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Sudan: Darfur Peace Talks Analysis
Dec 29, 2006 (061229)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"Military intervention won't stop the killing. Those who are
clamouring for troops to fight their way into Darfur are suffering
from a salvation delusion. It's a simple reality that UN troops
can't stop an ongoing war ... Moreover, the idea of Bush and Blair
acting as global moral arbiters doesn't travel well. The crisis in
Darfur is political ... is a civil war, and like all wars it needs
a political settlement." - Alex de Waal
One may or may not agree with the details of Alex de Waal's
diagnosis of the conflict in Darfur. But his review of the Darfur
peace talks, in which he served as an adviser to the Organization
of African Unity, is essential reading for anyone interested in
ending the violence in Darfur and opening the way to peace and
democracy in Sudan.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin provides excerpts from this analysis,
and links to the full text. Another AfricaFocus Bulletin
sent out today includes other recent commentary on Darfur.
For earlier AfricaFocus Bulletin's on Sudan, and links to
additional information, visit http://www.africafocus.org/country/sudan.php
[Note that these two year-end analyses are slightly longer than
normal for AfricaFocus Bulletin. This is because, in my view, they
are very useful in analyzing the outlook for Darfur in the coming
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
'I will not sign'
Alex de Waal
London Review of Books
[Excerpts only. Full text available on websites of London Review
of Books (http://www.lrb.co.uk) or AfricaFiles
*Alex de Waal is programme director at the Social Science Research
Council and the author, with Julie Flint, of Darfur: A Short
History of a Long War.
December 3, 2006
Military intervention won't stop the killing. Those who are
clamouring for troops to fight their way into Darfur are suffering
from a salvation delusion. It's a simple reality that UN troops
can't stop an ongoing war, and their record at protecting civilians
is far from perfect. Moreover, the idea of Bush and Blair acting as
global moral arbiters doesn't travel well. The crisis in Darfur is
political. It's a civil war, and like all wars it needs a political
Late in the night of 16 November Kofi Annan chaired a meeting at
the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa at which he, the
AU and the UN Security Council reaffirmed this basic fact. When
he promised to bring the government of Sudan and the rebels who
are still fighting around the table within weeks, the outgoing
UN secretary general was adopting a simple and correct rationale:
fix the politics first and the peacekeeping will follow. It's not
a distant hope: the political differences are small.
Long neglected conflicts first exploded in February 2003, when the
newly formed Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) launched guerrilla
raids on government garrisons, and the government responded with
its well-tested counter-insurgency tool of unleashing militia - in
this case the Janjawiid, drawn from Darfur's indigenous Arabs. It
was three years before a workable peace agreement was tabled. And
it very nearly succeeded. Everything hinged on a few weeks this
May, when the Darfur Peace Agreement was finalised and signed by
the Sudan government and one of the rebel factions. Had the leader
of the main part of the Sudan Liberation Movement also signed, the
current crisis would not have happened.
To understand why Darfur is in such straits today, and how the
recent efforts of the UN and the AU can help it escape, it's
necessary to focus on the politics of the negotiations.
The Inter-Sudanese Talks on the Conflict in Darfur began
inauspiciously in the Chadian capital, N'djamena, in April 2004,
with an unworkable ceasefire agreement. [One fatal shortcut was
that] the agreement had no maps attached, and so there were no
details about which territory was controlled by each side. ... From
the start, the African Union Mission in Sudan was mission
... there were five more rounds of peace talks in Ethiopia and in
the Nigerian capital, Abuja, which served mostly as a forum in
which each side could rehearse its condemnations of the other. (I
was on the margins of these talks, the African Union having called
me in as an adviser. The Sudan government vetoed my attendance
until the chief AU mediator, Salim Ahmed Salim, overrode their
objections and attached me to his personal staff.) The seventh
round of talks, which began in Abuja in November 2005, was heralded
as the last.
