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The risk of being more ignored: Darfur


On the 9th of January 2011 a referendum will be held in Southern Sudan in which the Southern Sudanese will vote for either an united Sudan with more autonomy for the South or an independent Southern state. All analysts agree that the choice for independence is inevitable. Although the NCP and the regional institutions and states declared to respect the decision of the Southern Sudanese, there are still many problems that should be handled before the referendum takes place. Moreover, given that all eyes are again fixed on the North-South conflict, many humanitarian organizations fear that the conflict in Darfur will again –as happened during the Naivasha negotiations in 2004 and 2005- disappear from the foreground, making the perspective of any peace agreement in the short-term even less probable.

There are still a number of CPA issues that remain unresolved six months before the referendum. The most prominent ones are: citizenship, border demarcation and oil. Other considerable concerns are: 1) is South Sudan is ready for independence? and 2) the lack of reflection by the international community, regional institutions such as the Arab League and neighboring countries about a possible independent Southern state and the reaction of Northern Sudan on it. Especially in the case of an unilateral independence declaration by the Southern government, tensions can rise in the region and the lack of any previous regional consultation about the matter can lead to a very uncertain situation.
There are about one and a half to two million Southern Sudanese in North Sudan and there are big concerns about their security and freedom after Southern independence. The NCP already threatened to deport them or to strip of their civil rights if Southern Sudan were to become independent. Little progress is made on the demarcation of the border (given the oil richness of some border areas such as Abyei, which is a very tense issue) and the establishment of the Abyei referendum commission. Furthermore there is no agreement on how North and South will cooperate to export oil. Whereas the South has the majority of the oil resources, it depends on the North for its export. An agreement is also needed about the $ 35 billion Sudanese debt.

A pressing issue as well is the growing insecurity in Southern Sudan –in 2009 alone there were 2,500 deaths due to inter-communual violence and clashes between the SPLA and Southern groups violence. Many fear that separation will lead to an outburst of violence, as the great expectations among the citizens cannot be fulfilled. The current Southern Sudanese government is characterized by corruption, mismanagement, internal tension and between the SPLM and other parties –often along ethnic and tribal lines- and incapacity to maintain security and to provide in basic services such as education, health care and infrastructure. There is a big concern that after gaining independence Southern Sudan will end up in a similar situation as many of the sub-Saharian countries in the sixties: big expectations of the people, an increasingly failing government, no signs of any peace dividend nor noticeable development and hence growing frustration among the Southerners. Besides the militias supported by the North during the civil war, there are many Southerners who, although they supported the SPLM/A in its struggle, don’t identify themselves with the party of Salva Kiir. The security situation is very volatile because various individuals in SPLM and Khartoum fuel local conflicts for political gains. Therefore some analysts advocate a ten year transition period prior to independence, just because they fear that Southern Sudan is not ready to run its own business. Internal insecurity in the South will have direct consequences for neighboring countries, which in turn can lead to interventions of regional institutions and states (for years Uganda’s rebel movement LRA used Southern Sudan to organize, to recruit and to launch attacks on Northern Uganda, causing interventions of Uganda’s army in Southern Sudan, accompanied by human right violations, pillage, etc.).
Besides the internal security and its negative spillovers, there is another issue that is increasingly important for the region: the Nile waters. Two agreements signed during the colonial era give Egypt and Sudan extensive rights (90%) over the river’s use. For years the other states of the Nile River Basin (Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenia, Uganda, Eritrea and Burundi) are asking for a redistribution. However during a meeting in April Egypt and Sudan refused any renegotiations of the treaties.  Subsequently Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenia signed their own agreement. Egypt reacted furiously and warned that it would not allow even a minimal reduction in its share. The country extracts 95% of its water supplies from the Nile. Needless to say that in a region with a fast growing population and a great pressure for agricultural and industrial development, the Nile waters are increasingly important. An independent downstream Southern Sudanese state that needs resources to develop, causes even greater concerns for Egypt and further complicates an agreement.
The issue of the Nile waters highlights again that the region still lacks any framework for the post-referenda context. Neither the regional states such as Egypt, Uganda, Kenia, etc., nor regional institutions such as the Arab League, the African Union or the IGAD made any reflection about how to react and to deal with the different possible scenarios. So far there seems to be no consultation structure and the danger is that the involved actors will react ad-hoc, without coordination, complicating the situation even more.

Now that the international eye is again fixed upon the North-South dealings, many Darfurian and humanitarian organizations fear that the international community will repeat the mistake of 2004-2005, shifting away the focus on Darfur and treating Darfur and the CPA as two different issues, whereas reality shows you cannot separate them. At the same time they fear that after the Southern separation, the North and its NCP will be neglected by the international community, leading to a deterioration of the situation, meaning more repression, in Northern Sudan and Darfur.

Although there are some areas in Darfur where peace rules and UNAMID has succeeded partly in its mandate through patrols, which improved the security, in particularly for women, the reality remains tragic. There are 2.3 million IDP’s, 300,000 refugees in Chad and the Central African Republic, clashes between JEM and governmental troops and militias and between Darfur’s groups, and according to UNICEF reports the global malnutrition rates have reached the emergency threshold. There is no sign of any improvement in civilian security, nor in development, making any voluntarily return of IDP’s and refugees impossible. A whole generation is growing up in camps and a conflict situation without any social and economic opportunities. UNAMID warned that this situation is creating a time bomb for Darfur, leading to a radicalization of the population and possibly extremism. Two and a half years after its set up, UNAMID is still not fully operational. Given its failing to fulfill its mandate –to protect Darfur’s civilians- and its very low presence on the ground, there is a danger that UNAMID runs the same risk as its predecessor AMIS. JEM already lost its faith in the hybrid force, accusing it of being ineffective and shifting its role from protecting to mediating. 

Meanwhile the negotiations in Doha continue, although it doesn’t make sense to dream of  peace as long there is no cease fire in Darfur and Darfur’s principal rebel movement, JEM, is absent at the negotiation table. According to JEM the actual process must be stopped and restarted otherwise Doha will produce a peace agreement that is even worse than the DPA of Abuja. The movement accuses the mediation team of black mailing and playing games with them, lacking a road map and methodology about how to conduct the negotiations and being outstripped by Qatar’s government, which is too close with Khartoum. Therefore it demands a structural reform from the mediation team, a unification of the stake-holders –in other words it wants that all the other Darfurian actors (other rebel movements, IDP’s, Native Administration, civil society, refugees, Arab groups, etc.) recognize JEM as Darfur’s sole representative in bilateral negotiations with the NCP- and free movement of its delegation from the field to the round table. However, Darfur’s civil society want to play a role in the Doha process and warns JEM that it must seriously reconsider its position towards the civil society and IDP’s. Other rebel movements are also not willing to accept JEM leadership’s role in Doha. 

The whole situation shows again that the Darfur conflict is incredibly complicated and that peace is not for tomorrow. Darfur is increasingly divided and the NCP still doesn’t want a negotiated resolution, demonstrated by its latest offensive to crush JEM.

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