One of the main Darfur rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), signed a preliminary peace deal with the Sudanese government in Doha yesterday. So is this really the beginning of the end of the Darfur conflict? Over at the Enough Project’s blog, Laura Heaton offers some valuable analysis:
Notably, the agreement is essentially a bilateral agreement between Khartoum and JEM (although the Chadian government was heavily involved in discussions), leaving out the many other Darfuri rebel groups present in Doha who expect to have a seat at the table. While JEM benefits from being the only group representing Darfur, the failed Darfur Peace Agreement signed in 2006 between the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Mini Menawi and the Sudanese government should stand as an example of the longer-term detriment of expecting just one group to speak on behalf of a region with longstanding grievances.
The reference to the failed 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement is an important point. Basically, at the time, only one of the main rebel groups decided to join the peace process. The others rejected it for various reasons — and the one group that did sign the accord fractured even further. Yesterday’s agreement, while promising, is not exactly the kind of comprehensive deal that can bring lasting peace to the region. It is, however, a step in the right direction. As Ban Ki Moon put it: “The agreement represents an important step towards an inclusive and comprehensive peace agreement for Darfur, which will address the underlying causes of the conflict and the concerns of all Darfurian communities.”
Not that I’m not happy for a JEM-GOS ceasefire to last as long as it can (which is likely to be as long as Chad stops supporting JEM). Not that it’s not, probably, a net good for the GOS to stop panicking that JEM might storm Khartoum. But let’s not kid ourselves. If Darfur was a simple conflict between the government and one rebel group, then perhaps this would be meaningful. But what about all the other actors involved? All the other rebel movements? The Janjaweed (and former Janjaweed and associated communities)? And most of all, the millions who are still sitting in displaced camps?
UPDATE II: The Enough Project releases a report on the new deal. They say that “optimism” (perhaps of the kind expressed in today’s upbeat WaPo editorial) be “tempered with realism.”
Obviously, a durable and comprehensive peace agreement in Darfur would be enormously welcome, and could help pave the way for the three million Darfuris who have been violently driven from their homes to return in an environment of genuine security. But by the same token, the numerous failed peace deals that have littered the landscape not only in Darfur, but in Sudan more broadly, remind us that good faith has often been absent from these deals. Agreements on paper have often not even been cursorily implemented. The hard experiences of Sudan’s recent history mandate that optimism be tempered with realism.
In that spirit, the rapid timetable for negotiating highly complex issues, JEM’s dismissive attitudes toward other Darfuri groups, including civil society, and the reluctance of certain key rebel groups to join the process stand out as distinct warning signs. Any set of agreements should also include international mechanisms for monitoring their implementation, something that has been a major flaw of earlier pacts. It remains somewhat troubling that these agreements do not seem to reflect a well-coordinated international position, but rather a series of ad hoc arrangements between a diffuse set of actors trying to calm the situation without necessarily resolving it. Moreover, the situation on the ground in Darfur remains highly volatile, posing a threat to the negotiations in Doha. It is our hope that all of these obstacles can be overcome, and further agreements can be supported by a robust, effective peacekeeping force on the ground – an element that has been painfully missing to date.
Image: A member of the Indonesian Formed Police Unit of the African Union/United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) patrols the Zamzam camp of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to ensure the security of the United Nations personnel in the area. 8/Feb/2009. Al-Fasher, Darfur, Sudan. UN Photo/Olivier Chassot.