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Darfur: Another chance for peace?

Time (GMT +01) 12:00 13:15

Theodore Murphy, Project Manager, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue
Michael O'Neill, UK Special Representative to Sudan, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Helen Young, Professor, Feinstein International Center, Tufts University

Sara Pantuliano
, Research Fellow, Humanitarian Policy Group, ODI

This meeting was conducted under the Chatham House rule. What follows is a summary of key points. Discussion ranged between speakers and participants and covered a range of issues related to the peace process in Darfur.

Introduction Darfur within the wider Sudan peace process

The conflict in Darfur is not a priority for domestic politics in Sudan , particularly in comparison with some of the national issues being played out under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). In fact, Darfur is chiefly of concern because of the high level of international engagement on the issue. It can be said to be more of a foreign rather than domestic policy concern. This has serious implications for the Darfur peace process as the fragility of the CPA means that the suffering seen in Darfur could spread across the rest of the country, curtailing the likelihood of establishing lasting peace in Darfur and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the country. On the other hand, however, important CPA milestones such as the 2009 elections, can offer an important opportunity to initiate a much needed process of democratisation in the country.

There are also important lessons that can be learned from previous peace agreements such as the Naivasha process and the DPA process in Abuja . These include the importance of conducting inclusive talks; the importance of conducting comprehensive talks (no quick fixes or deadline diplomacy); and the importance of a long term recovery and stabilisation process with meaningful and sustained external support.

Darfur Peace Negotiations

The many divisions between and within the rebel groups are an obstacle to the peace process. Fractions between the leadership and forces on the ground are widespread and have repercussions on the humanitarian situation on the ground as many forces are not coherently aligned and many are isolated without real leadership. This makes it impossible to engage in a sustained political process and negotiations therefore need to ensure all the relevant actors are present. Previous meetings have failed due to important absentees. Overcoming these divisions within rebel groups will make negotiations more sustainable and the international community has an important role to play as a neutral facilitator.

There are many challenges to sustaining a peace agreement. Firstly there is a need to ensure the participation of legitimate stakeholders. The participation of illegitimate groups may cause resentment as will the fact that important groups have been excluded from the process. There are several technical and logistical issues as well, particularly as many rebel groups are divided, and there are numerous parties involved in the process. This is coupled with the difficultly of resolving the main topics such as issues around power-sharing and the security arrangement.

Livelihoods in the Peace Process

The humanitarian response and a sustainable peace and recovery process will need to consider the challenges at the local level, particularly with regards to livelihoods. There is currently a gap in understanding livelihoods between local and international perspectives, including the Darfuri diaspora. This gap is present in the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) and in the current international response that only focuses on the human rights abuses, the killings and displacement. Although these issues are important, the peace process will also need to include the causes and evolution of the conflicts that are linked to livelihoods.

There are four main issues that affect livelihoods: a) the nature of the conflict is changing as security deteriorates and some groups are fracturing, more groups forming, alliances changing and there is an increase in inter-tribal fighting; b) the current conjuncture has an impact on livelihoods through direct asset stripping, which erodes the livelihood asset base for all groups, and indirect asset stripping, which affects a wider range of groups; c) the evolving war economy, such as the construction boom, is leading to an overexploitation of natural resources such as timber. Many humanitarian assets are also being striped, particularly vehicles; and d) the absence of local governance institutions that can address and resolve competition over natural resources has led to conflict.

These issues have various implications for the peace process: a) there is a need to promote understanding and analysis of livelihoods between those key stakeholders involved in the peace process; b) the process needs to promote participation from all groups, particularly from the local level; c) deadlines need to be relaxed in order to leave adequate time in understanding local dynamics; d) there is a need to prioritise building the capacity of local and international stakeholders (including the international hybrid force) to support a humanitarian response that promotes livelihoods.

International Engagement in the Peace Process

The international community is committed to a peace process that a) is comprehensive and linked to the other peace processes in Sudan; b) cooperates with all stakeholders; and c) is based on complicity by all parties. Their commitment is highlighted in the four key points that emerged from the strategy put together by Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy:

•  There needs to be a focus on providing security and humanitarian access and the UN/AU hybrid force needs to respect humanitarian space.

•  There needs to be support to the UN/AU led political process. Security and humanitarian issues are only a first step to gaining a political settlement. There needs to be a balance between a sense of urgency and speed and ensuring an inclusive and lasting settlement.

•  There needs to be a greater emphasis on the economic dimensions of the conflict and how to link immediate recovery needs with longer term development. These need to be sequenced with progress in security and in the political process.

•  Regional dimensions need to be tackled such as the situation in Chad and CAR and peace process must include other regional stakeholders such as Egypt , Chad , Libya , Eritrea and the Arab league.


The discussion touched on the effectiveness of the high profile media campaign on Darfur and the usefulness of deadline diplomacy. The highly publicised international media campaign was seen as an effective way to ensure Darfur stays on the international agenda and does not become a forgotten conflict; however, it is not expected to generate nuanced analysis that can help feed into an adequate response, this is the domain of other research institutions. Deadline diplomacy needed to be used with care as pushing for a peace agreement too quickly may limit its sustainability. However, a sense of urgency is still needed to put pressure on the GoS and the rebels to come to a ceasefire and alleviate the human suffering.

The importance of a participatory peace process was raised that emphasised the inclusion of local level stakeholders that can ensure their analysis from the ground is fed into the process. The DPA should not be seen as a final settlement and the peace process needs to build on it and tackle other important key issues that are unresolved such as power sharing and livelihoods. It also needs to be linked with the CPA.

The discussion also revolved around economic interventions in Darfur . These should not focus on large economic activities but rather on relieving acute humanitarian needs. Under the umbrella of a principled humanitarian response there is a lot of room for manoeuvre, particularly in supporting livelihoods through farming and trade. There also needs to be a sustained transition from relief to recovery rather than rigidly defined sequencing.


The Darfur Peace Agreement signed in May 2006 was hailed as marking the end of the brutal conflict that had raged in Western Sudan since 2003. However, within weeks of this agreement, fighting had resumed and even escalated across Darfur. In the last year the three original rebel movements have fragmented into 12 armed groups; civilian displacement has continued; humanitarian access is severely reduced and banditry is rife.

Acknowledging the need for a resumption of negotiations, the AU and UN have created a new initiative led by a joint AU-UN mediation team, which is making tentative steps towards the resumption of negotiations. However significant challenges face the process not least the fragmentation of the rebel movement and the need to involve the displaced and marginalised population in decision making.

At this ODI Humanitarian Policy Group and Christian Aid event, key experts including individuals directly involved in the peace process, gave their assessments of the current situation in Darfur and the key challenges to be overcome.

This meeting was conducted under the Chatham House rule. The meeting report (see link below) offers a summary of key points. Discussion ranged between speakers and participants and covered a range of issues related to the peace process in Darfur.