The delegations would remain ensconced in a dreary hotel on the
outskirts of the city until they came to a deal. Five months later,
progress had been painfully slow, and the AU and its international
partners - particularly the US - had lost patience. [Then there
arrived] an array of international political stars, headed by the
Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, the US deputy secretary of
state, Robert Zoellick, the British international development
secretary, Hilary Benn, and others. In less than a week, government
and rebels were compelled to come to a comprehensive agreement.
In the late afternoon of 5 May, after a final 20-hour negotiating
session, the Sudan government and the SLM faction led by Minni
Arkoy Minawi signed the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA). ...
The DPA is a weighty document, with 87 pages of text and 19
additional pages of implementation annexes. ... The last chapter
sets up a Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation, whereby the full
array of Darfurian community leaders - excluded from the Abuja
talks - can meet to resolve the myriad local disputes. The full
text was tabled only on 25 April and the Arabic translation three
days later. The Darfur rebels' delegates in Abuja were still
struggling to master the 515 paragraphs when they were called on to
make a final and binding decision; none of their people in Darfur
had even seen a copy.
Minawi agreed to sign with conspicuous reluctance ... The next
day I asked him why he had signed a deal fiercely criticised by
most of his faction. Minawi replied: 'I calculated the balance
of forces and I knew I had to sign.' ...
There could be no peace without them and the US had made Minawi's
signature its priority. Routinely describing his faction as the
'largest' and 'most powerful' of the SLM groups, the State
Department flattered and misjudged Minawi. Only by signing the
deal, Minawi calculated, could he realise that large and powerful
Khartoum's delegation was led by Dr Majzoub al-Khalifa, President
Omar al-Bashir's adviser on Darfur. ... In Khartoum, Majzoub's main
job was to position the Congress Party to win the elections slated
for 2009 under the peace agreement signed with the southern rebel
group, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), in 2005. His
role in the Darfur talks was a logical extension of that.
Darfurians comprise perhaps a quarter of northern Sudan's
electorate, and their support - or more likely, an electoral pact
with the main Darfurian parties - is vital for the Congress Party
if it is to secure power. Abdel Wahid, whose SLM had solid support
not only among the Fur (about a quarter of Darfur's population) but
among most other groups too, was the key. Majzoub's task was to win
round that constituency.
With a little more grace, he could have succeeded. But, too busy
counting the small change, he missed the bargain. His own
colleagues grew exasperated with his obtuseness. Although
frustrated that international pressure had prevented them finishing
off the rebels' military resistance, most army generals were keen
to end the war. They were embarrassed by the way their reputations
had been besmirched and fearful of the monster they had unleashed,
the Janjawiid. And, as one of them confided to an AU adviser, 'we
Finally, on the morning of 5 May, Majzoub enumerated his many
reservations about the DPA text, especially the security
arrangements, but said he would sign. At five minutes to six that
afternoon, he shook hands with Minawi and [signed].
Abdel Wahid refused to sign. Although he agreed with all the
security arrangements and with everything in the wealth-sharing
section, save the meagre $30 million, he insisted that there must
be parity of representation in the state assemblies. In the early
days of May, Hilary Benn worked on the text to improve the rebels'
representation, retyping the text himself into the night in the
hotel's cramped office. The major headache was the independents -
both government and rebels considered them as belonging to their
adversary's camp. With more time, the AU team and Benn could
probably have found a formula to satisfy the SLM,and pushed Majzoub
to yield. ...
Would those concessions have been enough? It's not clear. In the
early hours of 5 May Abdel Wahid told Zoellick and Obasanjo: 'I
need a guarantee for implementation like in Bosnia.' The personal
letter he had just received from President Bush wasn't enough: what
he wanted was international military intervention to deliver Darfur
from the Khartoum government. ...
Abdel Wahid faced defections; his own chief negotiator turned up
at the signing ceremony to declare support for the DPA. But he
didn't submit to the pressure.
The next day, he was in a reflective mood. 'If I had known what
was going to happen to my people, I would not have started this
revolution,' he said. 'I came to Abuja to make peace and I will
stay until peace is made.' As the hotel quickly emptied, the SLM
founder cut a somewhat pathetic figure, sitting tight in his room.
