Whither the Darfur Mediation? (III)
This is the third part of a paper based on a memorandum submitted to an informal consultation on the Darfur mediation. This section is solely the responsibility of Alex de Waal.
Part 3: Critical Choices for UNAMID and the Mediation
Into this middle of this protracted and intractable conflict, UNAMID is being deployed. Despite its Chapter VII mandate and its task of protecting civilians, it is in fact a classic peacekeeping force with a few ornaments. Not only is it deployed into a situation that is very far from a classic two-sided conflict, but there is no peace to keep. The ceasefire and security arrangements provisions of the DPA are respected by nobody. UNAMID cannot interpose itself between the belligerent parties. The Ceasefire Commission and the Joint Commission (the political oversight body for the CFC) are completely dysfunctional. These institutions are as important as UNAMID’s military forces and without them UNAMID is severely handicapped.
UNAMID forces themselves do not have the capacity to enforce their will militarily. Their mandate for civilian protection is mostly (not entirely) out of reach. Having more troops and armoured vehicles and helicopters will help but it will not address the fundamental problem that UNAMID cannot sustain a ceasefire which the parties are determined to violate and cannot provide overall security for a civilian population spread across such a large area.
The recent fighting in western Darfur close to the border—an inter-state war in all but name—has some salutary lessons for UNAMID. Even if there is a functional Darfur CFC it will be ineffective without a counterpart CFC in Chad. This would mean that EUFOR in Chad would need a negotiated ceasefire at the very minimum. As the government of Chad is unwilling to recognize the armed opposition, let alone enter into talks with it, and has insisted that EUFOR have no liaison with the rebels either, this is a remote prospect.
Among Darfurians, expectations were very high that UNAMID would bring real change to their lives. They can already see that those expectations are not being met. This has the positive outcome that community leaders are more ready to take initiatives to grapple with their immediate problems. However, respect for UNAMID will diminish. The Sudan government respects UNAMID primarily because it sees it as the camel’s nose poking into the tent—the rest of the animal may follow. It fears that UNAMID is the vanguard for a NATO intervention or similar. While western capitals still have uncertain intentions, Khartoum’s trepidation will mount and it will have every incentive to obstruct.
In these circumstances, UNAMID’s leadership faces some critical choices. It cannot bail out. It could decide just to hang in there, maintaining a largely symbolic presence and waiting for better times to come. This would also be an admission of failure. it cannot undertake coercive protection activities such as disarmament without a high risk of being dragged into the conflict as an unwitting belligerent. There are already enough suspicions of UNAMID’s intent among Darfur’s Arabs that the mission has a huge confidence-building job to do.
What UNAMID can do is limited proactive civilian protection, in conformity with its mandate, although well short of the hopes that it would be a pioneering case of the Responsibility to Protect. For example it can conduct perimeter patrols around IDP camps and maintain a visible presence in areas where it is feared that conflict may erupt. Doing this will need additional equipment and well-functioning civil affairs and political affairs departments.
This would represent an important step forward. Currently there are approximately 100 civilian fatalities across Darfur each month, sometimes more, and many of these could be prevented by stepped-up civilian protection activities. However the limits of this activity should be recognized. It is akin to a humanitarian operation, i.e. it consists in saving lives in the middle of an ongoing conflict without actually hastening the resolution of that conflict. In the same way that humanitarian aid can actually become sucked into a war economy and end up prolonging or complicating a conflict, there is a danger that UNAMID may also end up failing to advance the peacemaking effort.
The UN-AU mediation team is in a comparably difficult situation. There is a danger that a mediation exercise could become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. It could do this by creating an internationally-legitimised but non-functioning forum, which all the parties officially respect but disregard in practice. Both government and rebels could welcome—indeed demand—a mediation effort, but not because they want peace, but rather because it is a means of political one-upmanship and a means of ruling out other opportunities for advancing peace. Thus far the mediation has failed to make progress in three areas in which it had hoped it could deliver quick results. Rhetoric apart, it has not created a consensus among the neighbouring states. It has not created unity or a unified negotiating position among the rebels. And it has not acted as a restraining factor on the parties in their conduct of hostilities.
