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Lessons from the failure of Darfur Peace Agreement


Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA): ‘Manna’ from Heaven for Government of Sudan and a Gift from Hell for Darfurians

By Mehari Taddele Maru*

March 25, 2007 — The first questions to be raised with regard to the Darfur crisis are: indeed is it possible to bring peace to Darfur without active participation of the Darfurians? Anyways, who owns the Darfur issue: only the rebel groups, the government of Khartoum or the international community? Why did the DPA failed? And what are the lessons to be learned from the DPA?

1. The DPA was imposed on Darfurians and in Africa proximity matters for participation in peace processes

CNN could be somebody to the well connected part of the World; however it is nobody in Darfur. The signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was live televised by CNN in May 2006 from Abuja, Nigeria. This breaking news event did not reach to the common Darfurians, who are going through the agony of daily life in Darfur. Due to infrastructural constraints, in Africa, proximity determines relevance of all events, even those events making it breaking news. For Darfurians, the DPA was nothing but a gift from hell. They knew nothing about this peace process that is supposed to bring peace to them. Their representatives were not part of the deliberations towards the DPA. The DPA was discussed in Nigeria, far away from Darfur. Live coverage by CNN could not reach Darfur. Let’s not forget the huge digital divide between the North and the South applies to Darfur too. Moreover, Nigeria is far away for news to be carried in the traditional means of oral transmission of news in Africa. The ideas of the DPA emanated within few parties and ended the same place without reaching the population in Sudan. The sources of the ideas of DPA were the African Union (AU) imposed by the highest officials of USA and UK ministries of foreign affairs.

2. Ownership of Peace Process is very vital: the DPA was for Darfurians, but not by Darfurians and of Darfurians.

The most fatal deficiency of the DPA comes from its exclusion of the common Darfurians. The first reason for its failure is lack of ownership of the process towards the DPA by its main beneficiaries—the Darfur People. Under the DPA made the Darfurian rebel groups to remain the object and not the subject of the peace process. The DPA signed only by the Government of Sudan and a splinter group from the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) led by Mini Minawi proved unsustainable. The other two rebel groups—Abdul Wahid of SLA/M and Khalil Ibrahim of Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) did not sign the DPA. Both non-signatory rebel groups are more popular within the common Darfurians and the rebel commanders on the ground. Lack of common negotiation ground by the Darfurians was smartly manipulated by the government of Sudan, who signed the DPA immediately.

The people of Darfur could have been represented in the peace process towards DPA by traditional and religious leaders, and local civil society organization. The youth should have been widely consulted as the seeds of sustainable peace are sown in the minds of the youth. Moreover, the Darfurians in Diaspora, who have the means to travel to Abuja unlike the poor people of Darfur, were not invited. For this reason, it was clear from the beginning that the DPA will fail as it was meaningless for the local Darfurians. Hence, the DPA’s failure is not only its inability to bring all the rebel groups on board, but rather it failed to ensure Darfurian ownership of the process. It clearly was acceptable by the people in Abuja but not in Darfur. For this reason, the DPA, even if its signing event was live televised by CNN, was not taken seriously by the Darfurians.

3. The DPA is a cure dangerous than the medicine: it had divided and victimized Darfurians

The DPA engenders unintended consequences detrimental to Darfurians. Contrary to the intended consequence, the DPA has spawned new fragmentation within the forces fighting for Darfur. In 2005, the SLA/M split into two groups—one led by Mini Akour Minnawi and another one led by Abdul Wahhid El Nuur. Several well known commander of the rebel group was disorientated. Mini Minnawi is from Zaghawa community and is supported by Libya. Abdulwahid’s group is mainly from Fur, constituting more than quarter of the Darfurians. The DPA created schism and antagonism among the rebel groups to the advantage of the Government of Khartoum. Now, unlike before the Government of Sudan is effectively manipulating the DPA to ‘divide and rule’ Darfurians. The more fragmented the political forces, the more difficult dispute settlement becomes. This is the second reason why the DPA failed to bring stability to Darfur. The rebel groups have no strong internal organizational unity. Schism within rebel groups is clearly one of the most binding constraints for sustainable and durable peace agreement and implementation in Darfur. Fragmentation of political forces will be the most binding obstacle for sustainable peace process in Sudan. As rebel groups will not sufficiently legitimize any future peace process, broad based public consultations are necessary to remove this bottleneck.

