Darfur: Rwanda Next Time?
Darfur: Rwanda Next Time?
About two million people have been driven from their homes in three years of fighting in Darfur. Aaron Tesfaye argues that the situation in Darfur is a grim reminder "of the after-effects of colonialism and hastily cobbled, post-colonial states in Africa that cannot deliver political and economic goods to their people."
The Darfur tragedy refuses to leave our consciousness, even when newer atrocities in the world present themselves. As the genocide unfolds -- more viciously now that the Peace Agreements have collapsed -- the world is aware of the failures of the African Union to resolve the conflict between the central government of Sudan led by Omar el-Bashir, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) faction led by Mr. Abdul Wahid el-Nur, and its close ally the Justice Equality Movement (JEM) led by Dr. Khalil Ibrahim.
Today the Bush administration seems to have opted for merely providing humanitarian assistance, making lots of "noise" at the UN, and a policy of benign neglect of the people of Darfur. It has refused to use its political and economic might to persuade Sudan to either cut a genuine deal with the rebels or invite the UN peacekeeping forces to safeguard the lives of innocent civilians. The current US stance is an indication of the closeness between Washington and Khartoum in the complex politics of oil and the War on Terror and seems to say, as in the Rwandan case, that African lives don't matter because Darfur is not Kosovo -- a European enclave.
Roots of the Conflict
The Darfur insurrection is connected to the conflict between state and society in southern Sudan. The insurrection and genocide has its roots in the complex milieu of inter-ethnic relations where ecological niches of the Fur, Zagawa, Massalit farmers, and Baqqara pastoralists were stressed due to famine and competition over space and water. But this connection between scarce resources and conflict must be understood through a glimpse of the past.
Modern Sudan is the creation of two imperialisms: Egyptian and British. Darfur was an important independent kingdom that was tacked onto Sudan by the British in 1916. Eventually, neglect by the Nile riverine elite of Khartoum led to the emergence of political protest in the 1960s and eventually to the current conflict. But two important factors added fuel to the fire. First was the venture of Libyan leader Muammar al Gaddafi into Chad in the 1980s with the resultant conflict over the Aouzou strip, rich in gas and other resources, and the mobilizing and arming of an "Islamic Legion" of the Sahelian "Arabs" and Turegs in his expansionist ambitions.
Second was the 1986 decision of the prime minister of Sudan, Sadiq al-Mahdi, an important leader of the Umma Party, to launch an offensive to crush the secessionist Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in the south led by the late Dr. John Garang. This decision exacerbated the situation in the west because the Sudanese state armed with modern weapons the Baqqara and Ben Habla Fursan, "Arabs" (Janjaweed) including mercenaries from former Libyan Islamic Legionnaires of the failed Libyan expansionist war. As noted by an astute observer of Sudanese politics, it was "counterinsurgency on the cheap."
These groups -- along with the regular Sudanese Army -- caused considerable destruction and spread terror amongst the Dinka and others in Bahrâ€“El-Ghazal in the south. Eventually, the Baqqara and the Fursan used state-sponsorship to turn their full fury against their old neighbors in Darfur, with whom they had past conflicts. The consequence of such repression in the west was the formation of a self-defense force, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), in the Jabal Marra Mountains of Darfur in 2003, which was later joined by the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The ensuing conflict has resulted in immense suffering, killing, and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Darfurians, raising deep concerns in Africa and elsewhere in the world.
On April 8, 2004, due to the mediation of the African Union (AU), the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), and the Sudanese government signed a ceasefire agreement in N'djamena, Chad. This was followed by a signed protocol in Abuja, Nigeria, on November 9, 2004, by which the parties agreed to avoid a humanitarian crisis by seeking a peaceful solution to the conflict. The leaders in these agreements were Minni Arkou Minnawi for the SLM/A, Ahmed Mohammed Tougod Lissan for JEM, and Magzoub El-Khalifa for the government of the Sudan. In October 2004, substantive discussions and a framework for addressing the contentious issues of power and wealth sharing were fleshed out, leading to the deployment of some African Union military personnel from Nigeria and Rwanda.
The African Union presence was strengthened when the parties to the conflict convened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in May 2004 to cut a deal on conditions towards a political settlement, which culminated in the signing of an agreement on a ceasefire and the deployment of observers in Darfur. This was to be followed by the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement in Nigeria in May 2006, after enabling the leading members of the SLM/A and JEM to express their support for and adherence to the provisions. But the Darfur political leaders Abdul Wahid el-Nur and Dr. Khalil Ibrahim of the SLM/A and JEM respectively, failed to show up for the signing. As a result, the agreement was signed by Minni Arkou Minnawi, a leader of the majority faction of the SLM/A, who are mostly Zagawa. This set the stage for internecine conflict.
