Time to Get Serious
The agreement between the UN, AU and Sudan Government in Addis Ababa today (June 12) on the AU-UN hybrid peacekeeping force for Darfur might—just might—be a breakthrough. Ambiguity lurks in the text. Problems will multiply with actually making it happen. But the progress made today should be an opportunity to refocus attention on the real center of gravity of the problem: peace and democracy.
In Addis Ababa, the Sudan government signed up to the proposals put forward jointly by the AU and UN, namely a 20,000-strong force, mainly composed of African troops, with a strong mandate and a protection capability, whose commander reports through a special envoy to both the AU Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council. There are plenty of ambiguities still in the agreement and some loopholes that could be exploited to hinder its implementation. Khartoum didn’t agree to the full text of the AU-UN joint report, just to the presentation made in the meeting; how the force commander will work under the joint authority of two separate institutions isn’t yet clear; there are questions over how the Chad border is to be monitored; and mechanisms for reviewing the agreement remain to be worked out. In the worst case it could turn into an unwieldy operation in which two institutions, neither of which are renowned for speed and flexibility of action, end up further tying one another down. We will be lucky if the full hybrid force is functional before the end of the year and that gives plenty of time to work on the institutional arrangements. Another danger is that many Darfurians’ expectations of what international troops can deliver is so inflated that they will be grievously disappointed when the UN soldiers don’t disarm the Janjawiid, guard every displaced persons’ camp, or chase down bandits.
Some short-term action is needed to bolster the forces already on the ground and improve their standing among Darfurians. The collapse of confidence between ordinary Darfurians and most of the AMIS forces is palpable and approaching crisis. Something visible and dramatic is needed, like the short-term transfer of UN troops from Southern Sudan, to show people that things are changing. Also, AMIS’s mandate is up for review at the end of June. Instead of simply rolling over the existing mandate until the end of the year, it would make sense to stiffen it in anticipation of the incoming hybrid force. And the rebel groups that didn’t sign the DPA last year should be brought back into the ceasefire commission.
That’s a formidable list of problems to overcome. What should be the international response: more pressure to get Khartoum to sign up to the details? Or a change in tack and tone, refocusing on the challenges of Darfur’s peace process and Sudan’s national democratization? I favor the latter. This is the opportunity to get serious about Sudan’s central issues.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement commits the government to free and fair elections in the 12 months between July 9, 2008 and July 9, 2009. This is the main event: where diplomats and activists should concentrate their efforts. The Darfur peacekeepers’ saga is far from over, but after today we should be switching our emphasis.
The "mid-term elections"—so-called because they happen half-way through the interim period leading up to the Southern Sudanese referendum on self-determination—are the best chance to transform Sudan in more than twenty years. For these elections to happen, a lot of work is needed. Sudan needs a proper census, which involves an agreement on where the North-South boundary lies and an agreement on the voting rights of displaced people. It will be next-to-impossible for the Sudan government to carry out a credible census in the Darfur displaced camps, but a team that includes the UN, AU and representatives of the government’s independent census office could do it. Sudan needs to reform its national security act, because the existing one prohibits most kinds of public meeting. It needs a new media act and a new NGOs act, as well as a political parties act. The national assembly has enough committed democrats to push these through if they have support, but the legislative timetable is tight.
Sudan’s major opposition parties, such as the Umma Party and the Popular Congress, need to change their political tack, which is currently headed towards an election boycott. International pressure could be helpful here. Another role for the international community is creating a mechanism for people in Chadian refugee camps and rebel-administered areas to vote—just because people are outside of government jurisdiction does not deny them their rights as citizens. Hard work is needed to transform former rebel groups into viable civilian political parties. National debates are needed on the key issues facing the country: there has been a South-South dialogue and a Darfur-Darfur dialogue is planned, so why not a "Sudan-Sudan dialogue"?
Any peace agreement for Darfur makes sense only as a buttress to the national democratization process contained in the CPA. Any power-sharing arrangements—whether those contained in the Abuja DPA or those drawn up in a new agreement—will be purely interim. The governorships and ministerial posts awarded to the Darfurian rebels will be theirs only until elections are held. Many Darfurians are deeply skeptical of elections, fearing that the ruling National Congress Party will manipulate the vote. Yet they do not want to be the ones who slow down or stall the elections.
