The Sudan People’s Initiative–A Flicker of Optimism
When a solution comes to the Darfur crisis–as with Sudan’s national crisis–it will be a domestic solution, created and led by Sudanese, with the internationals in a supporting role. There is a flicker of a chance that the Sudan People’s Initiative marks the beginning of Sudanese taking ownership of the Darfur crisis and finding a way towards a solution.
On 11 November, the rapporteur for the Kenana meeting, Prof. al Haj Attiya, presented the report. It was a week late and very long (seven volumes plus a summary, which hadn’t been circulated in advance). But fears that the summary and recommendations would pull back from the substance of the meeting did not prove founded. It was, participants readily acceded, a broadly fair representation of what was discussed, though some complained that it would have been better to discuss the draft report before its publication. Yesterday’s question was, what next? What would President Omar al Bashir do with the report, and would he announce next steps that reflected the consensus of the meeting, include leaders of other parties as he took the initiative forward, and make sure that any progress is guaranteed and verifiable? Today, Pres. Bashir met half of those hopes–whether he meets the other half remains to be seen.
Pres. Bashir’s speech at Friendship Hall today, 12 November, was a fair reflection of Prof. Attiya’s summary. Where consensus had been achieved–for example on the need for individual compensation for victims of the violence–his proposals were in line. Where the meeting fell short of consensus–for example on a single region for Darfur or a vice president’s position for Darfur–he said the issue was still up for discussion, and didn’t rule out any option. He said that a committee would be formed to follow up with the armed movements, preparatory to any peace negotiations. Bashir also went further and announced a series of unilateral steps, beginning with a cessation of hostilities and continuing to include the immediate disarmament of militia, the setting up of the promised community police services in IDP camps, and an end to hostile radio broadcasts.
The Darfur armed movements were not enthusiastic and most Darfurians remain profoundly sceptical. Several things need to happen if these promises are to become realities.
Concerning the unilateral security gestures, there is much that can happen. Over the last year, the great majority of ceasefire violations have been by the Sudan armed forces and airforce and pro-government militia. Stopping these offensive military actions will certainly have an impact on the ground. Disarming the militia will also have an impact, if it can in fact be done. But these activities need to be monitored and verified. Bashir has promised verification. The responsibility for doing this falls upon UNAMID, which needs to scale up its monitoring and verification capacity, and also re-establish the defunct Ceasefire Commission and Joint Commission. The first test of Bashir’s good faith is whether he agrees to a truly intrusive monitoring role by UNAMID, and a Ceasefire Commission that includes representatives of the non-signatory armed groups.
Concerning the political process, there can only be modest progress without a reciprocal effort from the armed movements–and Bashir needs to build a lot of confidence before he can expect the movements to respond positively. As always in Sudan, there is no quick route to a settlement. Bashir has fulfilled his promise to be honest to the deliberations in Kenana. He needs now to clarify some important ambiguities. The first is to underline that the outcome of the Sudan People’s Initiative thus far is a consensus position of the establishment political parties only, and as such an opening position for any future peace talks. It is not a definitive position of the government or the final blueprint of a settlement. Second, the committee to talk with the armed movements should include representatives of all the political parties present in Kenana (and, should they join, the Popular Congress Party and Sudan Communist Party). And third, the delegation of the Government of National Unity to any future peace talks should similarly be inclusive.
The Sudan People’s Initiative has given the UN-AU Chief Mediator, Djibril Bassole, some material to work with. The government has made a significant gesture. It doesn’t matter that one big motivation for the Initiative was the NCP’s wish to head off the ICC. The Kenana process took on a life of its own, and while it hasn’t confounded its critics yet, it hasn’t let down its supporters either. It doesn’t matter that the concessions were offered to domestic political constituents and not to the Mediator himself or foreign envoys. In fact, the concessions are more robust precisely because they are anchored in a national political forum. Since the failure of the DPA, it has been increasingly clear that Darfur needs to be settled in a national political context, and the Sudan People’s Initiative is making that context accessible.
The tough issues are yet to come. The Sudan Government has yet to be tested on its security promises. The two big issues still unresolved within the establishment parties–the single Darfur region and the vice presidency–are critical for Darfurians because they provide those cast-iron guarantees that Darfur’s wishes cannot be overridden by a national political system in which they are a numerical minority. And whether the initiative will remain on track when the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber issues its arrest warrant for Pres. Bashir is the biggest unknown of them all.
But the most important reality today is that the denial and self-imposed political paralysis that have marked the Sudanese political establishment’s approach to Darfur have been decisively overcome. Sudanese leaders are back at doing what they do best–talking through their issues. There’s a glimmer of hope.
Pres. Bashir vowed to disarm “the militia”, and no one knows which one. He used a general term that could be applied to the armed groups themselves. While Darfuris were waiting for him to announce formation of an integrated region in Darfur the audience were baffled when he said they agreed to increase the number of regions and the final report quoted that some members of the forum suggested the creation of two more states. Generally speaking, NCP is implementing the French conditions for the deferral of the ICC indictment. NCP will do its best to reach a solution to Darfur crisis or at least to show its seriouness and its keeness in that respect before the end of the year to evade Pres. indictment. With the recent newspapers’ protests against governmental censorship one can easily conclude SPI is a maneuver to gain some time. NCP is not willing to make any concessions.