The mediation faces some fundamental questions. Paramount among these is, what is the status of the DPA? The DPA is rejected by almost all Darfurians, for different reasons. But in the current circumstances, the Sudan government has every reason to insist that the DPA remains sacrosanct, even while it fails to implement it. While Khartoum maintains this position the mediators are stuck in the awkward situation of being the champions of an agreement that is unworkable and an obstruction to an inclusive peace agreement.
A second question is, what position to take when the parties talk bilaterally. Recently JEM has canvassed the option of direct talks with Khartoum. The mediators should not be opposed to any talks that might bring peace closer. But it is questionable whether a bilateral NCP-JEM agreement would resolve Darfur’s crisis.
Questions of representation, of both domestic actors and external governments, are also crucial. Who is to be admitted to the process, and who excluded? How is the mediation to respond to new developments such as the emergence of new rebel groups? During the Abuja process, the AU held firmly to the line that no additional rebel groups should be recognized. The rationale for this was preventing the fragmentation of the groups. (And to a degree it worked.) The current mediation effort has opened the door to additional groups, recognizing the reality on the ground. The process of fragmentation and reconfiguration has not concluded. But should the mediation become a player in awarding or withholding recognition?
It is widely recognized that the Arabs need to be represented in the peace process. But the small Arab rebel groups represent only a small fraction of Darfur’s Arabs. How are the others to be represented? Many Arabs have made it clear that Khartoum does not represent their interests–but neither do they want to resort to outright rebellion.
A related is the participation of unarmed stakeholders—the ordinary civilians of Darfur, in whose name peace is being sought. Admitting these stakeholders to the negotiating forum will inevitably complicate the process. But excluding them means that their interests may be disregarded. One approach that should be considered as a complement to the political mediation, is to work in support of the groundswell of Darfurian popular opinion in favour of building peace from the grassroots. We should anticipate that viable local peace processes will in turn empower communities to articulate their demands and press for their rights in a non-violent manner. In some localities this is already happening. One step is to bring together representatives of the tribes, of civil society, and of other stakeholders in Darfur to discuss among one another and find their common ground. It is becoming clear that the great majority of Darfurians agree on a broad swathe of issues that unite them. Community leaders, frustrated with the failures of their own political representatives and the international community, do not need any encouragement to meet and develop their consensus. What they do need are modest resources and some political protection—a protected space in which they can discuss frankly with minimal outside interference.
It is also time to look at creative options for addressing the key issues that divide the parties. Remarkably little attention has been paid to the fundamentals of security in Darfur, including the need for building the capacity of field commanders of the rebel movements and the militia, so that they understand the principles and practicalities of a ceasefire and civilian protection and can actually respect an agreement reached. A rethink of security arrangements is long overdue, based on a realistic recognition that the majority of arms are in the hands of tribally-based groups which are too locally-rooted and powerful to be disarmed, and which therefore should form the building blocks of a community-based security system.
The main reason why the rebels rejected the DPA was that the power-sharing arithmetic disappointed them. All power-sharing formulae are zero-sum games which can sometimes entrench political differences rather than foster unity. In Darfur there is simply not enough power to go around to satisfy the parties, especially given the way they intend to use that power—as a channel for patronage. Alternatives should be examined. One alternative, favoured by a number of Darfurians throughout the conflict, has been for an interim Darfurian government of technocrats. (According to the survey of Darfurians conducted by Prof. Adam Azzain Mohamed, and cited in his chapter in War in Darfur and the Search for Peace, this was the option preferred by the largest number.) If the options for elections or power-sharing agreements are being foreclosed, why not consider this one?
An essential final question for the mediators springs from the principle of "do no harm." Any external engagement in an armed conflict bears the risk that it may complicate the situation and indeed make things worse. A Darfur mediation strategy today needs a risk assessment and contingency plans for minimising harm should it not proceed according to plan.