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Darfur peace prerequisites
Published in Ahram Online on 03 - 08 - 2021

It doesn't take much to realise that the people of Sudan's western region of Darfur are still suffering on every level. Even representatives of regional and international organaisations have admitted it.
Atul Khare, the head of logistics for the joint United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which ended its peacekeeping mission in late June, is one such figure. On 27 July he said that "varying degrees of destruction and theft" have hit facilities and equipment UNAMID left in the region, a "major loss for local communities".
Another example concerns the events of Al-Fashir city, where hundreds took to the streets on 22 July to protest a recent attack on Sortony Camp that hosts displaced people. It has been hard to determine who committed the attack: even Sudanese media reports have nothing to say about it. But the attack was apparently huge. According to Sudan's Radio Dabanga, 17 people were killed and approximately 300 shops were destroyed, burned or looted.
Despite a peace deal that was signed last year, these are crystal-clear signs that war is not over in the conflict-ridden region. Observers feel this is the result of political, legal and economic realities.
"The reasons that led to violence still exist. Agreements alone do not end wars and conflicts, without changing the true reality of people that led them to take up arms," said the Sudanese economist Nagmeldin Karamalla-Gaiballa, a professor at the Polish University of Commerce and Services. Darfur, he says, requires economic and social development – "the basic necessities for human life", including infrastructure, roads and institutional services like education and health. Other social-economic needs are "peace and stability to combat poverty, corruption and nepotism, raise the level of education and health, and pay attention to women and their role in the family."
Many Sudanese observers have similar views. Hamid Ali, dean of the School of Public Administration and Development Economics at Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, believes Sudan's transitional authorities have to communicate with and visit the Darfur communities "proactively to prevent escalations."
He pointed out that what is "vital for Sudan's future" is state investments in education and agriculture. Ali wants the government to provide different water sources and pastoral zones in Darfur and regulate mining to direct the profits to local community health centres and infrastructure development. "The government should rehabilitate projects that were scrapped or stalled due to conflict in Darfur, the Blue Nile, the Nuba Mountains South Kordofan near the border with South Sudan, and invest in Eastern Sudan. The future of Sudan will be determined by stability in Eastern Sudan."
Since this is a deeply rooted conflict, everyone in Sudan would have wished that the solution was as simple as pumping cash and allocating resources. Arab tribes have been fighting non-Arab African ones since the early 2000s, a war that started following an uprising by the latter against ex-president Omar Al-Bashir.
UN estimates suggest that at least 300,000 humans lost their lives and almost 3.5 million others were internally displaced. The war even led to a refugee crisis as hundreds of thousands fled to Chad when it broke out.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against Al-Bashir for crimes of genocide in 2010 after five years of investigating "several cases with suspects ranging from Sudanese government officials, Militia/Janjaweed leaders and leaders of the Resistance Front." This includes genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Al-Bashir's government signed peace accords with Darfur's factions in 2006 and 2010. But the peace did not last. The civilian-military, interim authorities ruling Sudan since Al-Bashir's ouster in 2019 seemed interested in reviving the peace process. This was part of their liberal approach, since - unlike Al-Bashir - they sought to open up to the world and work on mitigating the social-economic problems of the people.
In October 2020, Abdallah Hamdok's government signed a peace agreement in the South Sudanese capital Juba with a number of armed groups, including those from Darfur. But more efforts have to be made now that UNAMID has withdrawn, especially since not all armed groups were signatories to the deal. Looters attacked and destroyed several UNAMID sites earlier in July, and fighting has broken out many times through the year. The UN Refugee Agency announced that January's clashes led to the death of 250 people and the displacement of over 100,000.
This is pure politics. Hamdi Hassan, political science professor at Cairo University, gave two explanations for the state of renewed conflict. First, the wording and content of the Juba Agreement seem "very difficult and complex, often ambiguous. The agreement uses unusual language in defining the tasks of this force. It states that one of its tasks is 'Undertaking the constitutional, moral and political responsibility of the government of Sudan in protecting civilians.' It is no secret that the use of the word 'moral' in particular here is shrouded in ambiguity and confusion, which makes it subject to many interpretations. In both Darfur and the two other conflict-ridden regions," the Blue Nile and South Kordofan, "there will also be efforts to demobilise and gradually reintegrate armed rebel fighters, which has not yet taken place."
Secondly, there is the dilemma of not having the signatures of all rebel groups on the peace document. Hassan stressed that the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) led by Abdel-Wahed Nur rejected the entire peace process and called instead for an all-inclusive national conference. For the Egyptian scholar, this is problematic because the SLM militia controls some areas of the mountainous area of Jebel Marra in Darfur, and has clashed with the Sudanese army "on more than one occasion. The peace agreement is also opposed by some of the less powerful armed movements, as well as some civil society organisations. Under the terms of the Juba Peace Agreement, the rebel groups have returned to the Darfur region, which is already teeming with militias, paramilitary groups and government forces. In light of the dangers of the increasing militarisation of society, there are growing fears that the return of the displaced to their homes may lead to societal conflicts between locals and the newcomers."
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 August, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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