Reading the AU Panel Report
The report of African Union High Level Panel on Darfur (AUPD) has injected a new dynamic into Sudanese political life. President Thabo Mbeki has confounded those who had forgotten that he was the architect of the negotiated dismantling of Apartheid, and short-sightedly misperceived him as a member of the club of African status quo statists. In his opening presentation to the AUPD seven months ago, Mbeki mentioned just one Sudanese by name: John Garang. Recalling that, the substance of the Panel’s report should come as less of a surprise.
The AUPD report moves Sudanese politics ahead in two major respects. First, it shifts the centre of political attention away from responding to immediate human rights violations and humanitarian concerns, to addressing the underlying political malaise in Sudan, that gives rise to such violations. Second, it puts the Sudanese people back at the centre of the process. The report does not contain any blueprint for peace, and correctly so, though it does make a number of proposals for discussion by the Sudanese parties. It is essentially a call for a political process””and in fact the Panel has already set such a process in motion. The challenge is to sustain and accelerate that process.
In his introduction to the Report, President Mbeki writes of “˜the Sudanese crisis in Darfur.’ This is a careful phrasing that represents a deliberate shift in focus from considering the Darfur crisis in isolation, to seeing it as a manifestation of Sudan’s historic problem of inequity. At independence in 1956, the Sudanese nation inherited a gross disparity from its two colonial episodes. The riverain elite has dominated Sudanese political and economic life since independence, and its dominance has sparked recurrent rebellions in the peripheries””notably south Sudan and Darfur.
In specifying the Darfur crisis as a symptom of national minority rule, Mbeki has taken a step beyond all previous international inquiries. Some of these have either focused on the human rights and humanitarian dimensions of the Darfur crisis””the outcome of the political crisis, not its cause. Other international approaches have zeroed in on the need for a Darfur peace, plus solutions to the problems in the three areas and a legitimate referendum in the south. On this blog, this has been criticized as a strategy of liberating the country one Bantustan at a time.
The AU Panel attempts to go straight to the centre of gravity of Sudan’s crisis, as it is manifest in Darfur. It identifies this as a historically-rooted crisis of inequality in governance and development which needs an inclusive Global Political Agreement, in which all stakeholders come to a common commitment on peace, justice, reconciliation, and Darfur’s place in the Sudanese nation, as an integrated whole.
The three pillars of peace, justice and reconciliation make no sense when considered separately. They are meaningful only when part of an overall package, agreed to by all stakeholders, to resolve the root causes of the conflict. Also, they are only meaningful in the light of Darfur’s integration into Sudan’s national political process of democratization and the debate on unity or the separation of the south.
When Mbeki took on the Chairmanship of the AUPD in March, his critics were quick to allege that was seeking an escape route for President Omar al Bashir from the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant. The ICC was indeed the spark for the AU to set up the Panel””to be precise, it was the AU Peace and Security Council’s spurned request to the UN Security Council to consider a deferral of the prosecution that angered the AU. Some wrote off the Panel in advance on these grounds, and even refused to engage with it, arguing that they knew the outcome in advance. Most press attention focuses on how the Panel deals with the ICC, and especially its proposal for a special chamber within the Sudanese judiciary staffed by international jurists to try those alleged to have committed war crimes in Darfur.
The most important point about the ICC in the Report is not whether the Panel endorses it or not, but the position that the Court has within the overall structure of the Recommendations. The ICC issue does not take pride of place in the AUPD Report. The ICC is given its place, along with consideration of a Hybrid Court and a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, as part of a broad agenda of items to be negotiated in a round table process of hammering out a Global Political Agreement. The Panel neither supports the ICC nor seeks to block it. Rather it puts the ICC in its place as one possible part of comprehensive package””perhaps useful, possibly not, depending on the views of the Sudanese themselves.