While Bashir was annaouncing an unconditional ceasefire he followed it with conditions. He wanted the disclosure of locations of the warring parties. This condition will never be accepted by the movements. A ceasefire without an agreed framework of agreement is an empty call. Sudan Government is a master of breaching its own ceasefires. The last violation of its unilateral ceasefire in Sirte was on the same day when the Sudan Air Forces bombed areas belonging to JEM in Jebel Moon. When JEM suspects the honesty of Al-Bashir’s call for peace it is based on so many dishonoured commitments. Al-Bashir was soft on his speech to gain sympathy for his case with ICC.
The All Sudan Initiative has unleached a question about the DPA which the NCP still believes is a model. The DPA was considered by non-signatories as dead and burried at birth and that will pose a threat to future negotiations since the GOS will go to Doha with the package already formulated by the Forum in Kennana.
One more crucial point was the failure of the Forum to discuss the national dimentions of the Darfur crisis- mainly marginalisation of other regions and concentration of power and wealth among certain Riverain minorities. Concentrating discussions on Darfur alone and deffering a holisitic approach will not diffuse future eruption of the problem somewhere else and Kordofan is already in waiting.
I write this response from the position of an academic that is critical of the West and its ideologies. Many scholars, especially western, celebrate the notion that the ICC will indict Al-Bashir. This feeds into the hegemonic relation of the West over the rest. While we can’t ignore the existence of the Other, we need not be dominated by him. That being said, I agree with what came in the beginning of De Waal’s post that a solution needs to come from within, and that the Peoples’ Initiative gives us an unyielding hope to solve the crisis. Thus, I believe we should all support this Initiative to make it translate into a tangible reality of peace on the ground. Whether Al-Bashir is buying time or not, or whether he “wishes to head off the ICC”, needs not be a reason nor a promulgation for rejecting the Initiative.
I hope that all Sudanese support this Initiative because it is a product of the people of Sudan represented by over 30 active political parties, including different Darfuri rebel groups. More importantly, and in line with what I argue for, the participants of the Peoples’ Initiative rejected the politically motivated interference of foreign forces. These kinds of unjust and colonizing interferences usually instill a great sense of nationalism and unity. The Sudanese history (modern and ancient) is replete with such examples.
I conclude this entry by reminding myself and everybody that many postcolonial scholars contend that one of the root causes of the problems in Africa (and other ex-colonies) is colonialism. Thus, I would like to draw our attention to this pernicious notion that existed and continues to exist in different forms in our countries. At the same time, I do not exclude ourselves from causing our own problems.
Well said Mr. Aymen but do you think the aerial bomardment in Darfur and displacing Darfuri is one of (the problems in Africa (and other ex-colonies) that is made by (colonialism). When you stop blaming others for your own faults then you will find solutions to them.
Thank you Dr. Yousif for your reply to my entry. My quick answer to your question is that colonialism in the literature has been attributed to these bombardments and displacement issues you referred to. The long answer is to read postcolonial literature (e.g. Edward Said, Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, Homi Bhabha, etc). However, I do not attribute everything to colonialism. In fact, my last sentence is a testimony to that.
I was in Khartoum for the last part of the Peoples’Forum for peace in Darfur. It was more than a glimmer of hope .Alex de Waal is usually well informed.:but his claim that the government was responsible for the majority of ceasefire violations is simply not true.After all, the government signed the DPA when the rebels refused and vowed to fight on. They continued to fight until JEM made its suicidal attack on 10 May 08 .Remember too that the rebels started the crisis in the first place. What was the government expected to do? Compare the reaction of the WEST when its states were targeted by terror.Even the bedrocks of democratic liberties were compromised in order to fight terror .
The real danger is the fact that the rebels have been emboldened by the ICC.The most adventurous among them expect the ICC to hand them over the whole of Sudan.They are that naive .They and others would like to abort the road map which will lead to elections; because they know that they have no constituences to win an election. They also seem unaware of the real motives of some of those who sponsor them and finance them(directly and indirectly).There is no free lunch.Those who think that they can use the High and Mighty in their internal Sudanese strategies will soon discover that the tail never directs the head and body.
The moderates and wise ( and there are some among the rebels) will hopefully agree to negotiate ;and see a reasonable window of opportunity in the Qatari Initiative which is supported by all the main players and (at least openly)by some western democracies.
The result of refusing the DPA in 06 was catastrophic for the people of Darfur(if not for the armchair rebels living in peace abroad). There is now a second chance . Let us hope they will not waste it.
I really do hope that the crisis will end soon. I really look forward to the development of the region. A development that I have in mind is education. Education should also flourish there too. I visited Emma Academy Project, which is the very first support that I happen to be part of. They will be building a school there. The school will be a shlelter as well as a center for learning for the children of Sudan.