A Major Breakthrough in Darfur Crisis

26th May 2010 By: ISS, Institute for Security Studies

The current hostilities in Darfur erupted in early 2002 with the government-backed militia committing numerous atrocities against rebels and civilians alike. The rebels too have been implicated in attacks against each other, as well as against international aid workers, not just the government-sponsored Janjaweed militias they claim to be fighting against.

The conflict has turned dramatically into one of the worst humanitarian crisis and ethnic genocide, affecting over a million western Sudanese in the Darfur region. Tensions are also spilling over across the border, intensifying old hostilities, amid allegations of continued support by some neighbouring States for insurgency movements.

Several attempts were made by the international community to restore peace in Darfur. The UN Security Council, which has the primary mandate of maintaining international peace and security, have adopted several resolutions bearing on the crisis of Darfur, but these were mostly ineffective. The African Union - United Nations (UNAMID) mission which started operations in Darfur in December 2007 has a mandate to assist in the process of confidence building, the protection of civilians and humanitarian operations, and observance of compliance with all agreements signed between the parties since the N'djamena Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement 2006.

The European Union (EU) and its Member States have extended a wide range of support to the African Union (AU) since 2004 in order to bring stability to Darfur. However, the high degree of fragmentation of the Darfurian movements have always worked to set back any progress in the direction of restoring peace and stability in the region.

Several agreements were signed between the government of Sudan and some of the Darfurian movements under the auspices of the AU and the UN among others. These agreements have aimed at reaching a fair deal in wealth and power sharing. But consecutive Darfur peace agreements could not secure consensus among all movements. The key obstacle against any agreement remains the high degree of fragmentation of movements, and their lack of political vision. The government of Sudan has always played the politics of divide-and-rule, siding with Darfur's Arab tribes. The result has been fragmented and splintered movements without a proper road map. The outcome has been the following:

• An increasing number of small autonomous armed factions that always adopt an opposite stand to that of the ‘mother group' at the negotiating table.

• A sour relationship between signatory versus non-signatory after negotiation, often involve mistrust and accusations. Fights often break out among adversaries with far reaching repercussions for the community as a whole.

• Various Darfurian groups have demonstrated clearly that they are capable militarily to stand up to Khartoum government's effort to settle the conflict on the battlefield, yet, they also demonstrated their lack of essential political skills that would enable them to move forward with peace negotiations.

Therefore, there is a critical need for a unified and coherent movement which is able to embrace differences among various movements and effectively articulating their goals and objectives. Based on the above, the formation of the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) in February of 2010, which merged over ten Darfurian movements into a single new movement, is a major step in this direction.

The reasons for this optimism are the following:

• As it has been stated earlier, splintering of Darfur movements has been one of the most important reasons for their failure on the political front. LJM has succeeded in forming a consolidated political front from various Darfurian groups. The sheer size of the movement, and the potential that such a merger has for concentrating power and resources in pursuit of its goals, is noteworthy.

• The collective leadership approach adopted by the movement holds high promise particularly under the command of Dr Teigani Sisei (a former international, diplomat and UN expert, who also the governor of Darfur region up until 1989). He brings a range of experience in the area of conflict resolution and deep understanding of the root causes of the crisis.

• The movement enjoys grassroot support from civil society (women and youth), IDP and refugee camps.

The Liberation and Justice Movement and the government of Sudan have agreed upon a Framework Agreement as a basis for negotiating a resolution of the conflict in Darfur. Major points include the following:

• The desire to resolve the conflict within the framework of a comprehensive settlement which addresses its root causes;

• Reaffirming the unity sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Sudan;

• Taking into consideration the National constitution of the Republic of the Sudan, and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)

• Believing in the need for a genuine national reconciliation as a basis for reaching a durable peace in Darfur

Based on that the agenda for next month's Doha talks will address among others, the following issues:

• Power-sharing: enabling Darfur citizens to participate at all levels of governance on the basis of democracy, political pluralism and full equality between the citizens

• Addressing the situation resulting from the holding of 2010 elections through the participation of the movement at different levels of governance

• Administrative status of Darfur

• Compensation of IDPs

• Security issues and final ceasefire

• Issues of justice, the rule of law and reconciliation

Although it might be early to predict the type of success or difficulties the movement might run into, it seems that an atmosphere of guarded optimism has been gradually created. For the first time, the international community and the government of Sudan have a credible partner in resolving the crisis in Darfur.

Written by: Muna A. Abdalla, Senior Researcher, Africa Conflict Prevention Programme, Addis Ababa