Negotiating Peace for Darfur: An Overview of Failed Processes

This piece was written while the author was completing a Master of Arts degree in Peace Studies at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.


1. Introduction

Faced with reporters who had already speculated on the failure of the latest Sudan-Darfur peace negotiations at Syrte, Libya, in late October 2007, the AU chief mediator, Mr. Salim Ahmed Salim, confirmed the pessimism when he stated, "[T]here are too many factors and factions involved."[1] Though these characteristics are common to many African conflicts and present formidable challenges to negotiation and conflict transformation tasks, they capture best the dynamics of the conflict in Darfur over the past five years.

When armed uprisings first started in Darfur against government forces at the end of 2002, the conflict had its roots in land and other natural resources disputes, exacerbated by expanding desertification in the region. It was politicized by a long-held sentiment of marginalization in the political system and resentment against a central government that favored one tribal grouping against another in the region. Back in 2002 and up to 2004, the parties to the fighting were easily identifiable. The rebels (or, as they prefer to be called, the "resistance movements") emerged from African tribes — mainly the Fur, Zaghwa, Masaalit, and other smaller ones. They were represented in the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). On the other side of the conflict was the government, which mobilized not only its own forces, but also militia forces from Arab tribes in the region — mainly the Irayqat, Rizeigat, Mahariya, and others — popularly known as the janjaweed. The rebels often coordinated their military operations against government forces and presented a resistance effort that was strong and organized. Government forces and Arab militias were unrelenting in their concerted attacks on rebel forces, but primarily targeted African villages.[2]

After a number of efforts at pre-negotiation talks, peace talks, and a failed peace agreement, the conflict has become less manageable and understood. This essay will briefly describe the peace processes in Darfur, with an analysis of some of the factors that account for its failures. These are divided into internal factors that include a lack of political commitment and trust; asymmetries in negotiation positions; the presence of the CPA and what it allows; the mediation process itself, which was seen to be exclusive in the issues covered and actors included; and external factors, including regional actors with influence on the factions and international factors around lack of guarantees — primarily in terms of security arrangements.

2. Brief Description of Peace Processes

Early Attempts

The only peace agreement that is comprehensive in its coverage of the issues is the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) of May 2006. However, earlier preparatory agreements, which aimed at establishing a ceasefire, are important in setting a precedent for the compliance of parties, the absence of monitoring mechanisms, and the reliance upon the government to support security arrangements. Recent efforts to revive the talks are also important in understanding the changing dynamics of the conflict and underlining the need for a more inclusive, well-resourced, and strongly-supported peace process.

Among the earlier attempts towards peace, the Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement in N'djamena in April 2004 between the government of Sudan (GoS), the SLA, and the JEM was important in establishing a ceasefire and setting up mechanisms to oversee the cessation of hostilities, primarily to facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid to displaced civilians. A Ceasefire Commission (CFC) was formed to facilitate coordination between the fighting parties and investigate any violations of the ceasefire. The CFC, based in Darfur, was composed of Chad as the mediator of the agreement; GoS, SLA, and JEM as conflict-parties; and the US, EU and the UN as observers. The CFC was to supply data to the Joint Commission (JC), which was based in N'djamena and included all the parties in the CFC. The CFC was intended to collect information on violations and make reports to the JC, for use by the negotiating team at Abuja that was already preparing bases for talks. The CFC, however, ultimately lacked the capacity to monitor the ceasefire and the JC was not provided with sanctioning powers against violators.[3] Thus, the ceasefire was soon being flouted by all parties. The African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), formed in July 2004 as an observer unit to monitor the ceasefire, was also ineffective, failing largely as a result of a lack of manpower and equipment, but also hindered by a mandate that prevented it from engaging armed groups who violated the ceasefire.[4] One constant attribute of the Darfur conflict/peace processes is the continuous violation of ceasefires signed by the GoS and its opponents.

The Darfur Peace Agreement

The actual peace agreement of May 2006 was a result of two years and seven rounds of peace talks, mediated by the African Union and now referred to as the Abuja Peace Process. An important document of this preparatory phase was the Declaration of Principles of July 2005, signed by the two movements and the GoS, who committed to enter all agreements into parts of the national constitution.[5] This increased the weight of the terms of the agreement regarding power sharing and resource sharing; as parties sought to increase their gains in the negotiations, they entrenched themselves in their stated positions — making compromise progressively more difficult.

