An unequal Sudan
The real cost of a failure in Abuja is an all-out civil war, writes Gamal Nkrumah
More of the same wouldn't do. The Darfur peace talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, have been declared in crisis for so long that casual observers can be forgiven for losing interest. The political deadlock on Darfur cannot go on indefinitely. There are many lessons to be learnt from this debacle.
So is the hour of salvation near? Abstruse squabbling at the Abuja talks does not bode well. Intense international and regional pressure, however, has prompted the faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) headed by Arko Minnawi to sign a tentative peace deal with the Sudanese government. Other Darfur factions are adamantly against what they see as capitulation to the demands of the Sudanese authorities.
Time, meanwhile, is running out for the prevaricators. The armed opposition groups of Darfur and Darfuris at large, like the southern Sudanese, are still very much suspicious of Khartoum's agenda. That would leave Sudan pretty much where it was last year, uncertain in the face of rising scepticism of Khartoum's real intentions. And so Abuja stalls.
Were hopes misplaced from the start? This is a perfect moment for radical political reform in Sudan. The rejection of a Darfur peace accord by two major Darfuri armed opposition groups -- the SLA led by Abdul- Wahid Al-Nur and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) led by Khalil Ibrahim -- augurs ill for the country which is in danger of relapsing into full-scale civil war.
The political impasse and the ensuing escalation of violence in Darfur has not been an edifying spectacle. The SLA and JEM have so far refused to sign a peace deal with the Sudanese government, warning that they will continue to wage armed struggle until Khartoum makes important concessions. Nur left Abuja and is currently in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
Nur met representatives from the European Union and the African Union (AU) in Nairobi and stressed that the people of Darfur, the displaced Darfuris of the camps, will never accept the terms of the Abuja accord. "The people of Darfur want justice and the respect of their rights," Adam Mohamed Adam, the SLA representative to Egypt told Al-Ahram Weekly.
"We insist on individual compensation for the displaced, victimised, raped and injured people of Darfur," Adam explained. "We also want Darfur to be one province and its frontiers demarcated according to the 1956 borders. Darfur used to share a common border with Egypt, now it doesn't. We want the pre-1956 border."
Adam noted that Darfur was an independent kingdom until 1916 when British colonial officials incorporated it into Sudan.
It is precisely this question of sovereignty that has concerned the Sudanese government. The SLA and JEM have threatened to secede if their demands are not met. One of the most pertinent questions upon which portends the success of the Darfur peace process is the deployment of UN troops. Hitherto, Khartoum has been resolutely against the deployment of foreign troops. "Let us come up with something workable and practical that will not jeopardise the sovereignty of the country, and will maintain peace on the ground," said Mazjoub Al-Khalifa, the Sudanese government's top negotiator, recently. "There is no need to fail the AU and make a transition from AU to the UN," he added.
Now it seems that the situation has shifted, at least marginally. "If Sudan deems that the situation requires such a deployment, we have no objection since we are part of the UN," explained Sudanese Information Minister Zahawi Ibrahim Malek. "There was a time when we were totally opposed to the idea of a deployment by any troops other than the AU. But the present situation has its own imperative," Malek added. "The only issue we are not willing to negotiate is the sovereignty of Sudan over its territory," he concluded.
The Sudanese government has signalled lately that it could even contemplate the deployment of UN troops in Khartoum. "The government does not oppose an increase in the AU peace-keeping force in Darfur as long as the move is aimed at stabilising the situation and helping implement the Darfur peace agreement," Al-Khalifa said after meeting with UN Special Advisor Lakhdar Brahimi in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.
The AU force of 7,500 in Darfur has been helpful, but hopelessly inadequate. The AU is cash-strapped, and that lack is palpable right now. "They are too few. And they have too little ability to move quickly and proactively to crisis areas. They need to be better resourced and need, I believe, a more proactive mandate," explained UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergencies Jan Egeland. A meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to discuss the Darfur peace process also took place under the tense political climate. The mood was sour.
Khartoum insists on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sudan. It does not want breakaway provinces and it prefers to see its former foes incorporated into a government of national unity. It is for devolution, though not in the sense of losing final powers. The Sudanese government is composed in the main of a partnership between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the National Congress Party (NCP). They are Sudan's odd couple.
The SPLM has been riding high on the confidence that the movement is a partner for peace in Sudan with the NCP, yet that confidence is being repeatedly contradicted by disappointing peace prospects in Darfur and eastern Sudan. However, the SPLM has a close working relationship with the armed opposition groups of eastern Sudan, especially the Beja Congress. The SPLM's position, and its capacity to act in Khartoum's name, may now be at a peak. The SPLM's mediating role is essential in both eastern Sudan and in Darfur.
The Sudanese government last Thursday said it was prepared to sign a tentative peace agreement with the "Eastern Front" in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, 13 June. For all that, Sudan's problems are those of the victors, not the vanquished.