Failure of the Darfur Peace Agreement
What were the reasons for the Darfur leaders and the government of the Sudan not signing the agreement? And what were its highlights? The answers are to be found in the practical calculations of the Sudanese state, the confluence of ethnic politics, as well as the demands of the SLM/A and the JEM. At first glance, it would seem that the Sudanese government had made substantive concessions towards peace in terms of political and wealth sharing. However, in practical terms the government dragged its feet on key demands. The JEM and SLM/A leadership had a joint stand and had several demands. First, that their grievances be given full national coverage; that is, national access and dissemination of information about past atrocities via the media similar in spirit to what took place in South Africa under the "Truth and Reconciliation Committee." Second, that Khartoum provide a timetable and process by which displaced Darfurians would be able to immediately return to their homeland, be integrated, and be compensated. Third, that the supremacist Janjaweed be disarmed and demobilized.
In making these demands, the Darfur liberation movements did not represent a solid united political front, but were rife with past quarrels and mistrusts. They had different origins and varying connections with state leaders of Sudanese politics. The Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and its armed wing, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), which was founded in 1989, did not acquire its present nome de guerre until 2003 when its founder, Abdul Wahid El-Nur, emerged from his exile and base in Eritrea. The SLA is not a separatist movement. Its political declaration clearly states "Sudan's unity must be anchored on a new basis that is predicated on full acknowledgement of [its] ethnic, cultural, social and political diversity . . . [and will] work with all political forces that ascribe to this view." But such a platform does not preclude self-determination if the economic and political disparities continue to grow between Darfur and the riverine elite who commanded the state's resources. The SLA's position regarding the role of the mosque and state is also very clear. Its manifesto states: "Religion and politics belongs to two different domains . . . with religion belonging to the personal domain and the state in the public domain."
On the other hand, the other main rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) has a different origin because it was established under the sponsorship of the National Islamic front (NIF) in the late 1980s. It is heavily influenced by and very close to the prominent Muslim scholar and Sorbonne-educated Ph.D. Dr. Sheik Hassan Al-Turabi and his Islamist supporters. Like the SLA, the JEM is not separatist, but it shares the objectives of the SPL/A and pursues the creation of a just society. But whereas the SPL/A's views on the role of religion and the state are clearly stated in its manifesto, the JEM's views are very ambiguous. Also, the JEM envisions a federal political structure for the Sudan similar to the one proposed by the National Islamic Front (NIF), allowing perhaps non-Muslim regions to opt out of Sharia law.
In any case, despite the solidarity between the SLM/A and the JEM, the astute brokers of the Sudanese state observed political and, above all, age-old competition and differences between the mostly Zagawa SPL/A and the Fur (JEM) and decided to exploit the differences. Thus as time passed and per the modalities of the agreement, Khartoum hesitated and then decided not to disarm the Janjaweed. Instead, sensing a weakened SLM/A and with the tacit indifference if not direct approval of the Minni Arkou Minnawi faction, the government decided on a military solution, attacking also the mostly Fur JEM led by Dr. Khalil Ibrahim. As for the stance of the JEM, it may have opted out of the peace agreement, in part, because it did not get a green light from one of its most influential spiritual and political leaders, Hassan Al-Turabi. The regime in Khartoum also may have been motivated to scuttle the agreement because it wanted to destroy the support of the SLM/A and the JEM, particularly of the Umma Party, by creating support institutions for Omar al-Bashir's National Congress Party. In such conflict, the troops of the African Union, numbering some 7000, were unable to defend civilians in the vast hinterland of Darfur because they were caught in spiralling violence between the armed might of the Sudanese state and its plural societies. The failure of the AU has emboldened the Sudanese state, which has launched a major offensive, committing tens of thousands of troops including bombers and helicopter gun ships to the region.
