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Darfur: no quick fix for peace

Written by Sara Pantuliano

A new initiative jointly led by the African Union (AU) and the UN to resume peace negotiations for the Darfur conflict was launched in June 2007. This initiative follows the failure of an earlier peace process concluded in 2006 with the signature of the stillborn Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA). What should be done differently this time to ensure that peace is really attained?

At a meeting jointly hosted by ODI and Christian Aid on Wednesday 5th September discussions clearly emphasised the importance of learning lessons from the DPA and other peace processes in Sudan. Paramount amongst these is the need not to repeat the mistakes of assigning artificial deadlines to a process that will inevitably be complex and require patience. There is already talk in some quarters of a possible December deadline for a peace agreement. Deadline diplomacy undermined the chances of a lasting peace in Darfur last year and must be avoided again at all costs. So must the desire to find a solution through coercive military operations which are as unfeasible as they are ill-advised. The resolution of the conflict in Darfur will not be aided by rhetorical calls for military interventions, often based on a simplistic vision of the conflict with ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’.

As I have written in the past, the conflict in Darfur, as in other parts of Sudan, is the product of a complex set of interrelated factors. These include historical grievances, local perceptions of race, demands for fair sharing of power between different groups, inequitable distribution of economic resources, disputes over access to and control over increasingly scarce natural resources (particularly land and water), proliferation of arms and militarisation of youth, the absence of a democratic process and other governance issues. The conflict on the ground has also seen a dramatic evolution over the last year, with increasing splintering of the various forces on the ground and a situation of warlordism, with much of the violence at present originating from clashes between and amongst tribal militia as well as rebel factions.

A sustainable solution to the crisis in Darfur will only stem from a nuanced analysis and understanding of the current situation and the search for solutions that can unravel the current complexity. There is no quick fix and it must not be sought. What should be advocated for with urgency is the signing by all parties at the talks of a humanitarian ceasefire which can allow the negotiations to be conducted in a more conducive context. UNAMID, the hybrid AU-UN peacekeeping mission which is about to be deployed to Darfur, could then monitor the ceasefire given that there is no real peace to keep in Darfur at present.

The political and diplomatic energy which has been spent throughout last year in getting the deployment of UNAMID agreed must be urgently diverted to supporting the peace talks, including ensuring that all key parties attend the negotiations. Without an inclusive process there can be no peace in Darfur, as the DPA has shown. In the meantime, international attention must also be urgently refocused on the implementation of the CPA (the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in 2005 by the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army, formally ending 21 years of civil war), which is under increasing strain. Should the CPA collapse, the collective suffering of the Sudanese people will be much greater than that  being currently experienced by the people of Darfur and will make chances of a lasting peace in Darfur even more difficult. On the contrary, key CPA milestones such as the 2009 elections, can offer an important opportunity to initiate a much awaited process of democratisation in the country.