Is Sudan’s Darfur crisis getting too much attention?
Activists often say that the world is not paying enough attention to Sudan’s Darfur crisis. But could the opposite be true — that Darfur is actually getting too much attention, from too many organisations, all at the same time?
A rough count shows at least 10 international and local initiatives searching for a solution to the region’s festering conflict. Many of them are at least nominally coordinated by the United Nation and the African Union. But with so many parallel programmes in play, the opportunities for duplication, competition and confusion are legion.
Top of the bill on the international stage is the double act between the United Nations and the African Union. Their joint Darfur mediator — Burkina Faso’s low-profile former security minister Djibril Bassole — spends much of his time shuttling between capitals, holding closed-session discussions with rebels, regional powers, Darfuri intellectuals and civilian groups.
The most high-profile initiative is a project launched at the Arab League for peace talks between Sudan’s government and rebels hosted in Qatar. Those talks, currently stalled, are hosted “in coordination” with Bassole but their have their own separate identity — Qatar has made its own statements and has held its own meetings with rebels.
During one crowded fortnight in August, both Libya and the United States held separate meetings with different sets of rebel splinter groups, urging them to reunite ahead of talks, with mixed results.
The Obama administration has since formalised its approach to Darfur with a new Sudan policy — although it did not go into details on which carrots and sticks its Sudan envoy Scott Gration would be able to offer Khartoum and Darfur’s rebels.
Egypt has held and hosted meetings with Darfur rebels and other major players. Russia, which says it wants to rebuild its influence in Africa, has appointed a Sudan envoy, and held a two-day symposium on Darfur earlier this month. China also has a Sudan envoy but has so far, mercifully, held back from organising its own conferences.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki led a panel of African dignitaries around Darfur and produced a report packed with recommendations for the region. A group of veteran politicians formed by Nelson Mandela called The Elders have kept a watching brief in Darfur since their first visit there in 2007 and have continued to release statements and reports.
Inside Sudan, the Khartoum regime has trumpeted its Sudan People’s Initiative, a mass congress of political parties, civil society groups (but no rebels) that met in November 2008 to recommend a set of solutions to the crisis.
The south’s dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) joined forces with opposition parties in September to release a Juba Declaration – a blueprint to solve Sudan’s ills including its own Darfur plan.
And that isn’t even counting the various Darfur peace plans and campaigns launched by mainly U.S.-based activists from Save Darfur and other coalitions – or the push for prosecutions by the International Criminal Court.
Cynics might say Khartoum and some of its key negotiating partners have an interest in encouraging the multiplication of Darfur’s peace efforts.
Each new initiative creates another set of meetings, another set of processes, another collection of excuses to delay making the hard decisions that will end the conflict.
Regional powers may also be competing for influence in Sudan, an oil producer and Africa’s largest country. “There has been a lack of a single clear strategy on Darfur soeveryone is poking their nose in, trying to gain influence in Sudan,” said Al-Tahir al-Feki, a senior official with Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels.
Only one thing is clear. When the Darfur crisis is finally resolved and the Nobel Committee comes to hand out its peace prize to the organisations responsible for sealing the deal, there could be a crowded podium.