Sudan is at a crossroads. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the North-South civil war is on the verge of unraveling. While the international community wants to focus on the CPA, it cannot ignore Darfur.
The two problems are inextricably linked. Progress in one reinforces progress in the other. Likewise, violence anywhere risks the escalation of conflict everywhere.
Darfurians are offering a helping hand to help stabilize the situation. Under the auspices of Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Human Rights and with support from the Canadian Government, Darfurians have just concluded a series of meetings in Cairo. They have agreed to focus on the development horizon in order to create conditions for sustainable peace.
They underscore that a lasting solution will need to address the root causes of the conflict that lies in the extreme poverty of the region and the historic marginalization of Darfur, which is one of the prime sources of unrest. In addition to yielding practical benefits to Darfur’s ongoing humanitarian emergency, they also agree that early recovery can also positively influence efforts by the African Union and the United Nations Joint Mediation Team to bring Darfurian factions together and broker an accord with Khartoum.
Last week in Cairo, they launched the “Darfur Advisory Group that includes prominent Darfurians from civil society and has the blessing of political movements. The Darfur Advisory Group is primarily devoted to improving the quality of life for Darfurians resulting from the conflict and decades of neglect by Khartoum. It is dedicated to capacity building and developing early recovery and livelihood projects in the fields of agriculture, pastoralism, energy, education and health. Activities also focus on water resource development and conservation that is critical to long term sustainable development.
However, development does not occur in a vacuum. The Darfur Advisory Group is designed to complement official efforts aimed at invigorating the Darfur-Darfur Dialogue. Its members also recognize that cooperation between Darfurians and Sudan Government is critical to rebuilding frayed relations. Development ultimately requires a partnership between Darfurians and Sudanese officials. If they can work well together on specific projects, the collaboration could evolve into a joint planning mechanism engaging Darfurians and the Government of Sudan in longer-term reconstruction and development activities.
After two years of meetings outside Darfur, the center of gravity is shifting to within Sudan. Civil society mobilization meetings are planned next month for El-Fasher, Nyala and Geneina. Some in Khartoum reflexively think that Darfurians coming together is a challenge to their authority. Rather than viewing the Darfuri-led initiative with distrust, Khartoum should welcome their constructive efforts.
To be sure, the international community appreciates activities of the Darfur Advisory Group. It has long agreed on the need for a three-pronged strategy emphasizing security, early recovery, and political talks. With security suffering and political talks at an impasse, the “Friends of Sudan believe that these activities should be undertaken simultaneously so they are mutually reinforcing.
It also makes economic sense to undertake a range of concurrent activities.
The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations estimates that the annual cost of deploying a force of 21,000 soldiers will be about $300 per Darfurian. By contrast, the cost of relief and recovery is about $60 per person. The international community contributes about $1.8 billion each in Sudan. This generous level of support, most of which goes to food aid, is simply unsustainable.
Donors and countries contributing to the United Nations Mission in Darfur are frustrated by Darfur’s continued volatility. There are a plethora of problems worldwide; donors simply cannot afford to keep Sudan on life-support.
The Darfur Advisory Group’s efforts may have ramifications beyond Sudan’s borders. If the idea of initiating post-conflict arrangements during an ongoing conflict can create incentives for peace, the approach could also inform future efforts in other seemingly intractable conflicts.
Peace cannot be just an abstract notion. It must yield practical benefits if combatants are going to lay down their arms and agree to turn swords into ploughshares. Let us take the steps to realize the dividends of peace.
David L. Phillips is a Visiting Scholar at the Center for the Study of Human Rights and Director of the Darfur Development Initiative at Columbia University. Hamid Ali is an Assistant Professor at the American University in Cairo, School of Public Affairs, Department of Public Policy and Administration.