The Sudan People’s Initiative–A Flicker of Optimism
When a solution comes to the Darfur crisis–as with Sudan’s national crisis–it will be a domestic solution, created and led by Sudanese, with the internationals in a supporting role. There is a flicker of a chance that the Sudan People’s Initiative marks the beginning of Sudanese taking ownership of the Darfur crisis and finding a way towards a solution.
On 11 November, the rapporteur for the Kenana meeting, Prof. al Haj Attiya, presented the report. It was a week late and very long (seven volumes plus a summary, which hadn’t been circulated in advance). But fears that the summary and recommendations would pull back from the substance of the meeting did not prove founded. It was, participants readily acceded, a broadly fair representation of what was discussed, though some complained that it would have been better to discuss the draft report before its publication. Yesterday’s question was, what next? What would President Omar al Bashir do with the report, and would he announce next steps that reflected the consensus of the meeting, include leaders of other parties as he took the initiative forward, and make sure that any progress is guaranteed and verifiable? Today, Pres. Bashir met half of those hopes–whether he meets the other half remains to be seen.
Pres. Bashir’s speech at Friendship Hall today, 12 November, was a fair reflection of Prof. Attiya’s summary. Where consensus had been achieved–for example on the need for individual compensation for victims of the violence–his proposals were in line. Where the meeting fell short of consensus–for example on a single region for Darfur or a vice president’s position for Darfur–he said the issue was still up for discussion, and didn’t rule out any option. He said that a committee would be formed to follow up with the armed movements, preparatory to any peace negotiations. Bashir also went further and announced a series of unilateral steps, beginning with a cessation of hostilities and continuing to include the immediate disarmament of militia, the setting up of the promised community police services in IDP camps, and an end to hostile radio broadcasts.
The Darfur armed movements were not enthusiastic and most Darfurians remain profoundly sceptical. Several things need to happen if these promises are to become realities.
Concerning the unilateral security gestures, there is much that can happen. Over the last year, the great majority of ceasefire violations have been by the Sudan armed forces and airforce and pro-government militia. Stopping these offensive military actions will certainly have an impact on the ground. Disarming the militia will also have an impact, if it can in fact be done. But these activities need to be monitored and verified. Bashir has promised verification. The responsibility for doing this falls upon UNAMID, which needs to scale up its monitoring and verification capacity, and also re-establish the defunct Ceasefire Commission and Joint Commission. The first test of Bashir’s good faith is whether he agrees to a truly intrusive monitoring role by UNAMID, and a Ceasefire Commission that includes representatives of the non-signatory armed groups.
Concerning the political process, there can only be modest progress without a reciprocal effort from the armed movements–and Bashir needs to build a lot of confidence before he can expect the movements to respond positively. As always in Sudan, there is no quick route to a settlement. Bashir has fulfilled his promise to be honest to the deliberations in Kenana. He needs now to clarify some important ambiguities. The first is to underline that the outcome of the Sudan People’s Initiative thus far is a consensus position of the establishment political parties only, and as such an opening position for any future peace talks. It is not a definitive position of the government or the final blueprint of a settlement. Second, the committee to talk with the armed movements should include representatives of all the political parties present in Kenana (and, should they join, the Popular Congress Party and Sudan Communist Party). And third, the delegation of the Government of National Unity to any future peace talks should similarly be inclusive.
The Sudan People’s Initiative has given the UN-AU Chief Mediator, Djibril Bassole, some material to work with. The government has made a significant gesture. It doesn’t matter that one big motivation for the Initiative was the NCP’s wish to head off the ICC. The Kenana process took on a life of its own, and while it hasn’t confounded its critics yet, it hasn’t let down its supporters either. It doesn’t matter that the concessions were offered to domestic political constituents and not to the Mediator himself or foreign envoys. In fact, the concessions are more robust precisely because they are anchored in a national political forum. Since the failure of the DPA, it has been increasingly clear that Darfur needs to be settled in a national political context, and the Sudan People’s Initiative is making that context accessible.
The tough issues are yet to come. The Sudan Government has yet to be tested on its security promises. The two big issues still unresolved within the establishment parties–the single Darfur region and the vice presidency–are critical for Darfurians because they provide those cast-iron guarantees that Darfur’s wishes cannot be overridden by a national political system in which they are a numerical minority. And whether the initiative will remain on track when the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber issues its arrest warrant for Pres. Bashir is the biggest unknown of them all.
But the most important reality today is that the denial and self-imposed political paralysis that have marked the Sudanese political establishment’s approach to Darfur have been decisively overcome. Sudanese leaders are back at doing what they do best–talking through their issues. There’s a glimmer of hope.