Darfur: glimmer of hope?

The April 30 march in Washington, organized by the Save Darfur Coalition, brought out some heroes of the left, like George Clooney, but also some that the hard left loves to hate, like Elie Wiesel and Samantha Power. While policy-makers equivocate, trying to sound tough against the genocide while actually doing not a thing to stop it, the radical left remains largely silent on Darfur: the atrocities there are not being carried out by US imperialism or its proxies, and the solutions most often proposed involve some degree of US military intervention. There is indeed a strong case that another Western military adventure would be a very problematic “solution” at best—but the anti-war left, afraid of losing popularity, doesn’t even bother to make that case. As usual, it is being just as dishonest as the government it claims such moral superiority to.

Meanhwile, at least one of the guerilla factions has agreed to a ceasefire in the long-fruitless talks being brokered in Nigeria. But that leaves two other significant rebel factions—and, even if peace is secured, that still leaves the question of repatriating some 2 million refugees whose villages and crops have been destroyed. And, lest we forget, as the talks grind on in Nigeria, the war is actually spreading, with Chad looking more and more like the next domino… From Reuters, May 5:

ABUJA – The government of Sudan and the main Darfur rebel faction signed a peace agreement on Friday to end three years of fighting that has killed tens of thousands of people and forced 2 million to flee their homes.

Majzoub al-Khalifa, head of the government’s negotiating team, and rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) faction leader Minni Arcua Minnawi signed the deal in the Nigerian capital Abuja after days and nights of intense talks under global pressure.

“We are reaffirming that the fighting ends now in Darfur … We shall go ahead with peace and we shall be serious,” Minnawi said at a signing ceremony at the Nigerian presidential complex.

Rebels took up arms in early 2003 in ethnically mixed Darfur, a region the size of France, over what they saw as neglect by the Arab-dominated central government.

Khartoum used Janjaweed militias drawn from Arab tribes to crush the rebellion. A campaign of arson, looting and rape has caused a humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur and the United States labels the violence there “genocide”.

The peace agreement, which covers security, wealth-sharing and power-sharing, is the result of two years of painstaking negotiations mediated by the African Union (AU).

Two other rebel factions refused to sign, complaining that the document fell short of their basic expectations. Diplomats said this could pose problems in the implementation phase.

“There will be tests because not all have shown courage and leadership today,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick at the signing ceremony. “Those parties are bound by the cease-fire as all are,” he added.

The rebels who refused to sign also risk U.N. sanctions such as travel bans or a freeze on assets.

Three deadlines had passed without an agreement since Sunday because all the rebels had rejected the original AU draft.

To break the deadlock, an international team of diplomats led by Zoellick flew in over the last few days to extract a few extra concessions to the rebels from the government.

They obtained specific commitments to ensure the disarmament of the Janjaweed and stronger provisions for the integration of rebel fighters into Sudanese security forces.


These breakthroughs helped persuade Minnawi to sign the deal at the end of a nerve-wracking week, but they were not enough to convince Abdel Wahed Mohammed al-Nur, leader of a rival SLA faction, or the smaller Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

Diplomats had said all along it was most important to persuade Minnawi to sign as he controls more SLA fighters than Nur, while JEM is marginal in terms of forces on the ground.

Nevertheless, Zoellick, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and other leaders and diplomats tried until the last minute to coax Nur into signing, delaying the ceremony by several hours.

Their efforts failed, but a group of members of Nur’s faction who were upset with him for refusing to sign burst into the signing ceremony as it was almost ending and said they wanted to be associated with the peace agreement.

In an emotive moment, the breakaway members of the Nur faction embraced Minnawi, their former rival, and Khalifa, the government chief, while elderly Darfur tribal leaders in traditional robes and turbans cheered and chanted.

It is uncertain whether the agreement will translate into peace on the ground in Darfur.

A cease-fire has been in place since April 2004 but the AU, which has 7,000 peacekeepers in Darfur, says all sides have continued fighting.

Obasanjo and all the other speakers at Friday’s signing event emphasised that implementation of the deal was the key.

“Unless the right spirit is there, the right attitude, this document will not be worth the paper it’s written on. The spirit that led to the signing should continue to guide the implementation,” Obasanjo said in his opening speech.

Western governments have called for the AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur to be turned over to the United Nations but the government in Khartoum has said it would only consider U.N. troops after a peace agreement.

U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said access for aid workers in Darfur is at its worst level in two years.

“I first spoke to the U.N. Security Council on Darfur two years ago, calling it ethnic cleansing of the worst kind. Today, I could simply hit the rewind button on much of that earlier briefing,” he wrote in an editorial on Friday.

See our last posts on Darfur and the politics of the Sahel.

See also our last special report on Darfur.

  1. Who are the Darfur guerillas?
    It seems the US was actively pulling for a peace deal. This May 6 account from the Washington Post indicates the conspiracy theory that Washington created the Darfur guerillas to destabilize Sudan is perhaps a tad oversimplified:

    Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who has spent three days and nights shuttling among the parties in talks held in Abuja, announced the accord. The two smaller rebel groups balked at signing the deal despite intensive pressure from Zoellick and other foreign officials gathered for the final push.

    The New York Times May 6 provides a break-down of the Darfur guerilla factions, portraying the SLA as “secular” and the JEM as “Islamist”, with ties to Hassan al-Turabi. As we have noted, al-Turabi is a hardliner who led the National Islamic Front, the group behind the Sudanese coup d’etat of 1989, but is now on the outs with the current regime. This would indicate the Darfur war is (in part) an internecine Islamist conflict, with rival elements of the Khartoum regime using Black Africans as cannon fodder. And is the SLA, in turn. backed by the CIA? And does Washington’s support for a peace deal indicate the White House is attempting to groom the comparative “moderates” in Khartoum as allies against the pro-jihadist element?

    Note that the conservative anti-terrorist Jamestown Foundation think-tank also seems to dislike the JEM—a useful scorecard.

    With the White House and al-Qaeda once again mirroring each other’s strategy, Osama also seems to be happily playing both sides, calling for a Darfur jihad against any Western intervention force in his last communique—even as his presumed buddies in the JEM (or at least their cannon-fodder drawn from the devastated villages) would likely welcome foreign intervention as deliverance from the Janjaweed.