By Alex de Waal, the author, with Julie Flint, of Darfur: A Short History of a Long War; he was an adviser to the African Union mediation for the conflict in Darfur (THE GUARDIAN, 29/09/06):
There is still a chance to protect Darfur’s civilians from a further round of violence, hunger and displacement, but only if government and rebels resume peace negotiations. This means stepping back from rhetorical confrontation and empty threats of military action. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir knows that US and British saber-rattling is moralistic hyperventilation, and he has called their bluff. Finding a solution hinges on a sober assessment of what is practical, not on making Darfur a guinea pig for “the duty to protect” or a test case for a new global moral consciousness.
There’s a strong moral case for armed intervention in cases of egregious human rights abuse. Simon Jenkins seemed to argue on these pages last week that if we cannot enforce this principle across the board we shouldn’t enforce it anywhere. That argument is incomplete. He’s right that a principle commands far greater moral force, and truly serves as a deterrent, when it is universal. He’s right that the charge of double standards can undermine the legitimacy of a selective intervention. But he cannot be right to argue that it is wrong to do the right thing in one instance, just because it cannot be replicated consistently. The Genocide Intervention Network, set up by US students, aims to build a permanent anti-genocide constituency, using Darfur as its first case. This is surely legitimate.
The knock-down argument against humanitarian invasion is that it won’t work. The idea of foreign troops fighting their way into Darfur and disarming the Janjaweed militia by force is sheer fantasy. Practicality dictates that a peacekeeping force in Darfur cannot enforce its will on any resisting armed groups without entering into a protracted and unwinnable counter-insurgency in which casualties are inevitable. The only way peacekeeping works is with consent: the agreement of the Sudan government and the support of the majority of the Darfurian populace, including the leaders of the multitudinous armed groups in the region. Without this, UN troops will not only fail but will make the plight of Darfurians even worse.
Over the past two decades we have learned enough about both peacekeeping and ending African civil wars to know that there is a workable alternative to philanthropic imperialism. They’re called peace talks. On this topic, Jenkins is too pessimistic. But that is unsurprising, as the peace process has never been properly covered in the media.
The immediate root of today’s crisis in Darfur is the breakdown of the political process. Violence escalated after the peace talks, which ended in the Nigerian capital Abuja on 5 May, concluded with the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement by the Sudan government and one rebel faction, headed by Minni Minawi. Two groups – the Sudan Liberation Movement of Abdel Wahid al Nur (the largest group) and the Justice and Equality Movement – didn’t sign, and the smouldering war promptly re-ignited.
The breakdown did not happen because the peace agreement was faulty, but because the political process was brought to an abrupt and premature end when Minawi signed. I was part of the African Union mediation team and was present in the final negotiating session when Wahid declared the DPA’s security arrangements “acceptable” and the wealth-sharing provisions “95% acceptable.” He stalled because his party was offered far fewer executive and legislative posts than it wanted, and because his group was given an ultimatum of signing without time to examine the options. The outstanding differences between him and Khartoum were small and could have been accommodated with modest flexibility on both sides.
The disaster of the DPA was that the book was closed on 5 May and those who failed to sign were shut out of any further formal negotiation. All the high-powered mediators left Abuja.
For a month, I stayed behind and continued to facilitate negotiations between Wahid and the Sudan government. We came agonisingly close to an agreement – had we found a formula for providing an additional $100m for immediate compensation for victims of the violence, I believe we might have closed the deal. But, prevented from revisiting the DPA’s text, I had only the tiniest room for manoeuvre. Wahid did agree with Khartoum on a comprehensive ceasefire, including withdrawal of forces to designated zones of control, demilitarisation of displaced camps and humanitarian supply routes, restriction of the Janjaweed leading to ultimate disarmament, and much more robust mechanisms for monitoring and reporting violations. But that counted for naught when he was given the “take it or leave it” option on the whole package.
When that last-chance mediation failed, Khartoum insisted that the rebels who hadn’t signed up should be expelled from the Darfur ceasefire commission. The AU’s greatest error was to acquiesce in this decision, which has left its troops branded as pro-Khartoum by many Darfurians.
Sudan’s government shoulders the greater part of the blame for today’s violence on account of its perfidy and military aggressiveness. But it was correct in appreciating that, with only Minawi’s signature, the DPA could not be implemented and could not bring peace.
We need to get back to negotiation. Step one is to reconstitute the Darfur ceasefire commission so that all the warring parties are represented. A good ceasefire agreement is the best measure to protect Darfurian civilians.
Step two is resuming dialogue towards an overall political settlement. This involves a credible negotiation to address the shortcomings of the DPA and also a patient and all-inclusive community dialogue to address the local issues that contributed to the war and mass killing. Diplomatic efforts are underway on both: they need political backing and time to succeed.
We should recognise that restoring stability to Darfur is a long task – at least seven to 10 years – and that this job is nine parts politics and community relations to one part force, or the threat of force. And while the Sudan government is the major cause of the tragedy, that government must also be a partner in finding a solution. The decision to keep AU peacekeepers until the end of the year gives us a breathing space. Let’s tone down the rhetoric and focus on the politics and the practicalities.