Mon, Oct 02, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Darfur: We could have had peace for another US$100 million

By Alex de Waal  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

There is still a chance to protect Darfur's civilians from a further round of violence, hunger and displacement, but only if the Sudanese government and rebels resume peace negotiations. This means stepping back from rhetorical confrontation and empty threats of military action. Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir knows that US and British saber-rattling is nothing but moralistic hyperventilation, and he has called their bluff.

Finding a solution hinges on a sober assessment of what is practical, not on making Darfur a guinea pig for "the duty to protect" or a test case for a new global moral consciousness.

Certainly, a strong moral case for armed intervention can be made in cases of egregious human rights abuses. But British newspaper commentator Simon Jenkins seemed to argue last month that if we cannot enforce this principle across the board, we shouldn't enforce it anywhere.

That argument is incomplete. Jenkins is right that a principle commands far greater moral force, and truly serves as a deterrent, when it is universal. He's right that the charge of double standards can undermine the legitimacy of a selective intervention. But he cannot be right to argue that it is wrong to do the right thing in one instance, just because it cannot be replicated consistently.

The Genocide Intervention Network, set up by students in the US, aims to build a permanent anti-genocide constituency, using Darfur as its first case. This is surely legitimate.

The strongest argument against humanitarian invasion is that it won't work. The idea of foreign troops fighting their way into Darfur and disarming the Janjaweed militia by force is sheer fantasy. Practicality dictates that a peacekeeping force in Darfur cannot enforce its will on any resisting armed groups without entering into a protracted and unwinnable counter-insurgency in which casualties are inevitable.

The only way peacekeeping works is with consent. The agreement of the Sudanese government and the support of the majority of the people of Darfur, including the leaders of the multitude of armed groups in the region, will be needed to arrive at a resolution of the conflict.

Without this, UN troops will not only fail, but will also make the plight of people in Darfur even worse.

Over the past two decades we have learned enough about both peacekeeping and ending African civil wars to know that peace talks are a workable alternative to philanthropic imperialism.

On this topic, Jenkins is too pessimistic. But that is unsurprising, as the peace process has never been properly covered in the media.

The immediate root of today's crisis in Darfur is the breakdown of the political process.

Violence escalated after the peace talks, which ended in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, on May 5, concluded with the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) by the Sudanese government and one rebel faction headed by Minni Minawi.

Two groups -- the Sudan Liberation Movement of Abdel Wahid al-Nur (the largest group) and the Justice and Equality Movement -- didn't sign the pact, and the smoldering war promptly reignited.

The breakdown did not happen because the peace agreement was faulty, but because the political process was brought to an abrupt and premature end when Minawi signed. I was part of the African Union mediation team and was present in the final negotiating session when Wahid declared the peace agreement's security arrangements "acceptable" and the wealth-sharing provisions "95 percent acceptable."

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