negotiating positions are going to be adopted and held by the armed movements.
Throughout the Darfur peace process, a key issue has remained unresolved: how many groups to admit as participants and on what basis? Arusha was as good an attempt at inclusivity as any so far, but still was not complete.
Most importantly, the mercurial Abdel Wahid al Nur, a founder and original chairman of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), refused to attend. He retains immense loyalty in the camps sheltering the displaced and among many Darfurians generally because he consistently and publicly articulates their fears and hopes. Some frustrated international mediators working on Darfur have hoped that his erratic and disorganized style would discredit him among his constituents, but that has yet to happen.
Splinter groups from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) were not represented either, although JEM itself was given greater weight than the other groups at Arusha, despite its limited presence on the ground in Darfur. The absence of the JEM – Eastern Command group has gained added significance because of a joint attack they carried out with SLA-Unity faction commanders in Adila, south-eastern Darfur, in early August. This is the largest battle between rebels and government to take place in 2007. SLA-Unity is the largest group in the field, chiefly in north Darfur, and emerged from a group of nineteen SLA leaders who were discontented with Abdel Wahid’s leadership in 2006.
Although this may be surprising to some foreign observers, Darfur’s Arabs have long been discontented with the government and only a minority ever allied themselves with the Janjaweed. Increasingly, Darfurian Arabs are taking an independent stand and some of them are forming anti-government groups in alliance with the SLA. The only Arab opposition representative in Arusha was Salah Abu Sura, who has very limited forces on the ground. Other Arab groups are much stronger, notably the Democratic Popular Front led by Yassin Yousif. However, opening the door to one Arab group was an important step that can lead to the inclusion of other Arabs in subsequent stages.
A second major challenge to the mediators is how to handle the fact that the armed movements cannot be said realistically to represent the people of Darfur. The failure of the SLM and JEM leaders to provide genuine political leadership aimed at helping the Darfurian people has diminished their standing with respect to key stakeholders, including the emergent leadership in the internally displaced camps, prominent individuals, and the tribal leaders. While the movements’ leadership focuses on the big political issues raised at the outset of the Abuja talks which led to the DPA, such as power and wealth-sharing with Khartoum, the questions raised by the internal leadership are principally focused on the forthcoming elections inside Darfur, local government, and local security issues. The gap between the political agendas of the internal and the external Darfurians—the latter strongly influenced by diaspora politicians—is increasing.
An opportunity for bringing in a wider group of Darfurian stakeholders is presented by the preparatory consultations for launching the Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation. The DDDC was envisaged as a post-DPA method of including all Darfurians into the implementation of the peace agreement. With the DPA non-operational, the initiative has stalled. But the informal process of consultations among Darfurian leaders, especially civilian leaders in displaced camps, Arab leaders, and prominent individuals in civil society, has continued. This is an important complement to the peace process, and the AU has sensibly proposed that the leading participants in these consultations could be organized as an advisory group for the negotiations.
The Tripoli meeting to align the different peace initiatives was supposed to neutralize the actual and potential regional spoilers, namely Eritrea, Chad, and Libya. For their own reasons, these three governments are more cooperative with the United Nations than they were a few months ago. However, they retain numerous political interests that could persuade them to try to stall the peace process. For Tripoli and Asmara, as well as Khartoum, a settlement to the Darfur crisis that gives the United Nations and (especially) the United States a leading role in determining the future of Darfur is to be avoided at any costs. The bellicose language of some leading U.S. politicians with respect to intervening militarily in Darfur or imposing a no-flight zone as Hillary Clinton has proposed, have caused great alarm. Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir and others are convinced that there is an American agenda aimed at asserting a permanent U.S. presence in the region, achieving regime change in Khartoum (with perhaps other capitals to follow), and possibly the dismembering of Sudan. When prominent Democratic Party Africanists Anthony Lake, Susan Rice, and Congressman Donald Payne advocated “saving” Darfur in the way that NATO had “saved” Kosovo, it was not lost on Khartoum that the ultimate outcome of NATO’s humanitarian campaign in Kosovo is likely to be Kosovo independence.
The rationale for Eritrea’s policy in the region is to undermine Ethiopia and sustain regional troublespots where it can retain leverage. But it does not want to overstep the mark and anger Washington by being seen to support militant jihadists, and hence will cooperate for now. Chadian President Idriss Deby is reassured by French-led plans for a European force on its eastern border, which would help keep him in power. Libya is tactically cooperative with the U.S. but still retains an abiding distrust of American motives.
To some extent, therefore, there is common interest among Khartoum, Asmara and Tripoli in sustaining the Darfur conflict until such time as the United States and the United Nations lose interest. To that end, Sudanese security is paradoxically supporting Eritrean initiatives to unify Darfur’s armed movements, even if that entails prolonging the war, because it could also delay the international peace process, perhaps indefinitely, and make UN troops ineffective. These governments are quite prepared to sabotage the peace process at any moment if they see it to be in their interests. The United Nations and African Union do not possess the necessary leverage to ensure that they deliver.