Abdel Wahid's use of the first person singular was grandiose, but
the reality was that he held Darfur's future in his hands. Across
Darfur, thousands of people living in camps demonstrated against
the DPA. They weren't demonstrating because they disagreed with the
text - which even now has not been seen by most Darfurians - but
because they knew it didn't have their man's signature on the last
At this point, the African Union's deadline for the remaining
rebels to sign the DPA was just a day away, and Abdel Wahid told
me: 'If they give me 24 hours or 24 days or 24 years I will not
sign... the AU will not determine the future of my people.,,,' Two
weeks later, facing a new, extended deadline, Abdel Wahid again
baulked. 'Remember these words: all of you, the international
community, will create big chaos in Darfur, endless fighting,
endless suffering, endless chaos.'
Robert Zoellick had served as a US trade representative for good
reason. He had mastered every detail in the DPA. He promised and
threatened: at long last Majzoub had met his match. But negotiating
a Sudanese peace agreement is different from sealing a trade deal.
Deadlines, pressure and inflexible insistence on the letter of
agreement simply don't work in Sudan. The US line was that there
could be no renegotiation of the DPA: not one word could be
changed. For Majzoub, the text was only as good as the political
pressure to stick to it and he was ready to reinterpret any
provision he liked whenever he liked.
Overwhelmingly, the Darfurians wanted it changed. Minawi had the
most riding on the agreement: if Abdel Wahid got some extra
concessions, his earlier signature would look foolish. But he too
was unhappy and increasingly isolated, and publicly announced on 15
May that he was working with his 'brothers in the SLM' to improve
the text. As I went back and forth with last-gasp proposals - at
this point I was the only mediator left - I asked myself whose war
this was. And whose peace?
More than Abdel Wahid, whose character he openly despised, Minawi
was afraid of the threat of the Justice and Equality Movement and
its leader, Khalil Ibrahim. The JEM team in Abuja had been the most
professional, and when they decided to engage in substantive talk,
they were constructive and willing to compromise. Unlike the SLM,
in which every commander was a law unto himself, they were
disciplined. Khalil himself rarely put in an appearance at the
talks, and when he did his minions donned identical black suits and
scurried along the corridors to clear him a path. Khalil had been
a mid-ranking government official and still had channels of
communication to the Islamists in Khartoum.
In March he met with the Sudanese vice-president, Ali Osman Taha,
on a trip to Libya, and had evidently decided that May in Abuja was
not the right time to sign up. Thereafter, JEM members were
physically present but largely detached from the negotiations.
Almost all the mediators and internationals dismissed them as an
irrelevance. Only the Eritrean envoy, Abdalla Jaber, had a
different view. 'The AU is making a mistake by underestimating JEM.
They are rearming. They will be a force to be reckoned with.'
Jaber was right. In June, in Asmara, the Eritrean capital, Khalil
brought together some veteran Darfurian opposition leaders and SLM
commanders who hadn't signed the DPA, and created the National
Redemption Front (NRF). Abdel Wahid, fresh from his final refusal
to make a deal with the government, attended; but at the last
moment he decided not to sign the NRF founding document. The NRF's
biggest coup was to win a military alliance with SLM-Unity. Leaders
of this faction, such as Jar el Nabi Abdel Karim and Suleiman
Marajan, insist that they want to reunite the SLM and make a peace
deal with the government, but complain that they were given no
political openings or recognition and were forced into military
alliance with the NRF.
The NRF has relaunched an offensive war, including one attack into
neighbouring North Kordofan, and has inflicted a series of
battlefield defeats on the Sudanese army. When the UN Special
Representative Jan Pronk reported on those reverses and their
effect on the Sudanese army's morale in his weblog, it served as
Khartoum's pretext for expelling him.
Bit by bit, the DPA became the cover for President Bashir's search
for a military solution to the Darfur crisis. As the Abuja
negotiations drew to a close, the Congress Party launched an
internal discussion on Sudanese-US relations. The central question
they asked was: 'Given that we have made peace with the South and
given them everything they asked for; given that we are
co-operating in the war on terror; why are the Americans still
determined to punish us?' Senior Congress Party figures - they
seized power in 1989, when the Berlin Wall was still standing, and
have watched the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Israelis
in Lebanon - simply couldn't believe that the US had a genuine
interest in the human rights of the people of Darfur.
