The year 2009 and early months of 2010 witnessed consistent trends by some analysts and beneficiaries to describe the Darfur problem as a “low-intensity conflict” or a war that is already “over.” This is false: the war is not over.
The former UNAMID Joint Special Representative Rodolph Adada used the term ‘Low-intensity conflict,” while briefing UN Security Council on 27th April 2009 about the security status in Darfur. The statement was based on data compiled by UNAMID relying upon information provided by the Joint Mission Analysis Centre (JMAC) on estimates of people killed in violent incidents in previous months. There were no compelling evidences to support the accuracy and authenticities of the reports. The term became a subject of considerable political debate and several schools of interpretations. Mr. Adada failed to indicate what to do with the reports of the downward trends of fatalities in the region. He left the door open for different readings. UNAMID has continuously failed over the course of its deployment to protect itself let alone the people it was dispatched to protect. Five Rwandese soldiers were killed late in 2009 together with two Egyptians in May 2010 and others either injured or kidnapped in Darfur indicating its weakness. It also lacks the ability to reach hot areas to assess with certainty the level of violence and civilian displacement because it has to be granted permission to do so by GoS.
General Agwai, the then military commander of UNAMID was brave enough to conclude that the war in Darfur is “over”. Both statements directly or indirectly influenced international response to the conflict in the region. They also serve as message to Sudan’s supporters in the UNSC such as China and Russia, AU, Organization of Islamic Community and the Arab world that Western views are not aligned with the security realities on the ground in Darfur. As the NCP perceives itself to be in perpetual war against colonial hegemony, xenophobia and paranoia, the statements provided something it could sell to its supporters as proof of their alleged intentions against Sudan. Both men become subject to criticism and suspicions. Supporting those views were the highest medals Khartoum honored them for their fine co-operation and reporting. It is inexplicable that a regime known to detest UNAMID would suddenly turn gracious with its top staff and lament their departure!
Alex de Waal of the Social Science Research Council was absolutely right to strike a chord in his blog ‘Making Sense of Darfur’ on 24 November 09, that the data compiled so far have indeed failed to provide a complete picture of the nature of the Darfur conflict. However, he went along to put the onus on those who prefer to characterize it differently to either produce their own data in support of their claim or construct different definitions for the conflict. By that he meant the term remains as near description or approximation as possible to the overall situation in Darfur until proved otherwise. While he argues for evidence based peacekeeping records of the conflict and accurate recording he accepts the same data he confessed earlier to its inaccuracies. His support of criticism of Darfur Advocacy Groups for relying on flawed data about the total numbers of casualties in the early course of the conflict has not deterred him from relying on questionable data available. The current situation in Darfur has become more confusing as fatalities have peaked especially in May 2010.
It is unquestionably misleading to summate the Darfur problem on mathematical reports of fatalities that are impossible to accurately verify. Allowing for such deliberations will only support logics that peace would eventually ensue and prevail if the numbers of people killed in related violence subsides.
In Afghanistan, where data are more reliable, far less casualties are claimed among the different fighting forces of NATO and the Taliban. Nobody has come out so far to categorize events there as low-intensity-conflict or job-done. It is a mere war.
The term has certainly created doubts on the realities of the course of the conflict. It has become an ingredient for the disruption of objective evaluation of the current security status in Darfur and distorted formulation of comprehensive strategy for its settlement. The Internally Displaced People (IDPs) have lost their geographical and economic strategic backbone and their front-line defensive status against vicissitude and stable intertribal coexistence. Claiming that the war is over is a call for their surrender which impedes efforts for planned and voluntary return to their original places. The resultant effect will be an emergence of generation ready to revenge without hopes to adhere to logics.
The GoS seized the opportunity and manipulated the statements for its own political agendas and propaganda purposes. It launched military measures and attacked SLA areas in Ain Siro, Korma and east of Jebel Marra and attacked JEM positions in Jebel Moon and West Darfur claiming that it was flushing remnants of bandits and discomfited rebels. The approach drew counter attacks by JEM against the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) in all three States of Darfur resulting in further displacement of civilians and destruction of their homes and properties. The new situations have dangerously led to building up of weapons, mobilization of militias and escalation of the conflict with catastrophic consequences. Such are the outcomes of relying on inaccurate data compiled by officials which everybody knows as false.
In November 2009 the UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon criticized the Sudanese government for obstructing its work in the region. Based on the reports of reduced killing in Darfur the Sudanese ambassador to the UN Mr. Abdel Haleem Abdel Mahmoud responded swiftly on 24-25 November signifying that UNAMID is no longer needed in Darfur and has to leave as the war is already over! Southern Darfur governor Mr. Ali Mahmoud joined him and called upon UNAMID to withdraw. Now the war has finally reached South Darfur which was relatively calm after Muhagireya events in early 2009. The GoS tried recently hard to deny an ongoing war in Darfur but the handing over of POWs by JEM in the last few weeks to the Red Cross exposed the reality in the region.
