The international community's response to the crisis in Darfur, especially media coverage, has been varied and in some cases short- sighted. The key question that has not been asked much is a simple one. Where does the international community want to be in two years time with regard to Darfur and Sudan? There are two related questions. How do we get from A to B and what are the obstacles. In the rush to judgement on Darfur - premature, misguided and misinformed in some cases - we are losing sight of these key questions.
The reality of the Darfur crisis is clear. There has been a vicious civil war in Darfur between two rebel movements, the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army, and the Sudanese government. Thousands of people have died and hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced in the conflict. It has been a human disaster.
Any attempt to shape a road-map must start with a word of caution. To address the Darfur crisis it is essential that events in Darfur are evaluated as objectively as possible. To do so observers must cut away the propaganda, media sensationalism and pressure group politics - especially within the United States - that has already distorted perceptions of the Darfur crisis and Sudan. (1) That Darfur has been enmeshed in propaganda is clear. There have been allegations of genocide, ethnic cleansing and the use of chemical weapons in Darfur. Such claims, while serving any number of short-term political goals, complicate an already complex issue. Any solution to the Darfur crisis has to cut through this propaganda wall and move on. Reputable international aid agencies have criticised claims of genocide. (2) Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been one such group. (3) In July 2004, for example, MSF President Dr Jean-Hervé Bradol challenged the use of the term genocide: "Our teams have not seen evidence of the deliberate intention to kill people of a specific group. We have received reports of massacres, but not of attempts to specifically eliminate all the members of a group". (4) Dr Bradol subsequently described allegations of genocide in Darfur as "obvious political opportunism". (5) The United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mr Jan Egeland stated that the term "ethnic cleansing" did not fit events in Darfur: "I think we have more reports actually of a kind of scorched earth [policy] - and that nobody has taken over....It's complex, because some have said that it doesn't fit the legal definition of ethnic cleansing. The same tribes are represented both among those who are cleansed and those who are cleansing." (6) Claims of the use of chemical weapons in Darfur have also unravelled. A prominent German newspaper alleged that the Syrian and Sudanese governments had used chemical weapons against civilians in Darfur. (7) This claim was soon exposed as misinformation and serves as a further illustration of the propaganda war surrounding Darfur. (8)
What are the objectives that would be set for a Darfur road-map? Again they are clear. To end the war, stabilise Darfur, negotiate a political solution to the crisis, re-establish the rule of law in Darfur, assist those communities that have been displaced to return to their homes, rebuild and develop Darfur's infrastructure while at the same time encouraging all parties to Sudan's long-running civil war in southern Sudan to finalise the peace agreement already largely shaped by the Machakos and Naivasha protocols. It is also essential for Sudan to complete its long-standing goal of normalising its international relations.
Ceasefire and Peace Talks
A ceasefire agreement between the Government and rebels was signed in early April 2004. (9) This agreement provides for international monitoring of the ceasefire. The presence of military observers from the African Union is an essential part of any ceasefire arrangements and their numbers must be increased when and where necessary to enforce peace in Darfur. (10) The European Union has played a key part in facilitating this presence. (11)
Internationally brokered peace talks have taken place in Chad and Nigeria. At face value negotiating a political solution to the Darfur crisis should not be difficult. (12) The two rebel movements claim that they began the war because of the marginalisation and underdevelopment of Darfur. The formula of devolved regional government that is at the centre of the Naivasha peace agreement set to end the civil war in southern Sudan can also be applied to the Darfur issue. (13) Senior Sudanese government ministers have stated that the Naivasha arrangements could be a model for Darfur. (14) The key US State Department official on Sudan, Charles Snyder, has also noted: "The political solution to Darfur ultimately lies in the federal process within Naivasha that is the decentralisation of power". (15) And, should Darfur be endowed with as yet undiscovered and un-exploited oil reserves, they should be subject to a wealth-sharing arrangement similar to the southern formula.
Those civilians who have been displaced must be returned home to their villages - villages which in many instances would need to have been rebuilt - and where necessary improved - by the Sudanese government and international community.
The Naivasha peace process is the end result of a process of reform, liberalisation and engagement in Sudan that can be traced back to the 1999 ouster of hard-line Islamist leader Dr Hasan Turabi. In April and in mid-May 2000, Khartoum indicated its readiness to enter into "an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire" and to restart negotiations for the achievement of a lasting peace. Throughout 2001, the Sudanese government repeatedly called for a peaceful resolution of the southern conflict. It called upon the SPLA to do the same. (16) With the Bush Administration's support, the ensuing peace process resulted in the 2002 Machakos protocols and 2004 Naivasha agreement which have brought southern Sudan and the Nuba mountains to the brink of peace. This process must be seen through to its conclusion.
