Buying time in Darfur
Gerard Prunier: ANALYSIS
22 August 2007 11:59
In May 2006, after months of confused negotiations in Abuja, a lonely Darfur guerrilla faction, led by Minni Minnawi, signed the so-called Darfur Peace Agreement with the Khartoum government.
The conditions of the agreement were disastrous: ridiculously little compensation for war victims -- about $12 a person; no reunification of the Darfur region, divided for better control by the Khartoum government into three provinces in 1994; an “investment fund” with only negligible financial assets -- which have never been disbursed anyway; a regional assembly entirely controlled and manipulated by the Islamists; and complete silence about the land issue, which is at the heart of the conflict.
As was to be anticipated, the agreement quickly came apart. Minnawi, who was given the pompous title of Special Presidential Adviser on Darfur, subsequently lost almost all influence on the ground; fighting never stopped; and banditry grew as disappointed guerrilla groups turned to looting.
Then, three months ago, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1769, which provided for a so-called “hybrid force” composed of UN and African Union troops (collectively the UN Mission in Darfur -- Unamid) to be deployed to Darfur to replace the understaffed and under-equipped AU contingent there.
However, both the UN and the AU felt that the deployment of such a force might be useless if the majority of the Darfur guerrilla groups did not first agree on a common position to negotiate a ceasefire with Khartoum.
Unamid is conceived of as a peacekeeping force, not an invading army, but so far there is no peace to be kept in Darfur. So, on August 3, a bevy of Darfuri rebel groups descended on the small Tanzanian town of Arusha. There were 16 faction leaders, not all of them bona fide. As one said: “Anyone with a Land Cruiser and a satellite phone can proclaim himself a faction leader. The more you recognise individuals as faction leaders by inviting them to talks, the more factions there will be.”
Minnawi was there, carrying his heavy load of compromises, as were Jar al-Naby and Suleiman Marjan, the two main field commanders for the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), and various members of the Islamist-linked Justice and Equality Movement. But Abd-el-Wahid an-Nur, historically the SLA leader, was not there, nor was Suleiman Jamous, the Gandhi-like civil society activist still “hospitalised” in Kordofan under UN protection.
The powerful leader of the SLM Unity faction, Abdallah Yahia, insisted that his group would not take part as long as Jamous, a sick and elderly man, was not released and given proper medical treatment.
The Sudanese government, meanwhile, stated categorically that the whole point of the meeting was simply to get the non-signatories to adhere to the agreement and that the agreement would, under no circumstances, be renegotiated. Since the participants all agreed that the agreement was a dead proposition, this was not an auspicious beginning.
In Arusha, as in Abuja, Khartoum’s tactics appear to have been to try to divide its enemies and get them to sign anything at all. This is similar to the approach it employed two and a half years ago when it got John Garang and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to sign the so-called Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Nairobi.
Today the CPA is falling apart because of Khartoum’s bad faith in implementing it, but from the government’s point of view it does not really matter: it has already bought itself 30 months and has almost that much time again before the chickens come home to roost during elections scheduled for 2009. The end of the North-South war also gave Khartoum’s Chinese allies some basis for supporting them internationally -- it has divided and confused Khartoum’s enemies and enabled it to showcase the SPLA as inefficient and corrupt in its handling of the South’s semi-independence. Bingo.
In the objectives of the Sudanese government, the “DPA redux” (or whatever else is signed in Arusha) is supposed to achieve a similar goal in Darfur: to buy time.
Which is why Khartoum is not pleased with the guerrilla’s position paper, which addresses one of the core questions of the conflict: land.
This is because Khartoum’s motivations for favouring the Arab tribes is basic: ever since the CPA was signed, the monopoly that Khartoum’s Arab elite has on power in the country is potentially threatened. The CPA is not working, but it exists and it provides for a referendum on self-determination for Southern Sudan in 2011 and, if it is not stopped or rigged, it will produce a vote for independence.
If Darfur is not solidly in Arab hands by then, it might create a black African ally for the Southern Sudanese on the Arab bastion’s western flank. This would threaten the North’s access to southern oilfields, which the Darfur guerrilla leaders know and which is why they have pushed land as the main discussion point with Khartoum in the coming months.
The Darfur guerrilla groups know that Khartoum does not and cannot control the monstrous tribal behemoth it has created. The Arab tribes in Darfur are fighting one another over the land that is left behind by the 2,5-million internally displaced people, now cooped up in camps, and the rebel groups’ strategy is to deepen the contradictions of the Sudanese government’s strategy, rather than rush into signing a probably worthless piece of paper.
But this is not what the “international community” wants. Its stock- in-trade is worthless paper -- and it would like one more piece. But the guerrillas, who have just launched another offensive in South Darfur, might have more brutally realistic aspirations.