Darfur’s victims perceive the term as misleading cliché which has opened doors for the powerless Darfurians to become subject to new attacks by the Sudanese army and its strongest militias if they were to rebel or stand for their rights. It is a deliberate endorsement of a new wave of war crimes. For the NCP however it is more than welcome.
Categorizing the problem as low-intensity conflict doesn’t mean that it is subsiding or over. It will neither help stop the war nor will it provide conditions for its peaceful settlement. There are no local populations in their original lands to be driven by force. They are simply incarcerated in IDP camps or have become refugees. The newcomers who are occupying land of the Fur Massaleit and Zaghawa need no more killing as they have already driven them out and entrenched themselves firmly instead. Reduction of violence can only indicate a degree of quiescence with the ingredients of a spark remaining dormant. Whatever the academic definitions of a low-intensity conflict, the existence of two and a half million internally displaced people and quarter of a million refugees in Chad is certainly not its signs. The data above represent the unseen flames of the ongoing slow-pace demographic eradication process in Darfur and certainly not its remnants. The term is therefore a twist that blunts the realities on the ground. It has sent the wrong message to GoS that there are some voices reciprocating its claim that the Darfur problem is farce and that there are only minor clashes with bandits and intransigent rebels. It is a setback on previous recognitions of Darfur problem as political. The outcome will undoubtedly lead to prolongation of the conflict and further marginalization and creation of dispossessed socio-economic groups among the already disadvantaged Darfurian societies.
The NCP which is impervious to the logic of peace is preoccupied with short-lived military response to the threat of its authority. But experience has shown that it is extremely vulnerable when it encounters strong confrontation and genuine threats at any point such as operation Long Arm in May 2008. Adada gave it false hopes that its policy in Darfur is working. Since December 09 the SAF amassed extensive forces in all three States trying to attack rebel held areas. Suleiman Sandal the chief commander of JEM ridiculed the statement that the war is over and stressed that GoS is playing a dangerous game by exploiting that rhetoric to mass troops in Darfur. If the war is over why is the deployment; he said? In December 09 SAF and its proxy militias conducted attacks in western Darfur and killed 7 civilians in Dileij camp. Burning and looting of properties continued in North West of Gineina and Jebel Moon were reported suggesting an ongoing war.
If there are any real desires to resolve this conflict and minimize its consequences, its realities must be assessed accurately. The level of violence is a small part of its wider sociopolitical dimensions. All efforts must be exerted to tackle the root causes of the problem summed up as imbalance of power and wealth – marginalization. It must be acknowledged that the rebellion did not start just because rebels had access to weapons, and the GoS did not carry out its barbarous conduct in Darfur simply because it wanted to stop that rebellion? It should also be recognized that rebels alone did not break previous ceasefires. GoS was more to blame. In fact UNAMIS documented more violations by the GoS especially in attacks in northern and western Darfur in 2008 killing many civilians in Silaa, Abu Soroug and Shigaig Karo pretending it was flushing JEM fighters?.
Defining the conflict on the bases of fatalities is not a shortcut to comprehensive peace. Those whose intentions are only to secure a ceasefire are not engaging in serious conscientious diplomacy or are in pursuit of lasting peace and stability. In the absence of a negotiated settlement a ceasefire is a prescription if not a clear endorsement for further bloodshed and atrocities. It is an indication of political weakness and a synonym of witnessing Rwandese Tutsis herded into Hutu killing zones while the international community stood by doing nothing. In support of our view is the conclusion by AUPD itself: (Appendix B-Analysis of Data for Violent Fatalities in Darfur) that a ceasefire between the GoS and the movements would not reduce death in Darfur. The report continues to conclude on pages 113-114 :
“27. The number of fatalities due to fighting between the Sudan Government regular and irregular forces, and the Armed Movements, including all violence by these groups against the civilian population, is 637 or 33% of the total. This indicates that a ceasefire between the Government and Armed Movements would not, in itself, eliminate fatalities.”
The war in Darfur will be over when all the warring parties accept comprehensive peace settlement where:
1. equitable share of power and wealth for all the marginalized people in Sudan has been agreed upon and rigorously applied;
2. substantial security arrangements and final disarmament of militias concluded;
3. evacuation of land and homes occupied by others allowing return of real owners to their original areas and lands;
4. adequate compensation has been accepted;
5. nomads’ secured rights of land and routes through all Darfur;
6. justice and reconciliation is carried out with the consent of all parties.