Similarly, it is essential that Sudan remains committed to the course of normalisation of its relations with the international community that had preceded the Darfur crisis. In 1999, for example, the European Union entered into a political dialogue with Sudan, noting improvements within the Sudanese situation. (17) There had also been a similar regional shift in attitudes towards Sudan and the Sudanese conflict. (18) In 2001, for example, Sudan held the presidency of both the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development as well as the Community of Sahel-Saharan States, a body which brings together eleven north African states. (19) The then newly-elected Bush administration and Sudan entered into a new relationship, with extensive Sudanese support in counter-terrorism both before and after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks within the United States. It is also clear that from 1999 onwards the political situation within Sudan has changed significantly. The former Prime Minister, Umma party leader and key opposition figure, Sadiq al-Mahdi, declared in 1999, for example, that: "There are now circumstances and developments which could favour an agreement on a comprehensive political solution." (20)
What are the Obstacles?
There are, of course, a number of real or potential obstacles along any Darfur road-map. One of the obstacles has already been touched upon. International perceptions of the crisis continue to be distorted by the sort of propaganda claims that go hand-in-hand with all war and particularly civil war - claims all too often echoed by a sensationalist media.
The Danger of Hidden Agendas
Another possible obstacle, itself accentuated by undemanding reporting, is the perception that the rebels are fighting against marginalisation and underdevelopment in Darfur. Their real objectives have been questioned by independent observers such as Ghazi Suleiman, a prominent anti-government human rights activist in Sudan. Described by Reuters as "a non-partisan figure who advises senior politicians across the spectrum", Suleiman has noted: "The conflict in Darfur has nothing to do with marginalisation or the inequitable distribution of wealth. Inherently it is a struggle between the two factions of the Sudanese Islamist movement, the (opposition) Popular Congress party and the ruling National Congress (party)". (21) Suleiman's reference is to 1999 sidelining by Sudan's ruling National Congress party of former Islamist eminence grise Dr Turabi. Turabi had long been opposed to settling the civil war in the south and any engagement with the United States. Turabi then formed a breakaway faction that called itself the Popular Congress. It is clear that the Justice and Equality Movement is an extension of the Popular Congress. Turabi has also admitted supporting the Darfur
insurrection: "We support the cause, no doubt about it...we have relations with some of the leadership." (22) The war in Darfur may be an attempt to derail the Naivasha peace agreement and Sudan's move towards the West. Should the objective of the Islamist rebels in Darfur be the overthrow of the Khartoum government rather than any power-sharing or devolution for Darfur, then the rebel movements are unlikely to be negotiating in good faith. Chadian government peace mediators have documented previous rebel intransigence. Referring to the failed round of peace talks in December 2003, they observed: "There has been a breakdown in negotiations because of unacceptable rebel demands. The talks have been suspended." (23) The rebels have also blocked other peace deals. The rebels would appear to have a vested interest in the war and humanitarian crisis continuing to the extent of blocking humanitarian aid agreements. (24) In these circumstances it will be difficult to persuade all the anti-rebel militias in Darfur to stand down.
Darfur and the Naivasha Peace Process
There is no doubt that the Darfur crisis has cast a shadow over the Naivasha peace process. (25) The Sudanese government has had grounds to doubt the credibility of their counter-parts in the Naivasha process, Dr John Garang and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). While engaged in peace talks with Khartoum, the SPLA have both trained and armed the Darfur rebels. The International Crisis Group, an organisation very critical of the Sudanese government, has noted that "numerous sources link the SPLA to the beginning of the SLA rebellion by providing arms, training, and strategy...It allegedly trained as many as 1,500 Darfurians near Raja, in western Bahr el-Ghazal, in March 2002." (26) Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, SPLA spokesmen were still claiming as recently as September 2004 that the SPLA "has nothing to do with the present rebellion in Darfur". (27) SPLA leader Dr Garang has also opportunistically described events in Darfur as "genocide". (28) The contradictions of the SPLA position are clear. The Naivasha peace agreement would see the SPLA form part of a coalition national government - a government which the Darfur rebels it is assisting are trying to overthrow.
How Do We Get to Where We Want to Go?
The ceasefire must be extended, enforced and monitored. The mission of the African Union monitors must be supported and assisted. The ceasefire monitoring and verification teams which have so effectively policed the ceasefire in southern Sudan and the Nuba mountains must be introduced to Darfur. The Darfur peace talks must be encouraged and all parties to the conflict must be held to account by the international community. While Khartoum appears to be eager to resolve the Darfur issue, any rebel reluctance, by design or by way of opportunism, to engage in the talks must be recognised by the international community. Criminality in Darfur must be dealt with aggressively. The SPLA involvement with and support for the Darfur rebels must stop. Eritrean support for the rebels must similarly be ended. Only concerted international pressure can make this happen.
Criticism of the Sudanese government must be measured and properly focused. Knee-jerk responses by the international community to sensationalist and often questionable claims about Darfur serve only to enflame an already tense situation, endanger the Naivasha peace process and slow Sudan's re-engagement with the West.