The DPA document included the contribution of GoS, two SLA factions, and JEM. (The two factions of the SLA were the result of a split along ethnic lines that occurred in November 2005 over a power struggle between Minni Minnawi of the Zaghwa and Abdelwahid Nur of the Fur. The two factions were thereafter differentiated by the initials of their leaders, and became known as SLA/MM and SLA/AW.) The DPA includes four main components: security arrangements, power sharing, wealth sharing, and a Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation.[6]

The major security terms included disarming the janjaweed; the disarmament, reintegration, and demobilization of the resistance movements' forces; and provision of security for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Peace depended on reigning in and disarming the militias that had wreaked so much destruction on civilian villages. This responsibility was placed on the GoS, since it had been responsible for arming the militias to begin with. However, GoS had repeatedly failed to disarm the militias, despite earlier agreements and UN Security Council resolutions requiring it to do so. The DPA put the task of monitoring this process on AMIS forces, which were not equipped and staffed adequately. As a result, the SLA/MM insisted that it would redeploy and disarm its fighters only after verifying the militias' complete disarmament — a position accepted in the DPA. The SLA/AW faction asked to be included in the process of the disarmament of the militias, but their request was rejected by GoS and the DPA mediating team. The establishment of buffer zones around IDP camps, the withdrawal of national army and militia forces from those areas, and the formation of community police from among the IDPs covered the security of the IDPs. The tasks of carving out buffer zones, overseeing the withdrawal of armed groups from these zones, and training community police were entrusted to AMIS forces, which again lacked the necessary resources at the time of the signing of the document. However, the GoS had earlier committed to accept a stronger UN/AU peacekeeping force upon the signing of a peace agreement, and it was hoped that the above security tasks would be handled by an international peacekeeping force. The SLA/AW demanded to be part of the security forces whose mission was to protect IDPs and ensure the safe return of refugees, but this, too, was rejected by the government and the mediators who wanted to preserve the peace agreement. Ultimately, the DPA did not include security arrangements for the safe return of refugees. Finally, with regard to demobilization and disarmament of movement forces, the DPA allowed for reintegration of parts of the forces but ruled out the formation of a system of separate but joint forces, such as the one that had been established in South Sudan.[7]

On the question of political representation, the resistance movements demanded national power sharing — that is, representation in the Presidency, parliamentary seats in proportion to Darfur's population, and other positions in government. They also wanted for the three states of the region to be reorganized into a single, coherent political entity. The DPA, overall, did not favor their demands. Nationally, the GoS refused to renegotiate the position of the Presidency and the seats in the assembly because they were already divided by the earlier North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which is the basis for the future government of national unity. As a compromise, a position of Senior Assistant to the Presidency was created, with advisory powers that are not constitutionally binding. The government also dismissed the notion of a united region, but agreed to a popular referendum in four years' time, to allow the people to decide whether to maintain the three-state arrangement or unite into one political entity. Another conciliatory mechanism created to satisfy this regional unification desire was the formation of the Transitional Darfur Authority (TDRA), chaired by the Senior Assistant to administer regional issues — including land disputes, reconstruction and development, and peace and reconciliation, among others. However, the TDRA has no powers and the appointment of the Senior Assistant was determined by the President from a list of preferences submitted by the movements.[8]

On wealth sharing, the DPA's provisions focus on compensation, rather than on Darfur's share of national revenue or on revenue collected from the region. Compensation for lives lost, property destroyed and looted, and suffering caused was originally opposed by the government, as it implied that the government bore some responsibility for the violence, which it had long presented as resulting from a purely tribal conflict. However, the final document includes the formation of a Compensation Commission and Fund, with a pledge of $30 million dollars from the government. The agreement also allows the setting up of the Darfur Reconstruction and Development Fund to rehabilitate individual returnees.[9] Given the oil resources of the country, which were used to finance the janjaweed and the war in Darfur, the demands made by SLA/AW for more compensation funds are not inappropriate.

The final major component of the DPA was the Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation. The DPA was a result of peace talks that were exclusive of Arab militias, factions from the resistance groups, and civil society or representatives of communities (e.g., displaced persons, refugees, women, youth, elders, and others). Thus, this mechanism was intended to incorporate those who were not included in the peace agreement. It was also intended to deal with issues of land rights and ownership, inter-communal reconciliation, safe return of refugees, and other related community issues that were not addressed by the DPA. Despite its broad and important responsibilities, this mechanism was described as an advisory body and its powers and its make-up were not outlined clearly.[10]

The mediators (the AU) insisted on the signing of the agreement, despite reservations from SLA/AW and JEM factions, who were participants throughout the process but later refused to recognize and sign the agreement. JEM opposed the agreement for failing to meet its demands regarding transformation of the national agenda (specifically, the introduction of a broad power and wealth sharing system). SLA/AW demands included stronger security arrangement and a role in the disarmament of the janjaweed, expanded power sharing than that provided by the agreement, and increased financial compensation. In the end, the DPA was signed by the GoS and the SLA/MM factions only. The mediators extended the deadline for the signing of the agreement in the hopes that the other factions would join, but the reluctant factions stuck to their positions and the DPA failed even before it proceeded to the implementation stage.