The greatest challenge is to provide reasons for the Sudan government to negotiate in good faith, and at present, Khartoum has little reason to take the peace process seriously. Most of those represented in Arusha have little armed presence in the field. Some do—but the government may be able to cut bilateral deals with them. Khartoum’s major preoccupation is the emergence of significant armed opposition among the Arab tribes, and the fact that the proxy militia that it armed during the intense phase of the war (2003-04) are now largely beyond its control. In some cases, they are fighting one another. The single largest cause of fatalities this year has been fighting between the Mahariya and Terjam, two so-called Janjaweed groups.
The most important factor if Sudan is to treat the negotiations seriously would be a belief on Khartoum’s part that the United States would deliver a benefit of some sort once it signed a deal. Unfortunately, communications between Washington and Khartoum are now conducted chiefly through reciprocal posturing and public threat. The United States has failed to make good its promises following the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) for southern Sudan. Khartoum expected the normalization of relations and an aid package, which didn’t materialize, because of Darfur. The Sudan government understood the reason and was given to understand that if it signed the DPA, then the U.S. would move towards lifting sanctions as well as providing immediate practical assistance in implementing the security package. Khartoum signed but the United States set aside its rewards and instead focused on pushing through the UN force.
The situation has been further complicated by the fact that President Bush’s May 18, 2007 announcement of new financial sanctions against Sudan came just two days after President Bashir conceded on a major U.S. demand, namely the United Nations heavy support package for the AU troops in Darfur. Based on the American performance, leaving aside the rhetoric of aspiring Democratic presidential candidates, it is perfectly rational for Khartoum to disbelieve any assurance from Washington that any particular step made by the Sudan government will lead to a reciprocal move by the United States. In this context, it is important that the increased energy of the British and French involvement in Darfur does not consist simply of an uncritical reinforcement of the U.S. stance, but a modulation of that position. The engagement of Brown and Sarkozy increases international leverage but that leverage should be used as part of a strategy of constructive engagement on peace talks, peacekeeping and the implementation of the CPA.
Substantive Negotiating Positions
The fourth challenge to the AU and UN mediators is to help to move the armed movements from consensus on a hard-line and inflexible position, to consensus on a flexible and accommodating set of demands. During the various rounds of Abuja talks, it was not difficult to obtain agreement among the armed movements on a common position — they agreed on what they called their “fair and just” demands and refused to compromise. This same problem will undoubtedly recur. Each of the rebel leaders is strong enough to say “no” to any proposed compromise with the government but not one of them is strong enough to say “yes.”
There is some progress on this score. It had been feared that the movements would demand a complete renegotiation of the Abuja text, going back to the July 2005 Declaration of Principles, which is a short text needing extensive elaboration if it is to become a peace agreement. Instead, at Arusha they agreed to use the 86-page DPA as a document for discussion. However, it is virtually certain that the movements will re-state their opening demands from the final round in Abuja, which include (inter alia) a single autonomous region for Darfur, effective immediately; control of that region by the movements; representation in all national institutions proportional to Darfur’s population (estimated at between 20-40% of Sudan’s population); representation in the national capital; sustaining their armed forces as independent armies during the transitional period; and a much larger compensation fund. The rebels also seek a postponement of key dates in the calendar of the CPA for southern Sudan, such as the national elections slated for 2009 and the 2011 referendum on self-determination in the South because they want sufficient time to consolidate their political position following a peace deal. They will no doubt add a few other demands as well.
Meanwhile, should it agree to reopen the talks, the Sudan government is likely to take the line that the DPA cannot be reopened for renegotiation, but only a minor addendum added; that the CPA timetable for elections should not be interfered with; and that the posts that have already been awarded to those who signed the DPA last year can only be reallocated with the agreement of those signatories.
As time passes, it seems more likely than ever that the DPA of May 2006 was indeed the best chance for peace in Darfur. The odds against a successful revived peace process are long. The progress achieved by the Special Envoys in July and August raises hopes somewhat, but it is still improbable that the process can be successfully completed before the end of this year. The most needed quality for the peace talks will be patience. Meanwhile, the major impacts of the stalled peace process in Darfur are likely to be seen in the increasing jeopardy of the CPA in Sudan as a whole. While Darfur’s conflicts continue, President Bashir has every reason for delaying democratization and keeping Sudan on an emergency footing, and little reason to trust that the international community will deliver on its promises of supporting Sudan’s last, best chance for national unity, namely the CPA. _____________________________________________________________________
Alex de Waal is a program director at the Social Science Research Council and served as advisor to the African Union mediation on Darfur. He is the editor of War in Darfur and the Search for Peace (http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/DEWWAR.html) published in September by Harvard University Press, and edits a blog, “Making Sense of Darfur.” (http://www.ssrc.org/blog/category/darfur)
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