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|November 4, 2008|
Now is the Time for Action on Darfur
By Anne Bartlett
November 3, 2008 — There has never been a more important time in the history of the Darfur conflict than the present one. Never before has there been an alignment of forces that are likely to be hostile to the interests of the Sudanese regime and that have the potential to bring about a rapid change of policy from the NCP. Change can occur and occur quickly if leverage is used in an intelligent way to ensure that Al-Bashir’s alternatives are closed down. However for this to occur, all areas of pressure must align themselves and work in a concerted manner to generate the leverage needed.
On the political and diplomatic front, the likely installation of an Obama/Biden presidency in the US could have significant impacts on the ability of the Sudanese government to operate. Known to be a hawk on Darfur, Biden has repeatedly stressed the need for tough action, including his view that military intervention should not be taken off the table. The fact is however that military intervention in Darfur is not necessary, provided the US uses its diplomatic credentials to weaken the Sudanese government’s position. Since Obama/Biden’s goal is to resolve pressing foreign policy concerns so that they can concentrate on issues at home, there will be a willingness to engage regional superpowers to lessen the support for conflict. In particular, this means an active engagement with the Chinese and Russians to take away their military and logistical support for the Sudanese regime. Intelligent negotiations over the situation in Georgia and the escalating tensions round the Caspian region over access to oil and gas will encourage the Russians to step back from aggressive posturing against the West through dictators such as Al-Bashir. Where Chinese support is concerned, this can similarly be scaled back with active support of the ICC process. An indicted Bashir is an imperiled China and this is evidenced by China’s attempts to back off from its public support of Al-Bashir in the last few days, in order to ensure that future supplies of oil remain constant.
For activists on Darfur, it is important to make Biden aware that Darfur is a top priority and that it should be treated as such on the U.S. foreign policy agenda. During the first 100 days of a new presidency, the foreign policy agenda of the government will be re-worked and decisions will be made that can have ramifications for the next 4-8 years. It is important to remind the new incumbent that Darfur can produce a significant foreign policy win (in a way that entrenched wars like Iraq and Afghanistan cannot), if the right leverage is applied at this time. A foreign policy win on Darfur brought about on the back of a concerted effort at this point can not only produce a helpful dynamic for Sudan and its immediate neighbors, but also elsewhere in the region. Serious attempts to solve a major conflict in Africa, coupled with the election of an African American with a lineage from within the continent, will make it much harder for authoritarian forces to line themselves up in the kind of damaging way that they have in recent history.
For the movements in Darfur, now is the time to approach the incoming US government with a view to seeking an expedited settlement. Early face to face meetings with the incoming team members can produce fruitful results. In particular this means producing a workable interim security plan from the movements’ side detailing exactly what is needed to secure the lives of local people in the short term. This plan needs to address security in the camps and elsewhere where there are significant numbers of displaced Darfurians. This will then give the international community leverage which they can use in tandem with the ICC process to press the NCP for concessions and to enforce pre-existing UN resolutions. Once security has been resolved, the larger issue of power sharing and the peace process can be addressed later in a meaningful way.
With the removal of the Bush administration, the international community must take their own responsibility on Darfur seriously. This means a concerted effort to move away from the geopolitical realities brought about by the Bush doctrine — particularly where the “war on terror” is concerned. It is highly unlikely that the intelligence gained from the likes of Salah Ghosh is worth the price that Darfurians, Southerners and Easterners have had to pay to pay for it. The Sudanese government, as instigators of jihadist policy are unlikely to be first in line to stop the war on terror and this point needs to be borne in mind at all times in any negotiations going forward.
Finally the peacekeeping force in Darfur must be radically overhauled. It is manifestly preposterous that the architects of genocide are being allowed to dictate which forces will prevent the slaughter of innocent civilians in Darfur. Resources and logistical support are urgently needed if protection is to mean anything. It was stunning today that David Millband, Bernard Kouchner and others have stepped up to the plate in Congo and yet singularly failed to do so in Darfur. It is not as simple as saying that Kabila is more cooperative than Al-Bashir, even if superficially at least, that is true. Britain in particular bears significant responsibility for the inequitable distribution of power in post-colonial Sudan and should take that responsibility seriously. It is not enough to offer to host peace talks when the world is watching and then withdraw the offer at a later date. Sudan listens only to those who are serious and the international community needs to take a much tougher stance with the regime if change is to occur.
Today, it is more than 5 years since the start of military hostilities on the ground and those living through this nightmare deserve better. The people of Darfur have been left to believe that the international community has abandoned them to their fate and no longer cares about their survival. In the 21st century this is an appalling position which threatens the credibility of the international community and its allied institutions. At this historic moment we must seize the day, use our considerable power for good so that we can change the trajectory of the Darfur crisis once and for all.
* Anne Bartlett is a Director of the Darfur Centre for Human Rights and Development and a Professor of Sociology at the University of San Francisco. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org