Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February

Ahram Weekly

Decisive days for Darfur

Gamal Nkrumah notes that Darfur finds there is a catch after the ceasefire euphoria, and Khartoum’s gambit sets the stage for reshaping the Sudanese political landscape

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Sudanese government unexpectedly signed a ceasefire this week with one of its traditionally deadliest adversaries — the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Yet some of the spoils of the latest French military intervention in Mali, the former French Sudan, are spreading out in the rugged mountainous terrain of Darfur.

The craggy peaks of Darfur are now presumably swarming with Malian Jihadists and Salafist militias routed by the French forces such as Ansar Dine, Signed-in-Blood Battalion, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, all of which are closely affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

The geo-strategic dynamics in the Saharan and Sahelian regions that stretch from Senegal to Sudan and eastwards into Somalia are now increasingly recognised by policymakers in Paris, Washington and other Western capitals with a stake in containing the threat of militant Islamist terrorism in the sprawling region. The latest conflict in Mali ended with scenes of jubilation by the indigenous inhabitants in territories ostensibly “liberated” by French troops stationed in Mali. Will the militant Islamist militias now be welcomed in Darfur? The presence in their midst of alien militias gave the indigenous people of Darfur a thorny question that begs solemn rejoinders to boasts of the intruders.

The Malian militant Islamist militias in Darfur may attract derision from their indigenous detractors, but no one in Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party associates the presence of the Malian militias with a Saharan sucking sound. 

Given the complexities of the decision-making in Khartoum, it is prerequisite to remember that this is not the first time that Al-Bashir invites international pariahs. In the 1990s, he invited Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to make Sudan his home base of global terrorist operations.

There are grounds to believe that the Sudanese government decided granting asylum to the renegade militant Islamist Saharan militias was a shrewd Machiavellian machination. Al-Bashir could sell the presence of the militias at home. But, does he intend to confine them to the restrictions of rock-strewn Darfur?

It is against the grim backdrop that the Sudanese authorities signed a ceasefire with JEM. Few believe that the ceasefire will hold, and that it will expose the people of Sudan at large and of Darfur in particular to uncomfortable uncertainties.

Precisely how the Malian militias were shipped across the Sahara to Darfur is hitherto unclear. Was it across the southern Libyan wastes? And if so, was there complicity on the part of the Libyan authorities or at least certain parties within the Libyan post-Muammar Gaddafi political establishment? Perhaps certain tribal groupings that roam across the porous borders of states such as Niger and Chad were involved, too. Al-Bashir, at any rate, is scheduled to pay a visit to Chad and Libya shortly, in impudent disregard to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, that has issued an arrest warrant for Al-Bashir.

It is easy to understand why such an agenda of cooperation between Saharan and Sahelian states such as Chad, Libya and Sudan would invoke scepticism, indignation and much consternation not only among Darfur armed opposition groups, but also among Western powers.

Chad and Libya are presumably Western allies, yet they brazenly take no notice of niceties towards Western powers. Al-Bashir will no doubt receive the red carpet treatment in Tripoli and Ndjamena. Neither neighbour is likely to hand over the Sudanese president to the ICC.

Moreover, the governments concerned — Chadian, Libyan and Sudanese — are oblivious to their nightmarish political systems. They would need a mutual leap of faith to pay serious attention to Western prevarications.

Chad, Libya and Sudan have been some of the pillars of the neo-colonial order in the Saharan and Sahelian mineral-rich wastelands. Sudan played the villain of the piece — yet it was the Sudanese authorities that presented Washington and the CIA with the files of Al-Qaeda after Bin Laden was unceremoniously chucked out of Sudan. Gaddafi’s Libya acted in a similar fashion, but for diametrically opposed reasons — to quell the growing sway of Al-Qaeda and its affiliate organisations in the Sahara and the Sahel. Strategically located land-locked Chad, in the heart of the Saharan and Sahelian region, hosts French troops. The climate of confusion ought to work in their favour.

The presence of jihadists from Mali and other Saharan and Sahelian countries in Darfur poses serious challenges of local administration and the imposition of security and enforcement of law and order for the Darfur Regional Authority. But, Khartoum appears to be unconcerned.

Khartoum seems poised to deploy the Malian militant Islamist militias against its foes in Darfur. Sudanese warplanes have been bombarding armed opposition strongholds in Darfur recently, leading to widespread disease and health hazards. Meat infected by the toxins of the Sudanese aerial bombardment led directly to the death of four people and the hospitalisation for poisoning of 82 people in Darfur this week, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The incursions of Malian militiamen from the southern Libyan oasis town of Kufra to Kutum in Darfur raised concerns among the locals. “On Monday our people on the ground noticed their presence in Umm Sedr in North Darfur state and some areas near the town of Kutum,” noted Tahir Al-Faki, speaker of JEM’s legislative assembly. Kutum, whose population has swelled in recent years because of the influx of displaced people from all over Darfur, has metamorphosed into a hotbed of resistance to the Sudanese government.

Meanwhile, even though Khartoum signed a tentative ceasefire with JEM, Sudanese government forces are still battling fighters of the Sudan Liberation Army Abdel-Wahid faction (SLA-AW).

The SLA-AW burst into open opposition to the Sudanese military presence in Darfur recently, spawning a neologism for an event never intended to happen — lasting peace in Darfur.

A humanitarian crisis of catastrophic consequences is in the making. The USAID funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network warned in a recently released report that an estimated 3.5 million people in Darfur face starvation and long-standing food insecurity. Other regions of Sudan threatened by the scarcity of food include the disputed oil-rich enclave Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces — all areas where indigenous non-Arab ethnic people are fighting the Sudanese army under the auspices of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLM-N). The patronage of the SPLM-N is buttressed by support from the ruling party in South Sudan, the SPLM. Juba has recently recalled its ambassador to Khartoum, Mayom Dut.

And, Juba has accused Sudan of amassing troops in Abyei, hinting that some of them could easily be Malian militant Islamist militias.

Arko Suleiman Dahiya, the vice chairman of JEM, signed the ceasefire with the Sudanese government representatives in the Qatari capital Doha on 10 February 2013. However, in reality the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur is in shambles. 

“This is a major breakthrough on the road towards a comprehensive and lasting peace accord in Darfur,” trumpeted an overly optimistic Aichatou Mindaudou, acting joint special representative of the African Union and United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNAMID). Her sanguinity fell on deaf ears in Darfur as well as South Sudan. Fast-track negotiations are out of the question. This is a dismaying prospect, yet Sudan somehow has the capacity to surprise.

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