African business, politics and lifestyle
How serious is Sudan’s Darfur ceasefire?
Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was in a jubilant mood when he announced to crowds of supporters that he was declaring a ceasefire in Darfur.
From his body language, you might have thought he had already ended the crisis and achieved his goal of avoiding a possible indictment by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur.
In the build-up to his speech, supporters surged to the front of the crowd waving sticks and punching the air with their fists to show their support for the army officer who came to power in Sudan in a coup in 1989. There was almost a party atmosphere.
Tanzania’s foreign minister Bernard Kamillius Membe was greeted with cheers as he announced that Sudan had shown that African countries could look after their own crises.
“The International Criminal Court is an irrelevance,” said the Tanzanian minister. “You are masters of your own destiny. Africa does not need outsiders to resolve its conflicts.”
But after the celebrations were over, serious questions remained as to what impact the ceasefire and other new measures would have on the festering Darfur conflict and the ICC prosecutor’s hope of putting Bashir on trial.
Diplomats quickly spotted loopholes in the text of Bashir’s speech.
Bashir promised an “unconditional” ceasefire in Darfur – but in the same sentence added that it would come into force “provided an effective monitoring mechanism be put into action and observed by all involved parties.”
That amounted to “a pretty big caveat” given the difficulty of establishing ceasefire mechanisms in Darfur in the past, one diplomat told me, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Analysts also questioned why Bashir had not announced any freeing of political prisoners from Darfur, another of the recommendations of the government-backed forum that came up with the proposal to call a ceasefire.
Even some officials appeared sceptical.
“Peace in Darfur will not come until the two sides sit down together and agree the issue,” said one, who declined to be named.
Past ceasefires in Darfur have come and gone bringing little change for the estimated 2.5 million Darfuris driven from their homes by more than five years of fighting.
Will this one be any different, particularly since Darfur rebel groups have said they will continue to fight and have dismissed Bashir’s ceasefire as a public relations sham? What difference could it make in a region increasingly at the prey of bandits? Could it be enough to convince sceptical Western countries to agree to postpone any indictment of Bashir?