Sudan's wars are not over yet

News and Press Release
Originally published
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Posted by: AnnaMacdonald in Sudan, Darfur
by James Smith, Director, Aegis Trust

If the war is over in Darfur it begs the question why 2.5 million displaced people stay put in the camps.

As the military commander of the UN force in Darfur (UNAMID) leaves his post, the up-beat analysis that the six-year conflict in Darfur is over raises some questions.

General Agwai is right that the key security issue in Darfur is no longer massive brutal attacks on African villages but is now low-level banditry. That is because the Government of Sudan ceased to support atrocity operations on the scale it did between 2003-6. But why did the Darfur crisis enter this different phase? Some of it might be on account of UNAMID's presence, to give General Agwai some credit. The leadership of the atrocity campaigns were also rattled when the UN Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court, leading to the indictment of a Government Minister, an Arab Janjaweed leader and eventually the President of Sudan and leader of the National Islamic Front (NIF), Omar al-Bashir.

But the key reason for the change of level of violence is that after 2.5 million people had been displaced into camps, both inside and outside Sudan's borders, the status quo suited the NIF. Ethnic cleansing has already taken place in Darfur. They are content to keep it that way.

I was on the Kosovo-Albanian border in the summer 1999 after the ethnic cleansing had been orchestrated by the Serbian Government. Once NATO made it safe for people to return to their homes, I witnessed how the refugee camps emptied within days. It begs the question then if the war is over in Darfur why these 2.5 million people in stay put in the camps. They know that the causes of violence have not been addressed and the Government of Sudan and its allies who committed crimes against humanity have not been brought to account. Banditry is not the main fear. It is the real threat that if they go home villages will be burned, wells poisoned and the women raped.

Gen. Agwai is also right that divided rebel groups are a factor in the region's problems. But the rebels have always been divided - and still there was conflict. It happens that the rebels being divided in Darfur also suits Khartoum. Indeed, it is an age-old tactic deployed by the NIF to keep their enemies divided among themselves: because then Khartoum doesn't need to agree to a peace deal that might address their crimes. Division among rebels is not a cause of the war being over; quite the opposite. It is a barrier to finding a long term peaceful solution in the region.

Some rogue rebels are accused of killing soldiers under Agwai's command, and one suspect has handed himself in to the ICC this year. It is unhelpful however to characterize the Darfur rebels as though they are the underlying cause of violence in Darfur. That is plain wrong. The crisis will never be solved if the structural issues beyond the rebels are not addressed - principally the wealth and power sharing arrangements.

As with the rest of Sudan, talk of an end to conflict in Darfur is optimistic indeed. In the next two years there is risk of not only in Darfur, but in South Sudan and other volatile regions of Sudan. If wealth and power sharing issues are not addressed with a degree of urgency, intractable violence may erupt in many parts of this largest country in Africa. The conflicts have the same root causes and the same consequences: marginalised, oppressed people rising up; bloodshed and mass atrocity in response to subdue them.

Political solutions to Sudan's conflicts are encapsulated by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which ended the civil war between the North and the South. It has lasted more than two decades and killed nearly 2 million people. The CPA is imperfect and groups such as the Darfuris in the West of Sudan felt left out. But it is a framework - the only framework with signatories - upon which the future of Sudan can be structured. Within its provisions, in 2010 there should be elections in Sudan and in 2011 a referendum in which Sudanese may determine whether Sudan will remain unified or whether the South may break away.

It is these elections and especially the referendum that could spark conflict and violence on multiple fronts causing fragmentation of Sudan and a humanitarian disaster that will inevitably affect other countries, not only those neighbouring Sudan.

The key to the future of Sudan of course lies with the Sudanese: with the National Islamic Front, who hold power in Khartoum and are responsible for most of the atrocities in this troubled region, with the Government of South Sudan who have a fragile coalition with the NIF and somehow also responsibility lies with the rebels in Darfur to unite.

However the focus to prevent this looming catastrophe for the whole of Sudan must come from those with influence in the region: The world's only super power, the United States, China who exports the majority of Sudan's oil, the African Union as the regional political body, the Arab League who encourage Khartoum's shameless acts and the European Union and its member states including the UK.

Consider their diplomats as doctors for a minute. If doctors covered a wound with a bandage when gangrene was setting in, serious questions would be raised about their competence and duty of care. Likewise, if diplomatic efforts are not refocused and redoubled many innocent people will perish in Sudan, raising questions about the commitment of world leaders to prevent mass atrocities.

The implications go beyond Sudan. Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was born the same year as the CPA, in 2005, when world leaders agreed at the UN World Summit there is a collective responsibility to protect people from genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Should those same world leaders allow the CPA to sink in the sea of indifference they should be mindful that R2P may be sucked down with it.