Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Darfur: The Future of Peace Talks

By John A. Akec

The peace talks convened last month to bring Darfur’s major movements in a face-to-face meeting with the government of Sudan in the Libyan coastal town of Sirte are scheduled to resume in December. Meanwhile, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim (the AU and UN mediators) hope to bridge the gulf between the different movements so that they can unite and adopt a single negotiating position.

Sirte failed to achieve its intended goal mainly due to the refusal of Darfur’s main political movement to turn up. Darfur’s main movements which include Abdal Wahid of Sudan Liberation Movement had accused the mediators of inviting splinter groups who have no troops or presence on the ground. Furthermore, President Muammar Al Gadaffi’s utterance that the Darfur crisis was "caused by a fight over a dead camel" angered many Darfur movements with stakes in Sirte peace talks, rendering the Libyan leader unfit for the role of host and mediator.
Some encouraging news are emerging from South Sudan’s capital, Juba, where about three armed and political movements from Darfur have been meeting for over a month under mediation from the government of Southern Sudan. The government of South Sudan’s effort seems to bear fruit as seen when the three Darfur movements signed a "Charter of Unification" on November 13th, 2007. The charter spells out the intention of the signatories to unite under one movement that will be called Sudan Liberation Movement and Sudan Liberation Army (SLM/SLA). They have also extended invitation to other Darfur movements to join them. This progress in Juba has been applauded in Washington, and by the AU and UN mediators.

However, it is premature to conclude that the work to unite Darfur’s movements under one vision is about to be accomplished to everyone’s satisfaction. There are over twenty armed factions in Darfur. Three of them uniting is just the beginning of a long process. It is even more so when we know that SLM/A (Abdalwahid Mohamed Nur) faction is not one of the signatories. The same can be said about the absence of Justice and Equality Movement (Khalil Ibrahim) faction.

Splintering of liberation movements is nothing new. Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the South had its share of divisions during the years of struggle and is still reeling from their effects to this day. So did Zimbabwean and Eritrean liberation movements. Some divisions like that of Eritrean liberation movements were settled in the field. SPLM did not have much success with forcing all to come under its banner, and had to negotiate at some point.
What is probably unique about the splintering of Darfur movements is the sheer number of the groups that must be persuaded to unite under one leadership and one vision. Such a goal is not completely beyond reach, but it will take time, patience, resources, and wisdom to do so. Most of these, especially, time is in short supply in Darfur. Take the mortality rate in Darfur and multiply that by twenty-two years, and the figures would be what none of us would like to countenance. Resources too are in short supply. Patience (or is it more patience) in the face of the on-going genocide is simply out of question. Wisdom, perhaps, is likely a viable route to making a breakthrough. It is the exercise of wisdom by all stakeholders, and in particular by the mediators and Darfur’s movements, that will make or break.

The unification of Darfur movements is not the only challenge to achievement of peace in Darfur. Other factors such as the recent crisis in the coalition government after the withdrawal of SPLM from the government of national unity work as spoilers. The sharp disagreements on progress or lack of implementation of important articles in the Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the government of Sudan and the SPLM will impede progress in bringing Darfur’s movements and the Sudan government to a negotiating table. The logic is simple: If the government in Khartoum does not honour its agreement with SPLM, why should it honour an agreement that is yet to be signed? Worst, if war breaks out in the South again, the government of South Sudan will cease to be a force for peace in Darfur. Should that happen, it is unlikely there will be negotiation soon unless there is a regime change in Khartoum.

Paradoxical still, unification is part of the problem in that it leads to inclusion and recognition of undeserving and lesser movements. Suliman Giddo of (Washington based) Darfur Peace and Development wrote recently in the Sudan Tribune that "The international community has unwisely endorsed different factions without paying much attention to their presence on the ground." All Darfurians are stakeholders. They do not need to command troops or hold territory in order to have a say on how to bring peace and justice to Darfur. But such logic does not go down too well in Darfur at the moment. South Sudanese learnt the hard way from splintering, but it took them years to do so. Darfur’s movements should learn from the SPLM experience.

To their credit, Darfuri movements are yet to descend to the factional violence suffered by SPLM army in the 1990s. Such violence will be inevitable as long as the Darfuri movements do not recognise each other.With too many variables not in favour of peace talks, it is very likely that the Darfur crisis will continue to dominate the talk of the world and pose great challenges in the foreseeable future.


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