Articles and Analysies
A New Plan for Darfur by Anne Bartlett
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Feb 2, 2009 - 2:00:05 PM


A New Plan for Darfur



By any measure one might care to use, the situation in Darfur continues to deteriorate.   Caught in the diplomatic vacuum created by the appalling events in Gaza, the region seems to have been relegated to a second or third order agenda item at best. Yet Darfur is staring into the eye of a storm – a storm that has the potential to engulf Sudan and the whole region in a dangerous and escalating spiral of violence. Leadership among the movements is fractured and in some groups, non-existent. Violence on the ground has escalated while the world looks the other way. Al-Bashir has, of course, taken advantage of this situation even while he contemplates his own future in the NIF and the ICC decision looming ever larger on the horizon.  


Fodder enough it seems for diplomats to throw up their hands in horror and back away in the hope of saving the CPA and a wider political meltdown. Their savior has of course come in the guise of Alex de Waal, advocate par excellence of Article 16 and the move to unconditionally defer any indictment against Al-Bashir in the name of peace and stability. Over recent weeks de Waal has worked hard to lend credence to this position (along with the Chinese) and to prevent an indictment, which may, he argues, lead to wider instability and retaliatory action on the part of the Sudanese government.  


But this position is misguided at best. Stepping back from this morass may be an expedient solution to the problem. But de Waal’s position fundamentally miscalculates the regime’s baseline strategy or their willingness to sell Al-Bashir to his accusers for political gain. The NIF’s goal after all, is to retain the reigns of power no matter what the cost. Irrespective of ideology or program, power comes first and this requirement stops for no man, even if he is a sitting president. De Waal seems to have conveniently ignored this fact and the likes of Ali Osman Taha and Ali Nafie Ali, who are more than   willing to step into Bashir’s shoes should the need arise.   He also seems to have ignored the cost of keeping Bashir in place for the people of Darfur.


Discussions about Article 16 are in fact a clear attempt to sidestep some of the really dangerous developments on the ground in Darfur at the moment, which need immediate attention. The first is the most obvious: deteriorating security. It is absolutely vital at this point to step up the pressure on the regime, since this will make it more difficult for them to carry on bombing the civilians of Darfur with absolute impunity. The only way to make significant inroads into improving the security in the region is to get serious about a no fly zone. This is not the only security need, but with the ineffectiveness of UNAMID, it is a good place to start.


The second and equally important issue is to deal with the crisis facing the movements in Darfur at the moment and the ascendance of JEM, which has potentially disastrous consequences for the entire region. At the moment, JEM’s military campaign on the ground aims to consolidate their position and to ensure that they are viewed as a group to be reckoned with – particularly by the incoming US administration. Their ability to play the tough men of Darfur comes however, not from their inherent strength and following on the ground among the people of Darfur, but rather from the rather deep pockets of   President Idriss Déby who has his own axe to grind with his adversaries in Khartoum


And this brings one of the central problems in Darfur into rather sharp relief. JEM’s ability to fight and their objectives in pursuing the struggle have little to do with preserving a region, culture or lifestyle and rather more to do with a agenda oriented towards a national power struggle in Khartoum. Their goals are significantly different from other movements such as SLA/M, whose initial support grew from the need for defense and security, and whose people are disproportionally on the receiving end of the violence. JEM’s interests are very much tied to the needs of Chad and to unseating Al-Bashir, so as to institute a new form of governance (most probably based on fundamentalist principles). Clearly while they cannot be ignored in the peace making process, they are far from able to unlock the possibilities of peace on the ground, no matter what recent reports (such as that from ENOUGH) might suggest.  


The key to unlocking this crisis is in fact the one group that has largely been ignored thus far: the Fur tribe. The Fur tribe is by far the largest tribe in Darfur which anchors the stability of the region and the relationships between other tribes. Irrespective of whether other groups may have more military might and financing, they have little chance of bringing peace to the region in and of themselves without the acquiescence of the Fur. The reason for this is that they have little connection to the heartland of Darfur which is symbolically, politically and substantively important. If anything served to make this clear, it was the abject failure of Minni Minnawi to deliver peace to the door of the international community in the wake of the Abuja negotiations. Besides the poor crafting of the agreement – something that de Waal knows quite a lot about - he was, as a Zaghawa, unable to anchor his leadership claims to the land. In saying this I am not trying to minimize the important role that other tribes play in the region, but simply to point out that peace needs a foundation and this inevitably starts with the Fur.


Given the dangerous turn that events on the ground have now taken, a new plan for Darfur is urgently required. To be sustainable it should consist of four elements:


1)       The first is a consistent and tough position with the regime since this is the only language they understand. This includes not only Al-Bashir, but other members of the NIF who are likely to take over his position in the event of an ICC indictment


2)       Second is urgent action to implement and reinforce a no-fly zone. Without this it is manifestly a waste of time to talk about peace, since it can be compromised in minutes by a bombing campaign organized by the Sudanese regime.


3)       The third is a conference to reunify the Fur leadership in order to lay the foundation for peace. A reunification attempt should include Fur backed movements, but it should also include traditional and civil society leaders as well. Those within the Fur who do not want to participate in this process in good faith should be indentified as such and excluded from the process in the future. Since the Fur does not have the luxury of lavish support from a neighboring power such as Chad, this is something that the international community could usefully help them with. In doing so, it would be a constructive way to move the situation forward.


4)       Forth, as soon as this conference has occurred, another initiative should be undertaken to identify the objectives of other groups within Darfur. This initiative (and the respective leaders that go with it) can then be built into a negotiation process and the groundwork for peace that will have been laid. A stronger and more unified presence can then be brought to bear on negotiating with the Sudanese government.



Attempts to resolve the Darfur crisis have largely failed because they failed to address the real reasons why violence broke out in the first place. While other tribes and groups have clearly suffered - and I really don’t want to minimize this – it was the Fur tribe in the wake of Bolad’s departure that was the primary target of Sudanese authorities. Without paying attention to the centers of power that anchor Darfur, it is difficult to envision how peace will ever be sustainably achieved. The impulse to listen to those who have the largest guns or the ability to shout the loudest is a dangerous one. At this time we need cooler heads, a historical perspective and most of all a serious analysis of the groups that will carry peace over the long term.


Anne Bartlett is a Professor at the University of San Francisco. She is also a director of the Darfur Centre for Human Rights and Development, based in London. She may be reached at [email protected]

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