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A group of UN soldiers
Reports that the war in Darfur is over have been called "premature"Image: AP

War in Darfur

January 9, 2010

The war in Darfur has experienced a lull in violence. Yet rebel factions and the Sudanese government are still at loggerheads. Analysts say home-grown solutions and local ownership are the only real fix to this war.


The commander of the combined United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur, General Martin Agwai, has claimed the war in Darfur is over, now that the vicious fighting over the past six years has subsided, with the rebel groups having disbanded into insignificant factions. Agwai says the Darfur region now suffers more from low-level disputes, like banditry and localized issues over water and land.

Peaceful coexistence in social structures such as communities and villages has not yet been restored in Sudan. The eastern region of Sudan's neighbouring country, Chad, is currently host to over 250,000 Darfur refugees and more than 2 million Sudanese are internally displaced. Despite the rhetoric coming from Agwai about the war being over, Sudan's refugees clearly do not feel safe enough to return to their homes and try to rebuild their lives.

Political analysts strongly reject Agwai's assertion that the war in Darfur has reached a resolution. "This is incredibly premature," said Colin Thomas-Jensen, policy adviser for "Enough," the anti-genocide project at the Center for American Progress in Washington. "To say the war in Darfur is over directly contradicts what we see on the ground. There may be a lull in the violence, but you cannot say that it is over. There is no political settlement and no political process to resolve the conflict. Neither side is defeated and the government is still building up its arms stockpile."

Under fire from analysts who say his reports have wrongfully given the impression that Sudan's problems have been solved, Agwai insists the real problem now is political. It is clear that there cannot be long-term solutions to the Darfur crisis without a resolution of the political conflicts behind it.

Dr Annette Weber, of the German Institute for International Security Affairs, emphasizes that the conflict in Darfur will remain intractable without commitment from its three major spoilers - the rebels, the government and the government proxies - toward sustainable peace. She told Deutsche Welle: "The problem is this: the spoilers in this war must feel convinced that they can gain something from a peaceful situation for them to make a commitment to it."

Darfur Peace Agreement not up to scratch

A rebel leader meeting an AU envoy
Darfur rebel groups are unhappy with the Darfur Peace Agreement.Image: AP

The conflict in Darfur is only a window to a larger political problem that has remained unresolved despite several rounds of peace talks organized by the African Union, which were in turn funded by Western donors such as the EU, the US and Canada. The seventh round of the peace talks held in 2006 in Abuja, Nigeria, was more successful and led to the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement by both the Sudanese government and the faction of the rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army led by Minni Minnawi.

The Darfur Peace Agreement dealt with Darfur's political representation at national and regional levels, the allocation of national resources and security aspects. These included, in particular, the disarming of the Janjaweed militias and the integration of rebel fighters into the regular security forces. It was an agreement drafted with high hopes for a ceasefire from all sides followed by a power-sharing accord, but expectations have since been disappointed.

The Darfur Peace Agreement has neither improved the security situation in Darfur nor led to a comprehensive political solution to the conflict. And as a result of´it, the rebel movements have split into numerous groups, making a negotiated solution even more difficult.

Minnawi only signed the Darfur Peace Agreement under strong international pressure, while the other two rebel movements, the faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army led by Abdul Wahid and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) led by Khalil Ibrahim, rejected the agreement because it did not meet their expectations.

The failure of the agreement is no surprise to Weber. "The Darfur Peace Agreement is just words on paper without local ownership," she said. "The agreement is not focused on local ownership and that's why it hasn't gained any ground."

Local ownership key to long-term solutions

A group of rebel soldiers
Rebel groups have engaged in meetings with UN and AU Special Envoys for Darfur with inconclusive results.Image: UNMIS/Tim McKulka

Peace in Sudan may remain unattainable as long as peace agreements are conceptualized entirely by outsiders and merely expected to be implemented by the local actors. Establishing local ownership remains a crucial factor in peacebuilding efforts. Experts say the relationship between international donors and local actors in peacebuilding is often assymetrically imbalanced, therefore peaceful objectives are hardly met because the local actors are not brought on board to develop home-grown solutions.

Dr Jörn Grävingholt, a political scientist with the German Development Institute, told Deutsche Welle, "International partners need to get a clear mandate in order to work with people and accompany them in their attempts at transforming their own conflict. Long-lasting peace can only grow from the inside."

Fervent peace talks are still underway toward a resolution to the Darfur conflict but long-lasting solutions may remain elusive for some time to come. Weber explains that the complex nature of the Darfur conflict entails that solutions will not be easily reached.

"We are all looking for some quick fix to this situation but it won't be a quick fix. There's no local ownership on the agenda at the moment. We don't know anything about the people's needs and what they want, except that they would like to leave the camps. And we've wrongfully promoted the idea that if you pursue negotiations, that'll surely provide solutions," she said.

Call for context-specific considerations

Political analysts point out that a major error in peacebuilding is focusing on ending the violence in a war without considering long-term, context-specific political solutions. Intrusive methods in peacebuilding, such as have been implemented in Darfur with the involvement of the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force that has succeeded in quelling the violence, are indeed often effective but analysts warn that they also alienate the political actors on the ground who are essential to conflict resolution.

A soldier guarding a helicopter
Ending violence is only the first step to ending war, say experts.Image: AP

"You must consider the long-term consequences early on in conflict transformation and bring the relevant local actors on board," said Grävingholt. "Don't just come in to end the violence without considering that beforehand."

Presuming that having an understanding of the reasons for a conflict determines an ability to come up with resolutions, as with the case of the Darfur Peace Agreement, may be a misjudgement. Matthias Reis of the German Development Service calls for more considerate approaches in peacebuilding:

"We should listen to the local actors more. They know much better how to solve their own conflicts than anyone else. We must also accept the fact that we deal with very different societies who don't always want to develop in the direction we want them to or think they should," he told Deutsche Welle.

Grävingholt also calls for different approaches in peacebuilding. "The danger is when international partners bring in their own preconceived notions about how the world should work, which have been conceived according to their own culture, norms and ideas," he said. "So it's difficult to come up with solutions that fit the people in that particular country, according to their own culture and history."

The international community has demonstrated its support to Darfur's problems, and Sudan at large. The uproar from human rights organizations about the war in Darfur has helped influence committment from Western leaders toward resolving it. Nonetheless, Weber insists even deeper commitment from international partners is crucial to sustainable peace in the region.

"Long-term commitment is needed in Darfur," she said. "The international community needs to stick with the situation and not just show up for a little while and then leave."

Author: Faith Thomas
Editor: Rob Mudge

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