Latest Attempts: Syrte Talks

In June 2007, after a year's interval from the signing of the failed DPA, the AU and UN presented a roadmap to revive the peace process. This included three phases. Phase one was to unify all peace efforts and initiatives into a coherent proposal and represent all factions and parties in the process; phase two was envisioned as a pre-negotiation phase, aimed at developing the points for negotiations; and phase three was to include the actual negotiations, ideally leading to a peace agreement. Phase one created more factionalism than unity, as it allowed the participation of mushrooming splinter groups and lent them legitimacy as a result. Similarly, phases two and three failed to accomplish their objectives, as the many small factions presented their own diverse points of discussion and larger groups refused to attend, blaming the AU/UN for encouraging the fragmentation of the movements. The actual peace negotiations, scheduled for late October 2007, were postponed indefinitely as key movements and factions withdrew from the talks.[11]

3. Analysis: Obstacles to the Peace Processes

A number of factors combined to thwart the peace processes and the DPA, including internal factors, such as the lack of commitment by the GoS, the divisions within the resistance movements, and the complexity of Sudan itself (characterized by many armed and political groups with claims to political power and resources). The handling of the peace processes — especially by the resistance movements — has also been blamed for resulting in an exclusive and incomprehensive peace agreement. Finally, regional and international players have also failed to back the peace processes and agreements meaningfully (and perhaps forcefully, as well). Below, I will highlight some of these factors, with the admission that the list will be merely sketchy and not exhaustive.

Internal Factors

The first factor under this heading might be the lack of political commitment and the mistrust shared by the government and the resistance movements. The GoS continued its attacks on insurgency areas and failed to disarm the janjaweed, despite its commitment to that effect in many of the ceasefire agreements, and disregarding the many resolutions by the UN Security Council demanding that it exert control over the militias. The government sought to crush the insurgency militarily; in response, the resistance movements focused on consolidating their military strength — mainly to increase their negotiating powers. The commitment of the government to peace processes was also cast into doubt by a series of attacks it launched alongside the janjaweed militias, both in IDPs' camps and in the refugee camps inside Chad's territory. The government did not offer any confidence-building concessions — primarily ones that might have helped to establish security.

The negotiating parties were also hampered by an asymmetry in positions. Whereas the government possessed a wealth of experience in peace negotiations — earned in talks with the South — the resistance movements were politically and organizationally weak. Moreover, they were fragmented into different factions, and were susceptible to further fragmentation as they competed for the political positions and resources that the agreements allocated to Darfur's resistance movements.[12] The resistance movements were also suspicious of GoS based on experience in the South; many believed that the government was making separate deals (buy-outs) with some factions and further weakening the resistance movements. Moreover, the resistance movements were prevented from demanding greater concessions in power and resource sharing, given their inability to defeat the regime militarily.[13]

Thirdly, Sudan's complex history of conflicts and peace agreements had meant that the North-South peace agreement — the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) — took precedence over the Darfur peace processes, and set limits on the demands that the resistance movements could make. This was especially the case with regard to power sharing and wealth sharing. To begin with, JEM's demand for nation-wide political reform was blocked from the outset, as mediators and the GoS stressed that this would be addressed in the implementation of CPA and the establishment of a New Sudan. The CPA had already allocated the top executive positions in the central government, and Darfurians felt that the position of an advisory and powerless Senior Assistant within the Presidency failed to represent the region. The CPA also allocated 52% of the seats in parliament to the National Congress Party (NCP, the ruling regime in Sudan) and 28% to the SPLM of the South, leaving only 20% of the seats for opposition parties in northern and southern Sudan. The Darfurians' demands for proportional representation in the parliament could not be accommodated within those limitations, and this led to the withdrawal of major factions from the agreement.[14] The paucity of positions allocated for Darfurians at the national level likely contributed to the competition among the factions — and to further fragmentation. In wealth sharing, the SPLM opposed the Compensation Fund based on the absence of any such provision within the CPA for the individual losses of Southerners.[15] Generally, preserving the CPA was in the back of the minds of mediators and international observers, who favored the GoS's positions over those of the Darfurians.

