Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Darfur in the Pan, Unity On the Call

The New Times (Kigali)

Posted to the web October 12, 2005

Kenneth Kimathi

More than two years into the crisis, the western Sudanese region of Darfur is acknowledged to be a humanitarian and human rights tragedy of the first order: as many as 10,000 people, overwhelmingly civilians, are dying every month. The humanitarian, security and political situations continue to deteriorate: atrocity crimes are continuing, people are still dying in large numbers of malnutrition and disease, and a new famine is feared. The international community is failing to protect civilians itself or influence the Sudanese government to do so.

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Darfur described as massive, the scope of atrocities carried out in the territory, primarily by the government and its allied Janjaweed militias. And the situation on the ground shows a number of negative trends, which have been developing since the last quarter of 2004. They include deteriorating security, including the targeting of humanitarian workers, a credible threat of famine, mounting civilian casualties, the ceasefire in shambles, the negotiation process at a standstill, the rebel movements beginning to splinter and new armed movements appearing in Darfur and neighbouring states. Chaos and a culture of impunity are taking root in the region. Peacekeeping missions, though, have done their best to try and contain the situation. The RDF and other disciplined armed forces who've done splendid work in this region deserve credit.

Nevertheless, insecurity in Darfur remains pervasive despite a decline in direct, large-scale fighting between the government and the two main rebel movements, the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Maintaining the present uneasy status quo is not the answer. The Khartoum government continues to flout its numerous commitments to neutralize its allied proxy militia, the Janjaweed, and more than two million civilians displaced by the conflict will not return home without a comprehensive political settlement including security guarantees. But the problem is not just on the government side: discord within and between the rebel movements also needs to be resolved if there is to be a chance for lasting peace.

The SLA, the dominant rebel force on the ground, is increasingly an obstacle to peace. Internal divisions, particularly among its political leadership, attacks against humanitarian convoys, and armed clashes with JEM have undermined the peace talks and raised questions about its legitimacy. JEM, while less important militarily and suspect among many Darfurians for its more national and Islamist agenda, has similar problems.

As long as the rebels, the SLA in particular, remain divided and the fighting in Darfur continues, there is little hope for real success sought by the African Union (AU)-sponsored peace talks in Abuja, since the government is likely to exploit and exacerbate rebel weaknesses. SLA and JEM fragmentation may contribute to a limited settlement in which the government regains a semblance of authority in Darfur through local deals with tribal leaders and insurgent factions, while the rebel movements find themselves increasingly isolated and irrelevant. Frustrated as it is, the international community would, nevertheless, make a mistake if it chose an appearance of stability over a comprehensive solution since that would leave the root causes of the conflict untouched, despite hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of displacements.

A lasting political solution is still within reach but the AU, Sudan's neighbours, the UN, the U.S. and the European Union (EU) need to press for more comprehensive steps to resolve rebel disunity. The political leadership of the SLA, especially, but also the JEM, should return to Darfur as soon as possible and organize broad-based conferences of their memberships. The SLA conference must be inclusive in representation and participation (including women) and provide a forum for the rebels to solve their leadership problems, forge a consensus on the movement's structure, restore command and control end banditry and define a negotiating position for its delegation at peace talks. Likewise, the SLA and JEM must make continuous efforts to unify their negotiating positions, both to facilitate political talks and to help solidify the ceasefire agreement between the two movements. Last but not least, the international community must improve on coordinating messages to prevent the rebel movements and factions from playing external actors against each other and should support the conferences of the two movements by helping with transport, food aid and security. Such strategies will go a long way in helping the warring factions arrive at a mutual agreement. Consensus is the key word, anything less or to the contrary, will amount to downloading a peace software to an infected computor. It will seldom open, leave alone read. All efforts, first and foremost, should be geared towards achieving peace within, not blowing trumpets on volatile and temporary ceasefires.

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