This provides a focal point for Sudanese and foreign activists: making sure that the national elections are free, fair and credible. With progress on the UN peacekeepers, it’s time to get serious on the main issue.
These new developments certainly seem encouraging especially when viewed in light of the strong political desire to act in Darfur. However, given the UN’s track record of moving slowly on deployment of approved forces, as well as Bashir’s history of obstructing UN observers my expectations are tempered.
Can you comment on the fine print of this most recent agreement? Does Bashir have any out clauses if he wants to derail the implementation of the hybrid force? Or, does Bashir worry about the growing power of the Janjawiid and now require assistance in controlling them?
No-one should have high expectations of the speed of arrival and effectiveness of this force. The UN has an “unshrinkable” schedule for troop deployment: they won’t be despatched until the camps are ready for them when they arrive, the transport, food and other logistics are arranged, the funding arrangement with the troop contributors are worked out, etc. Don’t expect significant progress until the end of the year. And that’s before we factor in the numerous ways in which the Sudan government can slow things down. Even with a full agreement on paper there are all sorts of obstacles to be expected at Port Sudan and on the way to Darfur. With Chadian cooperation a supply route from the west may make some of this easier, but that has its own complications too.
Within the agreement there are some potential problems too. Khartoum didn’t sign on to the full text of the joint AU-UN report–a failure that has caused the U.S. to be profoundly suspicious of what it means. The joint reporting structure, to the AU and UN, could be a source of delay if the two organizations don’t agree.
The better news is that some of the key institutions within the government want to see Darfur stabilized. The most important of these is the army. As you imply, there is little love lost between the army and the militia. Army commanders and many senior politicians are deeply worried that Darfur is descending into an uncontrollable anarchy which will spread to other parts of the country. They see a capable peacekeeping force not as a threat, but as an asset in arresting this looming disaster.
In this post, you mention that “Hard work is needed to transform former rebel groups into viable civilian political parties.” What are some of the best models to look at in terms of this transition and who has the expertise to help make it occur?
Unfortunately there are relatively few good models for transforming armed rebel groups into viable civilian parties. Generally speaking there are two paths. One is that a well-organized left-wing rebel group seizes power and rules as a single party or a dominant party, retaining its centralized political-military-administrative vanguard. It’s then remarkably hard to dislodge and can stay in power almost indefinitely. It may tolerate civil liberties, especially at the beginning, but in Africa at least there are no examples of such regimes tolerating a serious electoral challenge, let alone handing over power. Examples from anti-colonial liberation fronts include Algeria, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe. Examples from post-colonial guerrilla struggles include Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda. Perhaps the most encouraging example from elsewhere is the Sandanistas in Nicaragua.
The other paths are followed by disorganized rebel groups that fail to develop from an armed band or an army, with some politicians affiliated, into an integrated political organization. In Chad, both Habre and Deby were warlords-turned-dictators. Kabila followed a similar path in DR Congo. In Somalia there were many would-be dictators. In Somaliland, the military factions fell apart leaving an opportunity for civilian forces to exert control of the government.
One of the big questions facing Southern Sudanese is whether the SPLM has the capacity to build up a political infrastructure sufficient to form a truly effective Government of Southern Sudan. It is likely that, for the transitional period and its aftermath at least, the SPLM can only really aspire to function as a dominant or sole party with a unified military and political leadership.
At present the Darfur armed groups seem to be set on following the Chadian or Somali trajectory. The Darfur Peace Agreement was an opportunity for them to buy into the Sudanese national democratization process, but those who signed (Minawi) were incapable of doing that, and those who refused (Abdel Wahid and JEM), who had a much better chance of establishing viable parties, decided not to take it. Let’s hope their chance comes again.
Apart from the quality of irrepressible optimism–necessary for anyone who works on Sudan for any period of time–what convinces me that the SLM and JEM could buck the trend and become viable as parties? JEM is the easier case: it is disciplined and has some fine and experienced cadres. The SLM is hopelessly disorganized. Its redeeming feature is that it has a large following in the IDP camps, which could form the basis for a different form of political organization from one based on field commanders.
In short: there aren’t many positive experiences to build on! But it’s necessary to try, before Darfurian politics becomes completely militarized and unmanageable.