On Darfur and the death of Mohammad Bashar – By Aly Verjee
The second honeymoon of Darfur’s Doha peace process lasted just over a month. On April 6, Mohammad Bashar, leader of the Justice and Equality Movement-Sudan (hence referred to as JEM-Bashar) signed the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD; English, Arabic) in the ballroom of the Doha Ritz-Carlton hotel.
In Doha, Bashar told delegates he was looking forward to going home. On May 12 he was dead, killed on the Sudan-Chad borderlands at the hands of his former comrades in the mainstream Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).
Accounts of Bashar’s death vary. Abdullahi El-Tom, JEM’s head of strategic planning, described JEM forces engaging with a heavily armed JEM-Bashar convoy, resulting in the death of Bashar and his deputy Arko Dahiya. El Tom writes: “had JEM been interested in sheer massacres of the invaders, it would have not spared the lives of the 20 or so who are now in its captivity.”
JEM-Bashar’s spokesman claimed Bashar and his colleagues were unarmed as they crossed the Chad-Sudan border, and were summarily executed by JEM. The Government of Sudan condemned “an odious terrorist operation on Sunday [May 12], murdering in cold blood the two leaders.” The UN-AU mission in Darfur, UNAMID, called Bashar’s assassination “criminal.” The Government of Chad added its condemnation, also claiming that the attack took place on Chadian, rather than Sudanese, territory.
Do these competing accounts matter? Perhaps not. Bashar’s death confirms JEM remains militarily formidable. Regardless of where precisely the fighting occurred, neither Chad nor Sudan can guarantee security in the borderlands. If Bashar and his delegation were unarmed (which seems somewhat implausible), then the security arrangements for his return to Sudan were inadequate, and will only provide grist for the rumours of an assassination conspiracy. But, most importantly, Bashar’s death vividly illustrates that assertions that the war in Darfur is over are wrong. Today’s conflict may be different, but it is not over.
Doha and the DDPD
At his first and last meeting of the DDPD Implementation Follow-up Commission (IFC) on April 9, the day after the Darfur reconstruction conference, Bashar didn’t have much to say, in contrast to the lengthy statements of the leader of the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) and Darfur Regional Authority (DRA) chair Tijani al-Sissi and the head of the Government of Sudan’s delegation, chair of the Darfur Peace Follow-up Office in the Presidency, state minister Amin Hassan Omer.
Over the course of the meeting, Bashar mainly listened to the prepared statements of other speakers. He raised two points: the need, in his view, for a follow-up IFC meeting in 45 days, to help speed implementation of the DDPD; and swift action to complete the verification of and eventual demobilization or integration of JEM-Bashar forces into the regular forces. (Essentially, verification is an independent count of how many troops actually exist.) Bashar also offered his take on recent events in the Jebel Amir area, the scene of fighting over the control of gold mining, and a new addition to Darfur’s list of humanitarian crises, with 60,000 people displaced.
Bashar’s first request, to bring forward the next IFC meeting, was swiftly denied by the chair, Qatari deputy prime minister Ahmad bin Abdullah al-Mahmoud. Al-Mahmoud announced the next IFC meeting would be held in four months. (Article 483 of the DDPD states the IFC shall meet quarterly.) In the context of an already troubled agreement, the IFC is particularly ineffectual; little more than a meeting to hear a series of set-piece speeches, it lacks the regularity of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement era Assessment and Evaluation Commission, or the urgency of the various African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) forums.
The discussion of troop verification was longer. While no one was opposed to a speedy verification of JEM-Bashar forces, the lengthy delay in completing the verification of LJM forces (for background on problems with the LJM verification process, see paragraph 6 of the UN Secretary-General’s April 10, 2013 Report to the Security Council; paragraph 8 of the UN Secretary-General’s January 10, 2013 Report to the Security Council; the communiqué of the Joint Commission; and a recent Radio Dabanga news report) shows verification of a new signatory party’s forces may in practice be more complicated.
From the meeting, it was hard to gauge how Bashar and al-Sissi would get along. Although a more significant military force, JEM-Bashar is politically the junior partner to al-Sissi’s LJM. Bashar’s agreement with the Government of Sudan left the DDPD essentially unchanged, excepting the creation of a number of new government institutions, such as a social welfare fund to be controlled by the DRA. Al-Sissi, and the LJM, still lead the DRA, hold more influential positions, and are the ones principally responsible for pushing the Government of Sudan to uphold its end of the Darfur deal.
The agreement with JEM-Bashar will probably survive its leader’s death. The fact that a new agreement was signed in Doha does not improve the substantial lag in implementation of most aspects of the DDPD. Apart from the continued rejection of the DDPD by JEM, other armed movements, and many ordinary people, conflict and instability in Darfur show no sign of dissipating. The reinvigoration of the Doha process was even briefer than could have been predicted. And so peace for Darfur remains elusive.
Aly Verjee is senior researcher at the Rift Valley Institute.