Mediation Process

In its rush for a peace agreement, the AU was first blamed for entertaining separate bilateral talks between the regime and the factions, thereby weakening the factions and preventing them from uniting and using their combined leverage.[16] The AU mediation team was also accused of rushing to a deadline for a final peace document, without responding to the reservations of the SLA/AW faction on security, power sharing, and the compensation fund. While closing the document to further discussions, the AU kept extending the deadline for signing the DPA, from its original target of May 2006 until July of that year. The AU also allowed breakaways from the factions who refused to sign to independently commit to the DPA by creating "the declaration of support of the DPA" document, while rejecting a request by the SLA/AW faction to attach a supplementary text to the DPA accommodating its demands without necessarily changing the agreement.[17]

The AU mediation team also failed to include representatives of the wider Darfur community. Though women's groups were involved in the later rounds of the peace talks, their contribution is not reflected in the document. Widespread protests of Darfurians inside Khartoum — as well as in many IDP camps and refugee camps — against the DPA demonstrated the popular feeling of exclusion from the peace agreement. Their protests centered on the lack of strong and independent provisions for security concerning IDPs and their return home, as well as on the absence of meaningful compensation and representation in the national political system.[18] These protests have hardened the opposition of the SLA/AW and JEM to the DPA.

The AU mediation team is also seen as having rushed through the central issues of the conflict. Land and resource disputes, inter-communal reconciliation, the return of refugees and IDPs to their villages, and subsequent potential conflicts over settlements were all lumped under the authority of Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation. This mechanism was intended to incorporate those excluded as signatories to the DPA, to resolve disputes over resources and resettlement of populations, and to include civil society groups. Though a number of thorny reconciliation issues — such as peace and co-existence between Arab militia and largely African displaced populations and their fighters, power and resource sharing between the various insurgency movements, and co-habitation of civilians with the various fighters — fall under this umbrella, the mechanism's structures, powers, and procedures were not identified in the agreement. In the first place, civil society representatives should have been consulted, for instance, on how to deal with resource disputes — through legal allocation within an agreement or reviving dismantled local structures in a post-agreement context.[19]

Regional and International Factors

Regional Actors

Regional actors are Sudan's neighbors: Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, and Libya, which played dual roles of sustaining the conflict as well as facilitating the peace process, depending on what has best served their perceived national interests of the moment. Chad's involvement in the conflict typified this dual role. Chad's military circles — and later, the Presidency — supported the SLA and JEM factions in a show of solidarity for fellow Zaghwas. The GoS retaliated by sponsoring a number of Chadian armed factions opposed to Chadian President Deby's regime. Recently, however, Libyan facilitation has brought the two regimes closer, and they have agreed to cease sponsoring armed groups against each other. Consequently, Chad endorsed the Darfur Peace Agreement, and took initiatives to unite the factions in Darfur and include them in the peace agreement. With peace talks with its own rebels ongoing, the Chadian government is more stable and conciliatory towards the GoS, and its current motivations lie in facilitating the peace process in Sudan and thus reversing the flow of Darfur refugees into Chad.[20]

Libyan and Egyptian involvement tilted towards the GoS. Libya has been acting as a facilitator, supporting internal Chadian peace talks and the agreement between Chad and Sudan. However, its neutrality was marred by the international support it offers the GoS. This might have partly influenced the poor showing of Darfur factions in the recent Syrte peace talks.[21] Concerned about destabilization of Sudan that could potentially threaten its water supply, Egypt is consistent in accommodating the GoS. Egypt's potential positive role is evidenced by its influence in securing Sudan's acceptance of deployment of the UNAMID. Finally, seen as a continuation of a long tradition of interference in each other's politics, Eritrea's involvement in the peace talks and in pushing factions to form an alliance has been encouraging, while its role in hosting non-signatories has been criticized. These regional players should influence the factions to form a united negotiating team, while also exerting pressure on the GoS to commit to the peace process and comply with its terms.[22]

International Factors

The international community failed to back the Darfur peace processes in two ways: First, it failed to guarantee the security arrangements and pressure the GoS — as well as the factions — in the peace talks. Darfur was handled both through the peace talks in the AU and on the agendas of UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) that primarily focused on pressuring the GoS to disarm the janjaweed. The UN and the AU deployed the African peacekeeping mission (AMIS) in mid-2004. However, AMIS was underfunded, under-staffed, under-trained, and ill-equipped to either directly undertake the disarming of the janjaweed or closely monitor the GoS's disarming of the militias. This resulted in the violation of the first ceasefire agreements and subsequent ones. It undermined the confidence of the factions in negotiations dealing with security, and also increased the impunity of the GoS, which saw an uncommitted international pressure and thus continued to support the militias (and the hostilities in which they were involved) and obstruct peace talks.

