Articles and Analysies
The Darfurian Anti-Politics Machine by Anne Bartlett*
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May 13, 2006 - 10:55:00 AM

The Darfurian Anti-Politics Machine


In his searing analysis of the failure of World Bank development policy in Lesotho, James Ferguson makes a rather prescient point. In the same way that the anti-gravity machine -made famous in science fiction movies – is capable of suspending gravity with the flick of a switch, so too is the development apparatus capable of the same type of trick: the suspension of politics from even the most sensitive political operations.


Has political reality been suspended from the peace making process as well? Maybe. In the rush to congratulate parties to the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), little attention has been paid to the political record of the Sudanese government and the numerous stalling mechanisms put in place with regard to the implementation of the North-South peace agreement. Little attention has been paid to the ability of the NCP to frustrate the work of oil and border demarcation commissions; little attention has been paid to the NCP’s support of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) in Southern Sudan thus delaying development. Of course it might be argued that all plans are subject to revision in the journey from the drawing board to the ground, but evidence in the case of CPA seems to point to the contrary. It seems to point less to mistakes, than to purposeful obstruction.


And unfortunately this may prove to be a taste of things to come in Darfur. Even if all the rebel factions come on board with the agreement – which is still less than certain - there are gargantuan problems ahead with the establishment of the Transitional Darfur Regional Authority (TDRA) and its implementation workload. It is not that one wishes to be pessimistic; it is just that precedent intervenes.  


Darfur is a mess. And the TDRA has the almost overwhelming task of making the peace agreement “real”. By the AU mediators own admission, this means helping people return to their homes, providing money for rebuilding, providing compensation, sorting out land ownership and organizing security. Any one of these tasks is a massive undertaking in its own right. However when added to simmering resentment over land rights, competition from those who stand to benefit more or less from the agreement and government obstruction, the mix is nothing less than explosive.


We are told that the AU and the United States of America back the agreement wholeheartedly. This is good news. We are told that every effort will be made to ensure that Darfur returns to the peace it deserves. We are told that the government will rein in and eventually disband militias. But a realistic roadmap to produce these outcomes is missing.


If we learnt anything from the North-South agreement it is that the best laid plans can, and will go astray. We are reminded - to use Ferguson’s language here - that there is a complex relation between the intentionality of planning and the strategic intelligibility of outcomes.


Selective amnesia of the government’s appalling record of deal implementation may allow agreements to be crafted, but as the bitter experience of the people of Sudan will show, words alone do not themselves a sustainable peace make.


Anne Bartlett - [email protected]


Anne Bartlett
Research Affiliate, Transnationalism Project
Department of Sociology
University of Chicago

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