The Question of Local Involvement in the Peace Process
(posted on behalf of Angela R. Swayze, who recently served as an election observer in Nigeria with the National Democratic Institute of International Affairs)
I’d like to hear more discussion about how traditional and community level methods of mediation are currently faring given the history of government undermining these practices. In response to Martha Bixby’s question on the role American activists should play in the peace process, Alex de Waal cited a recent Washington Post op-ed by Julie Flint maintaining that some areas of Darfur may be moving towards communication on a local level. But community unification and control over some aspects of the peace process pose a significant threat to those currently in power, more so than outside intervention. So then, what is going on there today?
Ultimately the solutions to Darfur are local. Over the last few years, on and off, there have been attempts to snatch local remedies from the face of disaster. Few have worked. Overwhelmingly, the reason has been that the government (or to be specific, some groups within the security and the National Congress Party) has blocked them. For example, there was a very encouraging local initiative to reconcile the Zayadiya, Berti and Meidob in 2005, which was halted by government interference. The southern Rizeigat have steadfastly resisted attempts at aggression or interference from both SLA and government, and have negotiated non-aggression pacts with some of their neighbors. These pacts haven’t always held but they have protected south-eastern Darfur from much of the violence witnessed elsewhere. What Julie Flint saw in northern Darfur was, outside government control, Arab groups including former Janjaweed negotiating with rebels to open markets and re-establish cordial relations. This can happen and we will see more of it.
The big questions over the return of IDPs have not been addressed and it will be difficult for small-scale local initiatives to handle issues on this scale. Most attempts to open up space for dialogue have been abruptly closed down by the government. To date, the preparatory meetings for the African Union’s Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation are the best and best-protected forum at which community leaders can raise issues with the AU, and also open channels of communication with one another.
What methods does the government use in blocking local efforts at mediation?
Khartoum has many means at its disposal, depending on the kind of initiative. Because tribal chiefs are civil servants, appointed by the government (this has been the case since the 1920s and was also the case for most of them during the Fur sultanate), it is possible to dismiss any uncooperative chief and appoint another. The current government has been more active and intrusive in doing this than any of its predecessors.
Another method is to sow confusion by sponsoring initiatives that look legitimate (and which sometimes do achieve something), as rivals/competitors to locally-generated peace processes. There are enough loyal chiefs and government-sponsored civil society organizations for this to be possible.
The security services and military intelligence occasionally use more direct methods to break up meetings, harrass people, and worse. Among the SLA groups, Khartoum can sponsor spoilers and aggressors to break up efforts to unite the rebels. The Eritreans have been particularly effective at supporting spoiler efforts, and there is good evidence that their role in this regard is backed by Khartoum.
Underpinning this is the sore lack of organization, discipline, leadership, coordination and finance among local Darfurian groups, including the armed rebels. At the Abuja talks last year there were two Somali advisers on disarmament, who were shocked at the rebels’ disorganization–and these were men with considerable experience of the frustrations of trying to organize coherent armed movements.