Critics have also accused Mbeki of being conservative and statist, defending the status quo in Sudan, as he allegedly did in Zimbabwe. In fact, the approach that Mbeki has taken has far more in common with his strategic role in bringing about the negotiated end of minority rule in his own country. Those seeking to understand Mbeki’s strategy should look back twenty years, not five. The implicit, tough message for the Khartoum Government is: negotiate power sharing now, or face the likelihood that Sudan will soon be fragmented and ungovernable. The message for Africa is that the continent cannot afford an irreparably fractured country at its heart.
Across the Sudanese political scene, the report has challenged the opposition to take seriously its responsibility for seeking constructive political solutions. The days of grandstanding and appealing for outside salvation are numbered. Those who respond positively will make the political running in the years ahead, those who do not risk being sidelined.
The Panel’s report therefore shifts the international debate on Sudan from the politics of condemning atrocities (where the UN Security Council has found itself stuck) to the politics of constructing political solutions. Equally importantly, it brings the Sudanese people back as the principal actors. The task of solving Sudan’s crisis in Darfur is first and foremost a challenge for the Sudanese, next for Africa, and finally for the international community.
Any number of think tanks could have articulated such an argument””indeed there is nothing fundamentally new in making the case that there needs to be an inclusive political solution leading to democratization within an “˜all Sudan’ framework. Where the AU Panel differs is its innovative method. All previous international engagements of this kind on Sudan have operated through expert consultations in high-class hotels, with chiefly symbolic trips to the Darfur’s displaced camps to shake hands and have photographs taken. The commissioners then retire to write their report which descends from on high, full of exhortations about what the Sudanese must do to meet international obligations. The UN Security Council may make solemn pronouncements, but as Khartoum has shown, these have little meaning in their own right.
Not so Mbeki and his Panel. During the last six months, the Panel’s three former Presidents, the Nigerian Abdusalami Abubaker and the Burundian Pierre Buyoya, as well as Mbeki, spent at least three months’ worth of full-time work on the task. Overall, the Panel spent more than forty days in town-hall style meetings in Sudan, mostly in Darfur. This was a grueling exercise, unmatched by any special envoy, mediator, or investigator. These were not ad hoc lectures or informal discussions, but well-prepared consultations in which the Darfurians systematically spoke about their fears and hopes. It provided an important role for the Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation. As a result, every recommendation is grounded in what the people themselves have said.
For example, in long meetings with refugees and displaced persons, tribal leaders, women, civil society activists, and nomads, all these groups insisted that they should be directly represented at future peace talks. They were not content for the armed movements to represent them””all felt that the rebel leaders had been a disappointment. The Panel reflects this unanimous demand with its round table formula for political negotiations. The rebel leaders will be unhappy, and so too some of the diplomats who have run the last rounds of failed peace talks. They have already said that it is an unwieldy and complicated process. Mbeki will have a simple response: this is the people’s demand, and it is less complicated to have an inclusive process than another failed accord.
As the initial four month mandate of the Panel came to a close, Mbeki asked for an extension. He told the AU staff, advisors, and fellow panelists that he intended to make a third mission to Sudan, to discuss the draft recommendations. This was also a new departure. Meeting once again””often for the third time””with the same representatives, the Panel had shown its seriousness, and was rewarded when the Darfurian people recognized their own demands in those recommendations. Having generating this sense of ownership, a political process is now in motion.
Implementing the recommendations for peace, justice and reconciliation is a bigger task. The AU Peace and Security Council has endorsed the Report at a special summit level meeting in Abuja, Nigeria. The recommendations already have the broad support of the Darfurian population. The Sudan Government will protest, but ultimately will be under immense pressure to go along. The armed movements are criticizing some details, but will recognize that Mbeki has articulated their own critique of the imbalance of power and wealth in Sudan. Corralling the international community and re-energizing a moribund peace process are next. President Mbeki has shown strategic vision and stamina thus far. Facilitating the negotiated transformation of Sudan will demand even greater political skill.