Darfur: The Inside Story; Alex De Waal, Programme Director at the Social Science Research Council, Who Participated in the Various Darfur Negotiations, Gives a Rare Insight into Why the Darfur Conflict Still Rages On

By de Waal, Alex | New African, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Darfur: The Inside Story; Alex De Waal, Programme Director at the Social Science Research Council, Who Participated in the Various Darfur Negotiations, Gives a Rare Insight into Why the Darfur Conflict Still Rages On


de Waal, Alex, New African


Military intervention won't stop the killing in Darfur, Sudan. Those who are clamouring for troops to fight their way into Darfur are suffering from a salvation delusion. It is a simple reality that UN troops can't stop an ongoing war, and their record at protecting civilians is far from perfect.

Moreover, the idea of George Bush and Tony Blair acting as global moral arbiters doesn't travel well. The crisis in Darfur is political. It's a civil war, and like all wars it needs a political settlement. Late into the night of 16 November 2006, Kofi Annan chaired a meeting at the African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa at which he, the AU and the UN Security Council reaffirmed this basic fact.

When he promised to bring the government of Sudan and the rebels who are still fighting around the table within weeks, the outgoing UN secretary general was adopting a simple and correct rationale: fix the politics first and the peacekeeping will follow. It's not a distant hope--the political differences are small.

Long neglected conflicts in Darfur first exploded in February 2003, when the newly formed Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) launched guerrilla raids on government garrisons, and the government responded with its well-tested counter-insurgency tool of unleashing its militia--in this case the Janjawiid, drawn from Darfur's indigenous Arabs.

It was three years before a workable peace agreement was tabled. And it very nearly succeeded. Everything hinged on a few weeks in May last year, when the Darfur Peace Agreement was finalised and signed by the Sudan government and one of the rebel factions. Had the leader of the main part of the SLM also signed, the current crisis would not have happened.

To understand why Darfur is in such straits today, and how the recent efforts of the UN and the AU can help it escape, it is necessary to focus on the politics of the negotiations.

The Inter-Sudanese Talks on the Conflict in Darfur began inauspiciously in the Chadian capital, N'djamena, in April 2004, with an unworkable ceasefire agreement. One fatal shortcut was that the agreement had no maps attached, and so there were no details about which territory was controlled by each side. From the start, the African Union Mission in Sudan was mission impossible.

There were five more rounds of peace talks in Ethiopia and in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, which served mostly as a forum in which each side could rehearse its condemnations of the other.

(I was on the margins of these talks, the African Union having called me in as an adviser. The Sudan government vetoed my attendance until the chief AU mediator, Salim Ahmed Salim, overrode their objections and attached me to his personal staff). The seventh round of talks, which began in Abuja in November 2005, was heralded as the last.

The delegations would remain ensconced in a dreary hotel on the outskirts of the city until they came to a deal. Five months later, progress had been painfully slow, and the AU and its international partners--particularly the US--had lost patience.

Then there arrived an array of international political stars, headed by the Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, the US deputy secretary of state, Robert Zoellick, the British international development secretary, Hilary Benn, and others. In less than a week, the government and the rebels were compelled to come to a comprehensive agreement.

In the late afternoon of 5 May 2006, after a final 20-hour negotiating session, the Sudanese government and the SLM faction led by Minni Arkoy Minawi signed the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA).

The DPA is a weighty document, with 87 pages of text and 19 additional pages of implementation annexes. The last chapter sets up a Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation, whereby the full array of Darfurian community leaders--excluded from the Abuja talks--can meet to resolve the myriad local disputes. …

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