Seen from its effect, the DPA is against the united interest of the Darfur people. It also served as an incentive for the government of Sudan to disregard the DPA. The DPA victimizes Darfurians and benefits the government of Sudan. The DPA exacerbated existing divisions and created new differences among the rebel groups. Indeed, for the government in Khartoum, the DPA was ‘manna from heaven’. DPA weakened the unity of rebel groups and actually led to shifting in alliance of forces. For example, now the Mini Minawi group is working with the government forces against the remaining rebel groups SLA/M and JEM. After Darfur, the fighting in Darfur is not between the government of Sudan and Darfurians. Rather it is among the Darfurians. Due to the DPA, Darfurians are fighting each other. Now, not the only the government of Sudan and Janjeewds but also the Darfurians and the international community are responsible.

4. The Solution to Darfur lies on the fate of Southern Sudan and Sudan as a whole

Currently, there are two humanitarian disasters in the Sudan: Darfur and Southern Sudan. There are also two peace agreements, the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) of May 2006 and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which was signed in 2005 by the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). Under the CPA, Southern Sudan is granted autonomy with a right for self-determination. From now to 2011, there will be three elections including a referendum to be held in 2011. The same agreement provided equal share of the oil revenue between the Government in Khartoum and the Government of Southern Sudan. The CPA encouraged the remaining Darfurians to claim equal autonomy and serious attendance to their region by the government of Khartoum. While the immediate cause of the Darfur crisis was the CPA, the root cause was bad governance of Sudan and discrimination at the hands of the Arab dominated local governments. The Darfur crisis started as a struggle for decentralization and autonomy equal to the one granted to Southern Sudan. That is the reason why the success in effective implementation of the CPA for Southern Sudan will determine if the situation in Darfur will be improved.

5. Way Forward: Three Suggestions

Darfur is one of, if not the, worst humanitarian disaster in our time. It is also clear that it demanding serious concerted international intervention. The DPA was the end and the main product of diverse dispute settlement efforts of the international community. Now, it has successfully failed to bring stability to Darfur. The main cause of its failure as stated above is its inability to bring all stakeholders, particularly the Darfurians, on board. DPA can serve as building blocks towards better understanding of the crisis, the actors and, thus, lessons could be learned for a better future dispute settlement results in Darfur and elsewhere.

In this regard, I have three suggestions.

1. The international community should ensure that next peace process is entirely owned by the Darfurians, is of the Darfurians and for the Darfurians.
This can be done by bringing all the rebel groups, the traditional and religion leaders, local CSOs and associations, Darfuran in Diaspora, representatives the commanders in the field together and the youth which is the hope for the future of Darfur and Sudan. Any peace process on Darfur crisis should ensure Darfurian ownership. This is suggestion one.

2. Bring the Darfur Peace Process to Darfur and peacekeeping forces to ensure security for protection
Previous dispute settlement efforts were in far away places such as Abuja and Addis Ababa., people particularly traditional and religious leaders, and the youth could be able to participate and follow it. Future peace processes should be conducted in Darfur. Take Darfur Peace Process to Darfur: CNN is nobody to the Common Darfurians. This is suggestion two.

3. AU will increase legitimacy to the AU-UN hybrid mission. It also, gives popular acceptance to the AU-UN hybrid mission. In the long term, AU-UN hybrid mission would enhances local expertise on peace making and peace keeping efforts.

Last year, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and African Union (AU) decided to replace African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS). Later on due to opposition from the Government of Sudan, it was agreed to have a ‘hybrid’ AU-UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur. I argue that AMIS should remain in the driver’s seat in the Darfur. This is not by any means to say that AU is doing ‘Great!’, rather given the resources at its disposal it is doing ‘fine’. My reasons are the following: a total withdrawal or disengagement of AU from its leading role would have a long term effect of disempowering and de-legitimizing AU and other regional organizations. AU would accumulate experience and enhance its competence in dealing with similar kinds of local and regional conflicts if it stays in Darfur. Moreover, AU would not only boost the legitimacy of UN Peace Keeping Mission but also the popular acceptance of UN and AU. It would re-assert the credo of African Solutions for African Problems. With the support of UN, EU and US, the AU can build its capacity and experience in peace keeping and dispute settlement for future crisis of similar in nature and size. It is also in line with the international law of complimentarity to regional mechanisms of dispute settlement and peace keeping mission. I strongly believe that the international community should work towards complimentarity in dealing with problem such as Darfur. For me the principle of international complimentarity is the same as serving as ‘back-up’ protection if the regional or national system unable or unwilling to perform the work. Empowering the AU and other regional organization would help UN and regions to provide local solutions to their problems. Keep the African Union in the Driver’s Seat. This is suggestion three.

* The writer has served as Legal Expert at African Union Commission. He was also the Director for University Reform at Addis Ababa University. Currently, he is a postgraduate student at Harvard University. He holds M.Sc from University of Oxford and LLB from Addis Ababa University and was a fellow of Ethno-political Conflict Studies at University of Pennsylvania. He can be reached at mehari_maru@ksg07.harvard.edu..

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