Darfur update

Alex De Waal is a leading scholar of the Horn of Afica. He has been doing an unbelievable amount of work on Darfur for a few years now. (In fact, his PhD topic was Darfur, where he has spent a lot of time over the years.) Aside from writing two books on Darfur in the last few years and editing at least one more, he has written numerous reports and analyses as well as being involved in negotiations to end the ongoing conflict there.

His recent missive, Prospects for Peace in Sudan December 2007 is an excellent, up-to-date overview of the various problems besetting that country. Here is the part on Darfur:

Darfur: Peace and Protection

35. The Sirte process has coincided with sharp security deterioration in Darfur, including a further proliferation of formally-named armed groups and the new militancy of the Arabs. The process of the fragmentation of the Zaghawa-led rebel groupings and Arab realignment was underway before Sirte and would have occurred without it. However, the way in which the peace process has been handled, keeping the door open to any group that has demonstrated an armed presence on the ground, has not helped. Even if the UN-AU mediation were to decide to call time on the admission of new armed movements to the talks, the damage has already been done, and the cap on new representation would not be treated as a credible action.

36. Without credible Fur representation (i.e. Abdel Wahid or a figure with his stature) and without Arabs who truly represent both Abbala and Baggara, the Sirte process is in danger of becoming merely the arena in which the Zaghawa fragments play out their interminable internal realignments. In terms of retaining or enhancing a united position for the Fur, Abdel Wahid has played his cards well. International efforts to undermine him or divide his support base have not succeeded. His memorandum of understanding with Himati may realign the politics of Darfur’s rebellion and once again make him the pivotal figure. The SPLM efforts in Juba have not succeeded in elevating Ahmad Abdel Shafi to sufficient stature to challenge Abdel Wahid.

37. There is no clear way ahead for the Darfur peace process. Because of non-stop real-time public commentary by advocacy groups, which have instant answers to every problem, diplomats no longer have the option of admitting there is no solution within reach, and taking the time to study and reanalyze the problem. The most likely scenario is one in which the current developments—the new Arab-Fur alliance, the deployment of UNAMID, Khartoum-Washington relations—play out over a year or so before any of the major players are ready to commit themselves seriously to any new process. We should be preparing ourselves for a one or two year containment strategy.

38. The UNAMID deployment introduces an element of uncertainty into Darfur which makes it difficult to move forward politically. UNAMID will need to work hard to be relevant to the realities of Darfur. It can certainly do perimeter patrolling around IDP camps, but is only a modest advance on AMIS. One essential step for AMIS and UNAMID over the coming months is confidence building with the Arabs. A second is to provide training to commanders of armed groups and militia in how a ceasefire works. Another one is a strategy for the IDP camps—the DPA plan for a community police force seems to have been forgotten in favor of a high-risk approach based on formed police units (gendarmes). During January, UNAMID will need to establish its credibility by showing that it is different from AMIS—but without provoking the active hostility of any significant group in Darfur. Key to UNAMID’s success will be the skill and leadership that its civil affairs section can exercise.

39. The Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation cannot formally proceed under current political circumstances. But it can tackle some essential tasks, including bringing Darfur’s Arabs out of their current isolation from internationally-driven processes, building upon local reconciliation efforts where they have occurred, and articulating the basic demands of local communities.

If time permitts, I hope to put some of the  above in context. For those who want to do so on their own, de Waal’s blog is a good place to start. Also check out the Darfur section of Justice Africa’s website.


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