Failures of the UN and US: Rwanda and Darfur
On Sept. 1, 2006, the U.S. and Britain helped pass a resolution in the UN Security Council calling for over 20,000 UN troops to be sent to Sudan to take over from the AU forces. But Sudan is rejecting such a move, insisting on its sovereignty. For its part, the AU had threatened to pull its troops out by September 30 2006, unless Sudan acquiesced to the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force. On September 11, 2006, Sudan made a counter threat that the AU force could remain in the country only if they accepted Arab League and Sudanese funding. The US has been quick to point out that the unfolding disaster needs a well-funded, well-staffed, and well-equipped force for peacekeeping purposes. Sudan has so far been firm in its demands. It is able to remain firm because it has powerful allies on the UN Security Council, namely China and Russia as well as the oil-producing nation of Qatar. There are economic and political considerations behind the support of Russia and China, who insist on Sudanese sovereignty. Russia is now a major arms supplier to Sudan and indirectly responsible also for the tragedy in Darfur. As far as China is concerned, it is a major investor in oil field exploration and development in the Sudan, and its increasing presence in Africa has to do with its insatiable demand for resources.
The UN Secretary General not only clearly stated that the wholesale genocide of civilians is illegal under international law, but also expressed his fear that Darfur could be a Rwanda in the making. But the Secretary General's pronouncements rang hollow as the UN, the US, and the world were silent while 800,000 Africans were massacred in Rwanda in 1994. In fact, the US under the Clinton and Bush Jr. administrations seemed to have a consistent policy in terms of responding to genocide in Africa. In 1994, after the plane of Rwandan President Habyarimana was shot down, sowing the seeds of the crisis, the Clinton administration evacuated American citizens and left extremist Hutus to carry out their genocide of the Tutsis. The administration sat still while the bloodbath took place, with its state department spokesperson quibbling over the precise language regarding whether the killings constituted "genocide."
It is widely believed that the reluctance of the US to intervene in Rwanda was the result of the shock experienced at the American causalities in Somalia in 1993, which led to a humiliating withdrawal. But Africa has no public lobbyists or public activists in the US. As a result, Rwanda was easy for the Clinton administration to ignore. Thus, while Washington insisted on a ceasefire in Rwanda and later crafted an arms embargo against the Hutu-dominated government, for all practical purposes it left the Tutsis to their fate, feigning ignorance until the genocide was over. In 1998, during a state visit to Africa, President Clinton did a mea culpa, apologizing for US inaction. The apology has been criticized as insincere as it cost nothing and Rwanda was regarded as some far-away country in Africa.
The UN was also impotent, doing nothing to stop the tragedy in Rwanda. Although the UN had peacekeeping troops in Rwanda as the genocide unfolded, its mandate was strictly limited to monitoring ceasefire violations. In fact, its force was reduced because the US feared increases in UN peacekeeping would eventually require some US troop commitment. In time, the US actively supported a UN peacekeeper withdrawal from Rwanda as the genocide was underway.
The Bush Jr. administration's response in the Sudan has been no better. Although in 2004, then Secretary of State General Collin Powell acknowledged that what was happening in Darfur was genocide, no action was taken by the government. Subsequently, in an address to the UN General Assembly, President George Bush Jr. explained the US position on the genocide but had not suggested any new plans on how to stop the violence, more than a year later. In several instances between 2005 and 2006, US officials ranging from Vice President Dick Cheney to Assistant Secretary of African Affairs Jendayzi Frazer have made statements that seemed to show concern over the Darfur tragedy, but the concern has been all talk. On the other hand, the US has contributed close to $1 billion dollars in humanitarian efforts since the conflict began in the 1980s and has facilitated the Darfur peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria. However, the US has not taken "steps to directly address the worsening security situation or to protect civilians and humanitarian operations on the ground."
The US response to the Darfur crisis is conditioned by its national interest in a rapprochement between Washington and Khartoum that began soon after September 11, 2001. The US ended its isolation of Sudan, which began in the 1990s due to the latter's role in hosting Al Qaeda, and the Sudan is now sharing intelligence in the Bush administration's War on Terror. The US position was given expression in July 2006, when President Bush, asked about the immediacy of Darfur, replied that the US strategy was to help "African Union forces to be complemented and blue-helmeted." That is, the UN should be invited in.
But so far the Bush administration has not been willing to commit its substantial diplomatic and political muscle -- essential to securing an invitation for UN deployment by Sudan. A main reason for the soft-peddling by the US may be that Sudan is a member of the conservative Arab League and usually acquiesces to its policy. The US may not want to exacerbate already strained relations in the Muslim world by forcing an Islamic state to do its bidding. In a recent "compromise," the el-Bashir government, after referring to the proposed presence of UN troops in Darfur as a "Zionist" plot to weaken states in the region, indicated its willingness to allow AU troops to stay as peacekeepers with "non-African advisers." Whether the UN and the AU accept such a racist fig leaf will determine the lives of millions in Darfur.