The worst fears of Khartoum's conspiracy theorists had seemed to
be justified when Zoellick arrived in Abuja and revised the
security arrangements agenda of the DPA text, increasing the number
of rebel combatants to be integrated into the army and security
forces to 8000 (80 per cent of these positions, he indicated, would
go to Minawi's men). As Zoellick argued and arm-twisted late into
the night on 2 May, agitated Sudanese generals paced up and down in
the hotel car park, calling their superiors in Khartoum on
satellite phones. They buttonholed mediation team members - by now
excluded from the action - to ask: 'What is America's real agenda?'
General Ismat al Zain, the commander of the Sudanese army in
Darfur, laughed scornfully at the figures: 'Minawi won't be able
to fill a quarter of the positions the Americans are giving him.'
Reflecting Khartoum's line that most of Minawi's fighters are
Chadian, another general asked me: 'Why do the Americans want to
give Darfur to Chad?' There is no evidence that the State
Department has ever entertained such an idea. On the contrary, its
senior staff have rather straightforward ideas about the necessity
of making Sudan a functional and democratic state. But after the
DPA was signed, and especially after Zoellick left the
administration for Wall Street, the US lacked both strategy and
In principle the African Union is the custodian of the DPA. But
there is only one full-time professional staff member working on
Sudan at its Addis Ababa headquarters, and the DPA Implementation
Team in Khartoum has only three senior professionals. Until
September, the AU Special Representative was Baba Gana Kingibe, a
Nigerian politician with his eye on a presidential bid, who relied
on political instinct to navigate his way in Sudan. Kingibe has an
astonishing capacity to size up the dynamics of a meeting in
moments. But he didn't establish a functioning secretariat, a
political affairs unit or a strategy team.
Leaving aside the challenges faced by its troops (unpaid for two
months over the summer), the peacekeeping force in Darfur is
hobbled by having just two political officers in the field. ...
The single biggest blunder was made in August. The Darfur Ceasefire
Commission had been set up after the April 2004 N'djamena
ceasefire. It had functioned poorly, and the DPA spelled out ways
in which it could be strengthened. But what to do with the groups
that hadn't signed the DPA? The AU team discussed the problem in
the days after 5 May and decided that the non-signatories must stay
There would therefore have to be a two-tier ceasefire commission.
The government and Minawi both assert that Kingibe never explained
this to them, let alone got their consent, and as soon as the JEM
representatives walked into the ceasefire commission meeting on 23
June, Minawi's delegates walked out.The commission was paralysed.
Majzoub, with Minawi's agreement, insisted that the JEM and Abdel
Wahid's SLM had become 'outlaws to the process', the very words
used by Zoellick on 5 May. At a moment when strong guidance was
needed from Washington to keep the most representative and the most
militant Darfurian groups at the table, there was only silence.
Kingibe concurred: to overcome the paralysis in the ceasefire
commission, the representatives of Abdel Wahid and Khalil would be
The AU forces were already compromised in Darfur. Part of their
role had been to provide logistical support to the rebels after
the DPA was signed, and they duly transported Minawi and his
commanders around the region, enabling them to reach areas they
could not have reached overland, given their steady loss of
territory. This was seen by the groups that were holding out as a
partisan move. On 28 July, the Sudanese air force used a plane
painted in AU colours to resupply the front line and evacuate their
wounded. This was an act of perfidy - a war crime under the Geneva
Conventions, with so many dismal precedents in Darfur that
paragraph 376 had been specially written into the DPA to prevent
it. The AU remained silent and many Darfurians began to see it as
a party to the conflict. In an attack the AU attributed to NRF
troops, five Rwandan peacekeepers were killed.
We can only guess why President Bashir decided to gamble his
country's international reputation on defying UN Security Council
Resolution 1706, which authorises a robust UN force for Darfur. But
circumstantial evidence suggests that Bashir's paramount
preoccupation is with preventing the secession of southern Sudan.
