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When will Darfur mediators learn (2) By Suliman A Giddo*
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Nov 13, 2007 - 7:24:06 AM

When will Darfur mediators learn (2)

By Suliman A Giddo*

There are so many lessons that our mediators should have learned by now. After the Abuja Peace Agreement, which restrained peace process, we expected that further consultations and a refinement to the agreement would follow to resolve the conflict in Darfur.

To begin, the environment in which the Abuja negotiations took place was one in which the mediators were peremptory and over-controlled the rebel delegations; this exerted tremendous, and unrealistic, pressure on the movement leaders. If it were otherwise, what did the Chair of the African Union mean by his statement to the Sudanese Government’s delegation that “anything acceptable to the Sudanese parties is acceptable to us.”? (Alex de Waal, 2007, War in Darfur, and the search for peace-, page 278) The Chairman completely ignored the presence of the other negotiating parties; that statement alone was enough to prove to the rebels that their perception of a profound bias on the part of the mediation team was true.

 

A mediator’s role is to be a neutral actor and to propose helpful and workable solutions for a settlement rather than empowering itself to make decisions that favor one side to the exclusion of the other. I don’t mean to reduce the value and the importance of the mediator’s engagement and investment in the peace process; my point is that by observably taking a side, which was completely denied to the other parties in Abuja, the African Union completely lost the trust of the rebel parties. There are high hopes that the UN integration into the peace process will add a trustworthy aspect that has been missing; however, this too could go awry if it follows the African Union’s serious missteps.

 

Let us agree that the mediators have never been partial to the rebels but in this complicated conflict, another choice or direction might be of greater value than simply dragging feet over the same old ground and resulting in the same old failure.

 

Mostly the rebels have to be blamed for their endless number of splinter factions that confuse even themselves—perhaps more so than everybody else--and they have driven the original alliance apart. They started to look at the situation in Darfur with sorrow, but also with a helplessness that can engender the kind of chaotic spiral we see now. It hardly seems possible, but there is more destruction on the ground, violence has tripled, and the suffering has spread to include new areas in Darfur. The rebels were driven by the misperception and short-sighted vision of the mediators (the African Union at that time). Depression and frustration spread to the members on the ground and this has been expressed by ethical and interpersonal disintegration. This grim state of affairs reduces positive interaction that would facilitate a coming together to prepare a shared agenda of resolutions to end the conflict.

 

Drawing on years of gloomy experience, consistent in both failure and depression, the international community has splintered on the creation of an equitable environment for all Darfur factions and thus has been unable to produce a peace agreement with which all can live. Combatants, on the other hand, have lost their way and deviated from their main goals and ideals that started their struggle in the first place, nearly five years ago.

 

            There are now uncountable numbers of rebel factions, operating under different names and separate commanders, without a proper chain of command.   The loss of trust among those factions is the intrinsic reason for turning against one another. It has produced arrogant leaders who have caused even further fragmentation, sometimes causing war among the different rebels for territorial control. A similar number of individuals living abroad, who proclaim themselves as political leaders are claiming a presence of factions on their behalf that don’t exist in the ground ; it has complicated everybody’s effort to bring peace on the ground.

 

Among other minor positive decisions made by the African Union in Abuja was not acknowledging a newly-born and splintered faction of JEM. It completely eliminated the chance for further attempts to draw this group into negotiations. That would have been the proper approach, but unfortunately after two years, the international community has unwisely endorsed different factions without paying much attention to their presence on the ground. That emboldened enormous numbers of rebels to the point where they don’t only confuse themselves, but any effort to know who is who and how much control they have on the ground is close to impossible.

 

The government of Sudan, on the other hand, has achieved its public relations goal of diverting attention from the Jenjaweed, their destructive arm in the Darfur war, and playing the role of interpreter to the outside world. By using a common tactic in multi-ethnic countries--blaming unrest solely on ethnic fighting—the government has succeeded in reframing the war as mainly a problem among rebel factions and tensions amongst Darfuri tribes. Khartoum, the main party to the conflagration in Darfur, via its proxy militia, now appears in many news reports as the “voice of reason,” the innocent party trying to bring peace, law and order to the region and invoking their right and responsibility of sovereignty.

 

It is within this context that the United Nations and the African Union have approached their peace process and prepared for the Libya talks, which the main rebel groups have boycotted for several reasons. These reasons include improper consultation with rebels for locations and times, in other words, logistics beside other observations where each faction have.

 

When the initial signs of failure started to appear with regard to Libya, the international community started hunting for the fighters and field commanders to bring them as individuals to the negotiation table. This is the biggest mistake the international community is committing; it will only cause more fragmentation, creating a larger gap between the field commanders and their political leaders. This only adds more elements to set up a failure in Libya. Even if an agreement is reached, it will never find its way on to the ground in Darfur. The field commanders will never serve the peace purpose that everybody is seeking.

 

The main challenge is how can the international community “round up” over twenty different delegate members, with different negotiation positions and interests on one side, with a well-prepared government of Sudan on the other? How can they come together with an adequate agreement to even meet, much less a wish for peace?   This did not work before, so why are the African Union and the United Nation taking such a high-risk approach?   In any event, the talks in Libya have very little hope. Let us face this problem in good faith and reality and propose a better and more effective arrangement. Instead of hunting commanders, begin real communication and dialogue to create and build trust among the rebel commanders; connect them with their political leaders so that they can come to the table with their own accepted platform and prevent further violent escalation.

 

It has become more obvious than ever before that the restoration of the Arusha initiative could be the right step towards creating a better policy for these different and various factions to prepare for the negotiation table.   With mutually-agreed upon arrangements and comprehensive discussions among the rebels, arrival at an agenda that includes their aspirations is quite possible. This strategy could stop the vicious cycle of tragic conflict and break through the impasse to reach good faith pre-negotiation arrangements.

 

The author is the Co-Founder and President for Darfur peace and Development Org. based in Washington DC , http://www.darfurpeace.org/ and also PHD candidate at George Mason University / Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]

 



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