This is a guest post from CFR International Affairs Fellow Payton Knopf.
While the vote for southern Sudanese secession progressed credibly and with few incidents of violence, the situation in Darfur continues to deteriorate, leaving many analysts to question whether Khartoum is exploiting the international focus on southern Sudan to re-assert its control in the western part of the country. The UN reports 2,321 violent deaths in Darfur in 2010, and the Sudanese military launched operations last month against the only rebel movement to sign the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement. At the same time, talks between the Sudanese government and Darfur’s rebels have collapsed, and UN and AU mediators are turning their attention away from reaching a peace agreement and toward reaching out to civilian non-combatants on the ground in Darfur—despite widespread cynicism about UN and AU capabilities and intentions.
To revive a peace process for Darfur, the U.S. and the international community should take stock of the lessons of past efforts, which have—over seven years, two administrations, and three special envoys—failed to result in a sustainable political settlement. First, formal negotiations do not lead to viable agreements. Second, rebel unity cannot be a prerequisite for progress. Third, punitive measures against rebel leaders are ineffective. Fourth, the international community cannot anoint alternative rebel leaders.
A mediated agreement between the Sudanese government and the Darfur rebels may no longer be possible. Instead, a successful strategy for peace may require that the international community re-define its objective of “ending the conflict” to a realistic reduction in violence that lays a foundation for a broader peace over the longer-term. Such a strategy could include a three-prong approach: 1) deepening and expanding UN/AU contact with Darfur’s tribes to restore credibility, establish relationships, and build expertise on the region’s web of highly charged tribal politics; 2) individual rather than collective engagement with the two most relevant rebel groups (the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Abdulwahid), and 3) inducing Khartoum to limit the frequency and severity of the violence perpetrated by Darfur’s Arab tribes, while tempering expectations that they can be disarmed.
For further details on the Darfur negotiating landscape—including a chronology of the peace process, detailed briefings on each of the rebel movements, and regular updates on the mediation process—check out the Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment’s Darfur page.