The critical first step for Bashir is to win at least a plurality
in the 2009 elections, so that he can stay president. Without
Darfur's votes, and worse, with Darfur still in flames, that
strategy is unravelling. Many in southern Sudan don't believe that
Bashir will allow elections to proceed and are steeling themselves
for a new north-south war.
Allowing in UN troops to police a ceasefire and implement a peace
agreement that will help the Congress Party consolidate its place
in Sudan is one thing. Allowing in 'international forces' - the
Arabic term, quwat al dauliya, is the same as the one used for
coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan - midway through a
conflict, with an open-ended mandate, is quite another. The
combination of a huge international force - it would take many more
than the 20,000 estimated to be needed to enforce a ceasefire - and
8000 Minawi troops with, Khartoum suspects, direct US backing,
would in effect bring about a separation of Darfur from the rest of
Bashir rarely enters the political fray, preferring to serve as
umpire to the different factions that comprise his government. On
3 September, however, he overruled the consensus of his party and
his generals and walked into a cabinet meeting to inform his
government that Resolution 1706 was to be rejected, the
peacekeeping force terminated at the end of the month, and the army
deployed to resolve the situation in Darfur. Bashir did not consult
his first vice-president (the SPLM leader, Salva Kiir) or Minawi
or, it seems, most of the other cabinet members. Visibly furious,
he simply announced his decision and allowed no discussion.
Bashir's other main fear is that a UN force would be mandated to
execute International Criminal Court arrest warrants. With
indictments expected soon, Bashir is fearful that his close
military colleagues are likely to be on the list. ...
At the beginning of the last round of talks in Abuja at the end of
last year, Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem of Justice Africa and the
Pan-African Movement, wrote in a column for a Nigerian newspaper:
'Unlike many liberation movements in Africa, which had to depend on
the people to build and plan with them, these rebels have too many
willing regional and international actors indulging their delusions
of grandeur.' The last straw for Abdel Wahid's lieutenants,
including Ahmed Abdel Shafi, who had been with him from the very
beginning, came in Nairobi on 3 June.
Having changed his mind twice in as many days, Abdel Wahid finally
agreed to the latest attempt to get his mainstream SLM into the
peace accord, and said he would fly to southern Sudan the next day
to meet with Salva Kiir, who had taken up the mantle of mediation.
[But Abdel Wahid of SLM did not show.] On 25 July, [SLM leader]
Abdel Shafi announced that 30 SLM commanders had 'ousted' Abdel
Wahid and that he would serve as interim chairman until a
conference could be held. In reality, it was another split: the SLM
has fragmented into as many as a dozen different groups. Securing
peace now needed an extra,preliminary step: a mechanism for getting
the rebel fragments together to agree on a joint platform. ...
Majzoub has been in his element, buying off the splinters one by
one. ...President Bashir has won his confrontation with the US,
which is now signalling that it will accept a continued AU
peacekeeping force, bolstered by UN logistics and expertise. ...
In these fraught political currents the AU is trying to salvage the
DPA through new talks. On 9 November it announced the launch of the
long-awaited Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation, which aims to
bring together all Darfurians in a patient discussion of their
common future. On 13 November the AU invited the non-signatory SLM
and JEM back to the ceasefire commission and two days later Kofi
Annan flew to Addis Ababa on his farewell trip to Africa to
orchestrate a push for a proper ceasefire that confines both army
and rebels to clearly defined areas, and grounds the Sudanese air
force, to be followed by a new round of negotiations.
If these are patient and inclusive, there's a chance to end the
war, and begin the long processes of demilitarising Darfur and
remedying the poverty and marginalisation that led the SLM and JEM
to rebel in the first place. Darfur has one last chance, and the
formula is the best so far. If there's a workable peace agreement,
the odds are that Khartoum will accept a joint AU-UN force to keep
the peace. But is it too late? Many Darfurians believe that their
homeland has become locked into a cycle of violence that cannot be
reversed by an injection of goodwill and diplomatic acumen.
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