Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 9 May 2006

Darfur: Back to Business as Usual

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By Anne Bartlett*

May 8, 2006 — Only hours after the ink has dried on the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), the Government of Sudan has revealed its contempt for the peace process and humanitarian norms.

In a show of what can only be described as “business as usual” Jamal Mohammd Ibrahim put paid to suggestions that a UN force would automatically be allowed into the region. Speaking to Reuters he argued that the idea of an immanent UN force was untrue: "This is not accurate. I don’t know who made this statement. ... It has to come after an assessment by the Sudan government. If the need arises then Sudan may decide to do so. Otherwise no one has the right to impose foreign forces on Sudan,"

Of course this should come as no surprise to anyone even mildly acquainted with the Sudanese regime’s tactics. Their obvious glee at the peace deal signing ceremony on Friday stemmed from its many loopholes; the chance aplenty to stray off its path under the guise of implementation difficulties. It marks an opening salvo in the new round of “deal dodging”: a game that will also involve strenuous efforts to renege on what has thus far been agreed.

Are the people of Darfur well served by this agreement? It is questionable. Known as the land of the Fur for a reason, it is not clear how far any peace deal can progress without the SLA Fur faction led by Abdelwahid al-Nur. Now we are told that the government is seeking a deal with Khalil Ibrahim of JEM; that there are dissenters in Abdelwahid’s ranks such as Abdelrahman Musa Abakr (one of the negotiators) and that the government will seek to isolate Al -Nur by appealing over his head direct to traditional elders from the Fur tribe.

Unwittingly or otherwise, the international community and the Western media have been participants in one of the most shameful episodes of victim blaming in recent history. Conventional wisdom holds that the rebels took up-arms in response to marginalization and the opening shots of the current conflict were fired in 2003. The well rehearsed argument is that this was a blatant play for power: an attempt to bomb their way to the negotiating table. Few have bothered to look back to the 1992 when villages such as Dili, near Shoba, in Northern Darfur were attacked; when it was burned again in 1999 by an Arab militia or even to consider the burning of Shoba in 2002 with devastating losses. If they did they would understand the reason why the rebels took up arms: they had lost significant numbers of their family members and they feared for their lives.

Contemptuous remarks by writers such as Jonathan Steele in the Guardian about overly favorable reporting of the rebels cause are cheap: they don’t require anything more than a superficial engagement with the issues. If he bothered to check his history books he would understand the unremitting duplicity of the government of Sudan in every respect; the geopolitical wrangling that has allowed the people of Sudan to be slaughtered in their millions. He would understand that calls for greater power sharing are rooted in the reality of dealing with a government that has no respect for human life. He would understand that compensation can barely scratch the surface of the wrongs done to the people of Darfur. And he would understand that al-Nur’s reticence to compromise is rooted in an understanding of what will follow from a poorly crafted agreement.

But why bother? Now that the international community is engaged in a congratulatory round of back-slapping is easy to forget such things. Deals have been done; papers signed. Never mind the implementation; never mind equality or justice. That would require more time and worse still, attention to those annoying details.

* Dr Anne Bartlett, is a Research Affiliate, Transnationalism Project, Department of Sociology -University of Chicago, USA. She can be reached at
albartle@uchicago.edu



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