By Julie Flint
Friday, December 08, 2006
Andrew Natsios, America's special envoy to Sudan, has warned that the Bush
administration will resort to an unspecified "Plan B" if the Sudanese
government does not agree to an expanded international peacekeeping force for
Darfur by January 1, 2007. Natsios and other US officials have refused to say
what Plan B is. The whisper in Washington, and in US embassies in the region,
is that there isn't one: "Plan B" is merely the latest in a series of empty
threats that have failed to make any impression at all on the people
responsible for most of the killing in Darfur.
But "What is Plan B?" is the wrong question. So, too, is: "Is there a Plan B?"
The question that really needs asking is: "What was - is - Plan A?"
The bitter truth is that there has never been a Plan A. In common with the
rest of the international community, the United States has never had a plan
that looked more than a few weeks ahead. The fate of Darfur and its 7 million
inhabitants has been left in the hands of the hopelessly under-resourced and
inexperienced African Union (AU). This has resulted in woefully inadequate
protection for the people of Darfur and a peace agreement that is rejected by
most of the people and most of the rebel factions. Last but not least, it has
meant that there has been someone else to blame when things go wrong.
We are witnessing what is arguably the most critical moment in the history of
independent Sudan. The conflict in Darfur has spread not just to Chad, but
also to the Central African Republic, threatening to destabilize the entire
region. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended two decades of war in
southern Sudan is coming apart at the seams and, with it, hopes - and
promises - for democratization across Sudan. In Darfur itself, Khartoum is
once again attempting to defeat the rebels by military force directed against
the tribes accused of supporting them. Four million people - more than half
the region's population - are reliant on aid for their survival. Another half
a million are beyond the reach of aid.
So here's a plan: First, ensure the rapid appointment of the joint AU-United
Nations special representative for Sudan decided upon at last week's meeting
of the AU's Peace and Security Council. The AU has been headless in Sudan
since the departure of its first special representative, Baba Gana Kingibe,
more than two months ago. Kingibe's successor must have what Kingibe didn't
have (largely through his own fault): a functioning secretariat and support
from political and strategy advisors with real understanding of Darfur.
Second, get a cease-fire. Debating which peacekeeping force should assume
responsibility for Darfur is an exercise in futility as long as there is no
peace to keep. After the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed in Abuja on May 5,
the Darfur Cease-fire Commission was transformed into an implementation
committee for the DPA and non-signatories were thrown off it. The Cease-fire
Commission must now be reconstituted, from all those involved in the fighting,
and sit permanently. Both sides could see an advantage in this today. Despite
massive reinforcements in recent months, Khartoum has suffered a string of
battlefield defeats that have left large amounts of arms and ammunition in
rebel hands and weakened the morale of the Sudan Armed Forces. With President
Idriss Deby's regime in Chad ripe to fall at any moment, rebel factions who
enjoy Chadian support may well welcome a way back into the political game from
which they have been excluded ever since Abuja shut up shop.
Third, support a meeting - in Darfur - of commanders from the factions that
have not endorsed the DPA, to enable them to come up with a common platform
for fresh talks and to staunch the splintering of the rebel movement. This is
playing into government hands by weakening the opposition. The all-important
rebel groups who are fighting government forces in North Darfur are adamant
that they will not engage in new talks without first forging a common position
among themselves. (A first attempt, in the Bir Maza area in mid-November,
failed after the government attacked the area.) Salim Ahmed Salim, the AU's
special envoy for Darfur, said last week that Khartoum wants to address the
concerns of the non-signatories of Abuja in order to "bring them all on
board." This is putting the horse before the cart. The commanders' conference
must precede Abuja II - whoever hosts it this time around.
Fourth, go back to the DPA. Forget semantics. If "reopen" and "renegotiate"
offend, speak of "additional protocols." Use whatever language is necessary to
remedy the errors and omissions of the agreement and to significantly broaden
support for it. Its power-sharing provisions at the regional level are abysmal
and time pressure at Abuja cut short a number of key discussions on how to
disarm militias. Darfur is not a homogenous lump. Not all the militias in
Darfur are what are commonly referred to as Janjaweed - fully fledged
government proxies. Some are purely tribal and owe no allegiance whatsoever to
the government. To make Darfur safe, what is needed is a longer process of
voluntary, reciprocal disarmament in which all tribal leaders have a say.
Fifth, pay (long overdue) attention to the Arabs of Darfur. The Abbala, the
Arab camel nomads of North Darfur, have always been the most vulnerable, the
most neglected, of Darfur's many communities. For many, recruitment into the
Janjaweed, which carries with it monthly remuneration, has been a survival
mechanism carried to genocidal extremes. Woo impoverished Abbala away from
dependence on a government that has always despised them with development
projects and livelihood strategies.
Sixth, let the International Criminal Court take care of the bad guys. Support
it in all possible ways.
That's for starters. There is no quick and easy answer to the tragic mess
Darfur has been allowed to become, while cries of "Never again!" stand in for
solutions. Be sure that Khartoum knows a red herring when it sees one. "Plan
B" is not keeping it awake at night.
Julie Flint has written extensively on Sudan. She is the author, with Alex de
Waal, of "Darfur: A Short History of a Long War." She wrote this commentary
for THE DAILY STAR.
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