Meanwhile Darfur has also generated internal cleavages in the el-Bashir government among "African" members of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, (SPLM) of the late Dr. John Garang, who support the plan to bring the UN to Darfur. But the SPLM is also preoccupied with other serious matters in South Sudan. The Machako Agreement between Khartoum and the SPLM of South Sudan also seems to be faltering. For example, the agreement on wealth sharing, essential for the re-settlement of some 3 million southerners who live in the north, has not as yet been fully implemented, leading to some grumbling by southern leaders. The government that has been set up in Juba, the capital, under the terms of the agreement is fragile, underfunded, and at times looking towards the World Bank and donors to underwrite some projects. Finally, there has been no movement or discernable preparations, such as voter registrations, towards the national elections that are to take place in July 2007.
The Darfur insurrection, crisis, and genocide are grim reminders of the after-effects of colonialism and hastily cobbled, post-colonial states in Africa that cannot deliver political and economic goods to their people. In this kind of struggle between the modern African state and its plural societies over the command of power and resources, Darfur is not alone. In the east in 2005, centered in Port Sudan, capital of the Red Sea State, the Beja Congress recently went on strike, demanding more power and wealth sharing. In the south, while the Machako Agreement between the state and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) seems to be holding -- with the South having significant autonomy -- for all practical purposes the peace is tenuous, dependent partially on the politics of the region, especially of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Uganda. As for Darfur, as the historian R.S. O'Fahay has noted, "I believe Darfur's future lies with the Sudan -- I prefer with rather than in -- but it has to be with Sudan that is ruled very differently than the present Sudan." How differently Sudan is ruled and how to constitutionally engineer and above all implement a new arrangement, including wealth sharing, that will augur peace and development is a challenge to all Sudanese and their friends in Africa and the world. Such a challenge begins with the acceptance of UN peacekeeping forces that will put a stop to the slaughter of the innocents.
1.Alex de Waal, "Counter-insurgency on the Cheap," London Review of Books, August 2004, p. 2. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n15/waal01_.html
2.De Waal, 2004, op. cit.
3."Protocol between the Government of the Sudan (GoS), the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army and the Justice Equality Movement (JEM) on the Enhancement of the Security Situation In Darfur In Accordance with the N'Djamena Agreement Abuja, Nigeria. November 9, 2004. http://www.humanitarianinfo.org/darfur/uploads/protocol/The%20Security%20Situation%20Protocol.doc
4. "The Discussions on the Substantive Issues Commence today with Plenary Session Followed by the Meeting of the First Commission on Power Sharing," Press Release No 12, African Union, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Oct. 3, 2005.
5. See highlights of the Darfur Peace Agreement.
6. Political Declaration of SLA/SLM, March 14, 2003, pp.1-2.
7. Ibid. p. 3.
8. Alex de Waal, "Darfur Violence Intensifies as Deadline for the Withdrawal of AU Peacekeepers Looms," September 7, 2006, Democracy Now!.
9. Robert O.Collins, "Darfur and the Arab League," The Washington Institute for Near-East Policy, Policy Watch No. 1141.
10. Eric Reeves, "China in Sudan: Underwriting Genocide" Testimony by Eric Reeves before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission: "China's Role in the World: Is China a Responsible Stakeholder?" Aug 3, 2006.
11. See Amnesty International, "Sudan: Arming the Perpetrators of Grave Abuses in Darfur," Nov. 16, 2004.
12. Simon Henderson, "China and Oil: the Middle Eastern Dimension," The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policy watch 898, September 15, 2004.
13. Lydia Polgreen, "Darfur Trembles as Peacekeepers' Exit Looms," New York Times, Sept. 10, 2006. Also see Kofi Annan's speech.
14. See Linda Melvern, A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in the Rwandan Genocide, (London: Zed Books, 2000).
15. See, Africa Action, Tale of Two Genocides: The Failed US Response to Rwanda and Darfur. Sept 9, 2006.
17. Eric Reeves, "Security in Darfur: Donors' Conference in Brussels Fails to Take Action," Africa Focus, July 23, 2006.
18. BBC, "Decision for Darfur Peacekeepers," Sept. 20, 2006.
19. See Human Rights Watch News, "Southern Sudan: Khartoum Reneges on Promises" March 8, 2006.
20. R.S. O. Fahey, "Does Darfur Have a Future in the Sudan?" The Fletcher Forum in World Affairs, Vol. 30; 1 winter 2006.
Aaron Tesfaye, is author of Political Power and Ethnic Federalism: the Struggle for Democracy in Ethiopia, (Lanham: MD: 2002).