Representatives of donor countries and aid groups began a meeting yesterday to endorse a strategy to rebuild Sudan’s Darfur region, where a decade-long conflict shocked the world with atrocities against civilians.
“Peace time has begun in Darfur. A peace that will be protected by development, not by force,” said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, opening the meeting attended by some 400 delegates.
The two-day conference was agreed under a July 2011 peace deal that Khartoum signed in the Qatari capital with an alliance of rebel splinter groups.
It seeks to raise US$7.2 billion for a six-year effort to move Darfur away from food handouts and other emergency aid, laying the foundation for lasting development through improved water facilities, roads and other infrastructure.
“This conference is a unique opportunity for Sudan and Darfur to turn the destiny of this conflict-ridden region,” said Jorg Kuhnel, team leader of the UN Development Programme in Sudan.
The Doha meeting comes 10 years after rebels rose up in the western Sudanese region to seek an end to what they said was the domination of power and wealth among the country’s Arab elites.
In response, government-backed Arab Janjaweed militia shocked the world with atrocities against civilians that prompted the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir over alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
“After 10 years of emergency assistance, it is time to start rebuilding communities in Darfur, and allowing them to start taking care of themselves again,” Kuhnel told reporters.
Britain yesterday pledged at least ￡11 million (US$16.5 million) for Darfur annually over the next three years to help communities to grow their own food and for providing skills training to help people find work.
“It is not good enough to simply offer more handouts,” British International Development Minister Lynne Featherstone said. “Our aid will help the poorest to get the help they need to stand on their own and make them better able to cope when crises occur.”
The development strategy calls for agricultural upgrades, access to financing and other measures to help Darfuris support themselves under a more effective system of local government.
While the worst of the violence has long passed, rebel-government clashes continue along with inter-Arab battles, kidnappings, carjackings and other crimes.
However, the draft development strategy to be discussed in Doha says there will probably never be an ideal time for recovery, and delays can only make the process more difficult.
“We are aware that it is a difficult international environment to mobilize funds, but we believe that it would be a grave mistake not to seize this opportunity for the international community as a whole,” Kuhnel said.