Darfur’s Hope

A decade has passed since the conflict in Darfur began. Fighting broke out between the Sudanese army, its allied Janjaweed militias and armed opposition groups in 2003. The UN has estimated that hundreds of thousands of people have already died as a result of the conflict, but they’re still counting. As the years continue the conflict is only worsening. Violence displaced more people in January 2013, than during the whole of 2012.

Over half of the 3.5 million Darfuris continues to receive food aid and close to 2 million still live in refugee camps. Only a very small proportion of Darfuris have not been affected. At least 80% has lost everything they own, whether they are rural, urbanites or nomads, and their freedom of movement and personal security has become severely threatened. And those who have fled the country often remain cut off from humanitarian aid in South Sudan and Ethiopia, and continue to face discrimination and violence in Northern African states.

Currently, Darfur’s main hope is Qatar. Last month, Qatar hosted the ‘Doha Donors Conference on Darfur’ as a part of the ‘Darfur Peace Deal’. Despite mass protest by Darfuris in camps for the Internally Displaced and Darfuri refugees around the world, the conference went ahead. As a result, Qatar has pledged 500 million dollars in grants and contributions for rebuilding Sudan to the Sudanese government. The ‘Darfur Peace Deal’ stipulates that an estimated 177 billion dollar is necessary from the international community during the coming 6 years.

So far however, the government in Kartoum has taken no real steps to make this agreement a reality. Despite signing a peace agreement in which monetary promises have been made, the government is still opting for military solutions rather than governance reform. Fighting continues, accountability remains unquestioned, land has not been compensated and the periphery is still being marginalized. “Very troubling,” is how the situation was described by the head of the UN peacekeeping operation in Darfur, when he spoke to the Security Council last Monday. According to him there have been positive developments towards a peace process, however a fully inclusive political settlement is still far away.

Currently this peace agreement is doomed to failure, for two main reasons. Firstly only one opposition group signed the peace deal with the Sudanese government, namely the Justice and Equality Movement. There are in fact, many Darfuri rebel factions besides the Justice and Equality Movement, such as the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army-North and the Sudanese Liberation Army/Movement. While the agreement explains that the signatories will continue to call upon other actors and movements to also sign the agreement, the opposition groups will not sign anything that entails cooperating with the Sudanese government. Especially while it is led by the Islamist dictator Al-Bashir: the only president still ruling who has been convicted of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. If this agreement is to be a success, the international community will have to be very persuasive for rebel factions to believe that laying down arms will cease the violent offensive against their people. And still the process will be a challenge. Ultimately the rebel movements want equality, secularism and democracy, while the Sudanese government wants to continue its Islamist dictatorship.

Secondly, the agreement does not address the extended context of Darfur, namely the more recent conflict in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile which ignited two years ago. These two regions share Darfur’s destiny of suffering from indiscriminate bombings and ground attacks, affecting over 1 million people. Contributing to and exacerbating this situation are the border issues between Sudan and South Sudan (which officially seceded in 2011). Surprisingly the international community did not learn from their mistakes at the turn of the century, when fear of jeopardising the first fragile peace agreement between Sudan and South Sudan ensured that the international community did not actively stop the situation in Darfur from spinning out of control. Any movement towards peace needs to encompass the entire country. Otherwise peace will constantly be fragile and opposed.

During the past 25 years Darfur’s population has more than doubled. Due to the conflict, generations of young Darfuris are growing up in confined areas, unskilled and dependent on aid. Since Al-Bashir’s rise to power in 1989 one institution after another was purged of dissent: the civil service, the army, the judiciary, the universities, trade unions and professional associations. Christian activities were curtailed, African religions wiped out, prominent Muslim sects silenced and the press controlled. Hundreds of politicians, journalists, doctors and trade unionists were detained without trial. If peace under the leadership of Qatar, or any other member of the international community, is ever to be successful, then all of this will have to be reversed and rebuilt in a process representative of the Darfuri people.

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