The Abuja peace process turned into a calamity for Darfur. As yet another deadline for the Darfur peace process looms, it is timely to reflect on the reasons why the Darfur Peace Agreement of May 2006 didn’t succeed.
One reason for failure was that the substantive negotiations between the parties were made subordinate to another agenda, in this case the negotiations between Khartoum and Washington DC for the former to permit the transition from the AU to a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur. This created an artificial dynamic to the process, with both government and rebels spending more effort playing to the gallery than talking to one another, because they saw the gallery as the real power.
The DPA was justifiably criticized on the grounds of “no ownership, no peace.” Up against a deadline and frustrated by the lack of serious negotiations by either side, the AU mediation team in Abuja decided to draft its own mediator’s text, and present this to the parties with almost no opportunity for substantive revision. The mediators and the State Department lawyers had a greater sense of ownership over the text than the parties to the conflict. In fact, most of the details on security arrangements and wealth sharing had been agreed by government and rebels, but the central pillars of the power sharing chapter had not been, and this was sufficient to discredit the entire enterprise.
A third shortcoming was the failure to develop the proposals in full consultation with key stakeholders in Darfur. A number of Darfurian civil society delegations came to Abuja during the negotiations and presented their views, but there was no ground-truthing of the main planks of the proposals. On the security side, for example, the mediation team repeatedly proposed that there should be in-the-field discussions with commanders, but this was not done because of shortage of time. The weakness of the power-sharing proposals on local government and the failure of the wealth-sharing text to take account of nomadic migration routes, also reflected this shortcoming.
A fourth failure was the resort to pressure and incentives: the internationals became a party to the negotiations, not a mediator. On the final day of the Abuja talks, the international community, headed by the U.S., made a series of promises and threats. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick handed over letters from President George W. Bush to Minni Minawi and Abdel Wahid al Nur. But the rebels called the internationals’ bluff: the threats and promises remained on paper only. (Comparable promises and threats were made to Khartoum, but in private.) Insofar as the DPA was in reality an agreement between the Government of Sudan and the international community, it turned out to be worthless. It was an agreement parachuted from the sky, without roots.