Mahrukh A Mughal
AFTER seventeen years of bloody civil war with hundred of thousands of lives lost, peace finally returned to Darfur, the western region of Sudan which erupted in bloody conflict since 2003. About 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur since rebels took up arms there in 2003, according to the United Nations. Conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile erupted in 2011, following unresolved issues from bitter fighting there in Sudan’s 1983-2005 civil war. The crisis in Darfur was not an accidental disaster, or a human catastrophe that humanitarian intervention could not have reversed or solved. The conflict was as not simple as presented in the media, which portrays the conflict in terms of Arabs versus black Africans. The reality is far more muddled. It was a human tragedy, brewing for decades that finally erupted into a vicious cycle of violence in 2003.
The Darfur conflict was not only a problem for the Sudanese, but also a regional problem. The conflict threatening the stability in other regions of Sudan, and in neighboring countries like Chad and the Central African Republic. Looking at its nature, magnitude and internal dynamics that fueled it, one can see that the conflict had the potential to plague the whole region with a continuous cycle of violence and lawlessness. The chaotic and atrocious nature of the Darfur conflict attracted much attention from the international community. As a result, regional and international actors carried out several peace initiatives to end the violence. The peace efforts that constitute the Darfur peace process include the N’Djamena peace negotiations of September 2003 and April 2004, the Addis Ababa peace negotiations of May 2004,the Abuja peace negotiations of August 2004-May 2006 and the Sirte peace negotiations of October 2007. These peace initiatives did not make substantial progress towards sustainable peace. Since the peace efforts began in 2003, every peace effort was followed by increased violence, and ultimately, the peace process kept failing. Therefore the question arises: Why did the Darfur Peace Process fail? In his book “Understanding Conflict Resolution”, Peter Wallensteen identifies two pivotal factors for a durable peace settlement in intrastate conflicts. The first requires addressing “the distribution of power in a society.” This necessitates the participation of all stakeholders in the peace process in order to ensure their representation in any established government and to receive a fair share of resources. The second factor concerns the security of actors. Wallensteen notes that a sustained peace settlement has to remove the security dilemma of actors. After the completion of a peace agreement, actors should feel secure. Failure to address issues of power-sharing and a continued security dilemma in a peace process might lead to the breakdown of the peace settlement.
An other writer, William Zartman, in his article titled “The Timing of Peace Initiatives: Hurting Stalemates and Ripe Moments”, articulates that resolving conflicts through a negotiated settlement requires a “ripeness” for resolution. For a conflict to be ripe for resolution, the parties must reach a point of “mutually hurting stalemate.” At this point, the disputant parties conclude that victory by escalating the conflict is impossible and the deadlock is painful for both. Thus, the parties enter negotiations as a way out of the deadlock or stalemate. However, for Zartman, the ripe moment has a deadline. Unless the disputants negotiate and end the conflict through peaceful means while it is ripe for resolution, then they resort to violence and conflict escalates. While the aforementioned opinions cover some common ground, the principles these propose do attempt to explain distinct perspectives of peace process in different contexts of conflicts, particularly in analyzing the factors that have undermined the Darfur peace process.
Until the spring of 2005, the UN and key western countries, such as the U.S., Britain, and Norway did not involve themselves in the Darfur peace process. However, these did place a great deal of attention on the negotiations between the Government of Sudan (GoS) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) to end the conflict between the North and South in Sudan. As Alex de Waal puts it, “fearing the north-south peace would be held hostage to an intractable conflict in Darfur, the international community supported the talks between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) as a priority.” After the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in January 2005, the attention of the international community switched to the Darfur peace process and under the leadership of the UN and AU, the Abuja peace negotiations re-commenced in June 2005.
After exhaustive and repeatedly extended negotiations, the peace talks finally concluded with the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) by the government of Sudan and SLM/A in Abuja in May 2006. Although the international community hailed the DPA as a major success, and even though many people hoped that it might finally put an end to the crisis in Darfur, nothing substantial changed in Darfur. DPA implementation fell far short and consequently failed to fulfill the expectations of the people of Darfur. Laurie Nathan, a member of the AU mediation team that produced the DPA, said that, “The Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) of 5 May 2006 has not led to peace and stability and in certain respects has heightened conflict in Darfur.”
The International Crisis Group also reported that “almost a year after Sudan’s government and one of three rebel factions signed the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), the humanitarian and security situation has deteriorated in the troubled western region of Sudan.” Thus, the proliferation and changing nature of the violence, mass displacement, and the deterioration of the humanitarian situation characterized the post-Darfur Peace Agreement period. With the aim of bringing an end to the conflict in Darfur, widely publicized UN and AU backed Darfur peace talks opened in Sirte, Libya on October 27, 2007. From the beginning, the Sirte peace negotiations had been shaky because of the absence of key rebel leaders. The negotiations could not make progress without the presence of the major rebel leaders and, finally, the mediators postponed the negotiations to an unspecified time
For over two decades U.S. imperialism supported a separatist movement in the south of Sudan, where oil was originally found. This long civil war drained the central government’s resources. When a peace agreement was finally negotiated, U.S. attention immediately switched to Darfur in western Sudan. Now that Peace Accord has been finally signed by government and rebels which is an important step in restoring security, dignity and development to the population of Sudan’s conflict-affected and marginalised areas, it is hoped the formal agreement will be followed up with local peace and reconciliation efforts in the conflict-affected areas.
—The writer is an author of ‘2020 & Beyond’ and teaches International Political Affairs.