Debating What to Do About Darfur

In openDemocracy, a back and forth between Gérard Prunier and Alex de Waal, who is also advising the negotiations in Abuja, on peace and intervention in Darfur.

[de Waal] The criterion of “quick success” immediately rules out the pundits’ favourite proposals for intervention in Darfur. The central question for an intervention force is what to do about the janjaweed militia. The various militia groups that have been labeled janjaweed have over the last few years been responsible for horrendous atrocities. They have also been engaged in some fierce fighting against the combat-hardened guerrillas of the Darfur rebel movements. A Nato force able to protect civilians and disarm the janjaweed is the option favoured by many activists.

Then Prunier:

[Prunier] It is relevant that Alex de Waal was a principal advisor to the negotiating teams in Abuja, and had vigorously defended the provisions of the DPA as a “historic opportunity” which should not be missed – since not signing this text would open the door to renewed violence in the province.

Ten weeks on, the ruins of the agreement are everywhere apparent. A host of reports and testimonies confirm that the violence has got worse as the offensive military operations of the Sudanese government have escalated. The scale of atrocities is comparable with those perpetrated during the massacres of late 2003 and early 2004. It cannot be believed that this is due only to the fact that the DPA’s implementation “is stalling”.

And again:

[de Waal] The people of Darfur face some grim options. UN troops, even if they can be agreed as a replacement for African Union forces after the latter’s now extended mandate until the end of 2006, would be a stopgap measure at best. A mediated political settlement will not be easy. It is harder now than it was in May, as positions have polarised and distrust has deepened over the last few months. Without it, any elections in 2009 will be meaningless, and the achievements of the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement will unravel.

Or, as Prunier seems to propose, the international community could take sides, perhaps as the French did in Chad or Rwanda. Or, as he also seems to suggest, we could wait until “political-military control and positioning on the ground have been redefined by the combatants themselves” – a recipe that sounds rather like allowing the war to continue unchecked. How that could lead to a “true negotiation” in which the dominant Khartoum elites yield power to a new federation is a puzzle to me.