Including Darfur’s Arabs in the Peace Process
The Sudan government and the Justice and Equality Movement are meeting in Doha, and the US envoy for Sudan, Scott Gration, is doing the rounds of the usual suspects in Khartoum, meeting Ali Osman and Salva Kiir, Nafie Ali Nafie, Minni Minawi etc… But where in all this traffic are Darfur’s Arabs? Gration made clear on his first visit to Khartoum that Washington wants a new relationship with Khartoum, one that is not based on confrontation. But Washington also needs to start building a relationship with, and understanding the needs of, Darfur’s Arabs, who since the insurgency began six years ago have been excluded from almost every form of international intervention””from peacemaking to relief delivery.
The theory in Abuja, during the negotiation of the Darfur Peace Agreement, was that Khartoum spoke for the Arabs. Lurking beneath this theory was the belief that the “˜janjaweed’ (synonymous for many outside Sudan with “˜Arabs’, “˜pastoralists’, “˜nomads’) had committed crimes so heinous as to be beyond the pale. The clear message coming from Arab leaders in Darfur today””tribal and militia””is that there will be no peace unless they are brought into the political process. Who would represent them is a tricky question and not the subject of this posting. But a strategy must be devised to include them. They can be disregarded no longer. Why?
1. The Arabs of Darfur are victims of the same marginalization and neglect the rebels complain of. The “˜janjaweed’ among them were, as a general rule, even more impoverished than the settled non-Arab tribes that led the insurgency. Many of those who took up arms did so because militia salaries were the only source of income for unskilled rural youth without livestock, in extremely difficult times for pastoralists. Today things are worse, not better, for most. The insurgency has cut livestock migration routes; the symbiotic relationship of farmer and herder has collapsed, and with it many of the markets and support services pastoralists depended on; and absolutely nothing has been done to address the chronic lack of development of nomadic areas. In the Waha locality””the pastoralist administrative locality that has no geographical boundaries but that covers 48 permanent settlements and villages along the livestock routes””350,000 Arabs are served by only four medical assistants. They do not have a single doctor. There are 22 schools, but only one offers the higher secondary education that pastoralists are desperate for as a route out of poverty. Ninety-eight per cent of women in nomadic communities are said to be illiterate.
2. Arab tribes do not trust the government to represent their interests and do not consider themselves represented by the government (or even, in some cases, by those of their own leaders who are closely connected to Khartoum). Their concerns were not addressed in Abuja””most importantly, the question of land rights””and many who joined the militia feel betrayed. Darfur is slipping away from the government. As Mohamed Hamdan Hemeti, currently the strongest Border Guard leader, says””and as the Jundi al Mazloum(‘Forgotten Soldiers’) mutinies demonstrate”””˜The government does not control the Arab tribes.’
3. The special relationship the US and the Sudan government are building up with JEM, prioritising Khalil Ibrahim’s movement in peace talks, risks backfiring unless balanced by other contacts, especially with Arabs. JEM may well enjoy better relations with the Arab leaders of the Native Administration than any other rebel group, and is putting great emphasis on recruiting Arabs. One Arab leader claims that Dr. Khalil “˜called Arabs to Jebel Mun and told them “˜What the government gives you, I will give more.’ But the Northern Rizeigat who spearheaded the counter-insurgency of 2003-04 remember Dr. Khalil’s time as Minister of Health in North Darfur, “˜before he changed his white turban for camouflage’, and say, “˜He did nothing for nomads then, not a single clinic. Why should we believe he will do better now?’
Some Arabs say JEM is beginning to win them over. One forecast that “˜in 2010 many Arabs will be with JEM””for cash.’ Another said Dr. Khalil has won friends by permitting Arab camel caravans to move across areas under his control, opening one migration route (masar) right up to Tine on the Chad border. But others are not convinced, and warn that Arabs would see an agreement between Khartoum and JEM as a casus belli. “˜If Khalil comes (to power),’ a militia leader said, “˜there will be one agenda with [Chadian President Idriss] Deby. This means a Zaghawa agenda. The Arabs will not accept.’
Darfur’s Arabs need peace. With huge casualties in intra-Arab fighting, and deaths in the many scores in single encounters, they know that the guns they have acquired now pose a serious threat to their own communities. They also know that no peace means no development””and no development means no education and an endless struggle for survival either as nomads or as armed proxies (whether it be for the government or JEM).
They are waiting for a sign that their concerns, and their centrality to peace in Darfur, are acknowledged. So far they haven’t been. The peace process has always been between the government on one side and the predominantly non-Arab rebel movements on the other. Now JEM is fast eclipsing the other rebel movements (thanks in part to the refusal of Abdel Wahid to engage, in anything, from Paris) and the parameters of the peace process are shrinking rather than expanding, as they must. Hemeti, who has plenty of firepower and has already rebelled against the government once, appears almost amused. “˜If there is a deal only with Khalil, everyone will take up arms to get a seat [in government],’ he told me. He thought for a moment, and added one word, his first in English: “˜Infinity!’