1 For an overview of propaganda within the Sudanese conflict see, David Hoile, 'Images of Sudan: Case Studies in Misinformation and Propaganda', European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, 2003, available at www.espac.org
2 "US 'Hyping' Darfur Genocide Fears", 'The Observer' (London), 3 October 2004.
3 See, for example, "Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières Challenges US Darfur Genocide Claims", Mediamonitors, 5 October 2004, available at www.mediamonitors.net
4 "Thousands Die as World Defines Genocide", 'The Financial Times' (London), 6 July 2004. See also, Bradol's views in "France Calls on Sudan to Forcibly Disarm Darfur Militias", News Article by Agence France Presse, 7 July 2004.
5 "From One Genocide to Another", Article by Dr Jean-Hervé Bradol, 28 September 2004, available at Médecins Sans Frontières (UAE) website, www.msfuae.ae
6 "Sudan: Interview with UN's Jan Egeland on the Situation in Darfur", News Article by UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, Nairobi, 5 July 2004.
7 See, for example, "Syria Tested Chemical Arms on Civilians in Darfur Region: Press", News Article by Agence France Presse, 14 September 2004.
8 "US Doubts Report on Syrian Chemical Weapons Testing in Darfur", News Article by Agence France Presse, 15 September 2004.
9 See "Sudan Government, Darfur Rebels Sign Ceasefire Deal", News Article by Agence France Presse, 9 April 2004.
10 "African Union Announces Seven-fold Increase to Peace Mission in Darfur", News Article by Agence France Presse, 21 October 2004.
11 "EU Contributes 100 million Dollars for Darfur Troop Deployment", News Article by Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 23 October 2004.
12 "Sudan's Government Expresses Optimism Reaching Solution With Rebels on Darfur", News Article by Associated Press, 31 October 2004.
13 "Sudan Pledges Political Solution to Darfur Before Talks", News Article by Xinhua News Agency, 23 August 2004.
14 "Sudan 'Welcomes' Darfur Autonomy", News Article by BBC News Online, 24 September 2004.
15 "Darfur Peace Lies in Separate Southern Deal - U.S.", News Article by Reuters, 23 September 2004.
16 See, for example, "Sudan's Government in Favour of Ceasefire in 18-year Civil War", News Article by Agence France Presse, 22 April 2001 and "Government 'Ready for a Ceasefire'", News Article by United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network, 15 May 2001.
17 "EU and Sudan Agree to Mend Rifts Through Dialogue", 'Middle East Times', 19 November 1999. See, also, "EU Seeks to Renew Dialogue with Sudan Broken Off in 1996", News Article by Agence France Presse, 10 November 1999. In July 2000, the countries of Africa also selected Sudan to represent the continent as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The fifty-three African nations chose Sudan over Mauritius and Uganda to succeed Namibia as the African representative on the Security Council. Although ultimately unsuccessful as the result of intense American lobbying, the Egyptian Foreign Minister said that "There is an African and an Arab decision in Sudan's favour concerning this issue."
18 Sudan has over the past several years emerged as a leader of the region, developments which culminated in Sudan's hosting of the Eighth Heads of State summit of the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) body, as well as the February 2001 Heads of State summit of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States.
19 Sudan is amongst the first nine of twenty Common Market of East and Southern Africa member states to implement the first stage of the envisaged Free Trade Area. This will be Africa's first step towards full regional integration and a common currency by 2025. See "Sudan to Join African Free Trade Area", News Article by Reuters, 30 October 2000.
20 "Developments in Sudan Favour National Reconciliation: Mahdi", News Article by Agence France Presse, 25 December 1999. See, for example, "Opposition Leader Predicts Solution to Sudan's Conflict", News Article by PANA, 27 March 2000; "Sudanese Rebel Group to Enter Khartoum Politics", News Article by Agence France Presse, 20 March 2000; and "Mahdi's Withdrawal Dents Opposition Alliance", News Article by PANA, 25 March 2000.
21 "Sudan Islamists use Darfur as Battleground", News Article by Reuters, 22 September 2004.
22 "Peace Still Some Way Off in Sudan", 'Middle East International' (London), 8 January 2004.
23 "Sudan Govt, SLA Rebels Peace Talks Break Down in Chad", News Article by Associated Press, 16 December 2003.
24 See, for example, "Sudanese Darfur Rebels Block Aid Pact", News Article by Reuters, 26 October 2004.
25 See, for example, "Darfur Overshadows the Peace Process in south Sudan", News Article by IPS, 2 September 2004.
26 "Darfur Rising: Sudan's New Crisis", International Crisis Group, Africa Report N°76, Brussels, March 2004.
27 "Sudan's Southern Rebels deny Involvement in Crisis in Darfur Region", News Article by Agence France Presse, 16 September 2004.
28 "Southern Sudan Rebel Leader Accuses Government of Genocide in Darfur", News Article by Associated Press, 22 October 2004.