The inability of AMIS to oversee security arrangements and to protect civilians should have been remedied by the UNSCR 1706 (2006), which called for bolstering the mandate and strength of the AU force by transforming it into an AU/UN peacekeeping force — responsible for monitoring the disarming of militias, enforcing compliance with ceasefire agreements, and protecting civilians and IDPs. The government accepted the deployment of the hybrid force — UNAMID — only in July 2007. However, the proposed 26,000-strong, well-equipped, and resourced force has only about one third of its planned strength deployed on ground as the international community lags in contributions to the force.[23] This force will not be able to effectively oversee security arrangements and protect civilians in the near future.

4. Conclusion

The neat Arab/African conflict model no longer defines the armed groups involved. The original insurgency and the Arab militias have respectively splintered into a number of factions, fighting against each other, against the government, and among themselves. The prolonged peace processes partially contributed to the splintering, as resistance movements disagreed over terms of peace and found themselves shifting positions in light of new terms and promises of power and resource sharing. The government is suspected of encouraging the factionalism within the resistance and for weakening the leverage of the resistance. The government's involvement in the peace process has also endangered the position of Arab militias as its proxies. Some have chosen to intensify their attacks and consolidate war spoils (such as land appropriation), while others have switched alliances from the government to the resistance to claim legitimate entry into the peace processes.

While the conflict issues remain, they might have intensified in their urgency and scope. Though power sharing, representation, and wealth sharing remain at the heart of the conflict, the resolution of these issues will now require the inclusion of more groups. Most importantly, any agreement will be tied to the success of establishing a security arrangement that all the armed groups agree to and abide by. A peace process will also need to ensure the safe return of IDPs and refugees to their villages, contingent upon the security environment; provide for their rehabilitation; and include mechanisms to deal with inevitable disputes over land and resources, as well as over regional power and wealth sharing among the different armed, political, and social groups within the region.

[1] Baffour Ankomah, "Darfur: Blessed Are the Peacemakers," (December 2007), New African, 69.

[2] Gerard Prunier. Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide. (New York: Cornell University Press, 2005), 4-15.

[3] United States Institute of Peace. "Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement on the Conflict in Darfur," (April 2004).

[4] International Crisis Group. "To Save Darfur." Africa Report (105), (17 March, 2006), 17-18.

[5] International Crisis Group. "Policy Briefing: Darfur's Fragile Peace Agreement," Africa Briefing (39), (20 June, 2006).

[6] Alex De Waal. "Explaining the Darfur Peace Agreement," (July 2006). Friends Committee On National Legislation.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Michael Kevane. "Commentary on the Darfur Peace Agreement," (May 25, 2006). Available online at:

[9] International Crisis Group. "Policy Briefing: Darfur's Fragile Peace Agreement," Africa Briefing (39), (20 June, 2006), 9-10.

[10] Ibid, 10.

[11] International Crisis Group. "Darfur's New Security Reality," Africa Report (134), (26 November 2007), 21-22.

[12] International Crisis Group. "Policy Briefing: Darfur's Fragile Peace Agreement," Africa Briefing (39), (20 June, 2006).

[13] Alex De Waal. "Explaining the Darfur Peace Agreement," (July 2006). Friends Committee On National Legislation.

[14] International Crisis Group. "Policy Briefing: Darfur's Fragile Peace Agreement," Africa Briefing (39), (20 June, 2006), 7.

[15] Ibid, 9-10.

[16] Ibid, 3.

[17] Alex De Waal. "Explaining the Darfur Peace Agreement," (July 2006). Friends Committee On National Legislation.

[18] International Crisis Group. "Policy Briefing: Darfur's Fragile Peace Agreement," Africa Briefing (39), (20 June, 2006).

[19] "Rebels Say Inter Darfur Dialogue Only Valid After Peace," Sudan Tribune (18 February 2008). Available online at: php?article26017.

[20] International Crisis Group. "Darfur's New Security Reality," Africa Report (134), (26 November 2007), 17-18.

[21] Ibid, 19.

[22] Ibid, 19-20.

[23] Amber Henshaw. "Darfur: Little Hope Five Years On," BBC News (26 February 2008).