A Note on the Assessment of Darfur by Alex de Waal (May 2009)
How was Darfur so badly understood and so terribly managed by the international community?
(An Appendix to “Completing the Darfur Genocide: Tens of thousands in Khartoum’s death grip; the killing has begun in earnest” | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1yb )
Eric Reeves, 7 January 2015
In surveying the current destruction and suffering in Darfur it is worth pausing on one location, Ain Siro (highlighted in a January 5 dispatch from Radio Dabanga); for it has been celebrated in the past as an example of Darfur “putting itself together again”—and on its own. Former U.S. special envoy for Sudan Scott Gration placed Ain Siro on his itinerary for one of his few visits to Darfur because if offered “hope.” Most telling, however, is the assessment offered by Alex de Waal writing in May 2009:
A few days in Ain Siro is a reminder of what life used to be like in Darfur. The village is nestled in the spine of hills that runs due north from Jebel Marra into the desert. Protected by the mountains, the SLA has controlled the area for the last four years, and for many of the people in the vicinity, allowed an element of normality to return. Villages have been rebuilt, a rudimentary health service set up—and the school re-opened. (May 29, 2009 at SSRC blog: perhaps understandably, the link to de Waal’s piece on the Social Science Research Center has gone “dead”: http://blogs.ssrc.org/darfur/2009/05/28/a-taste-of-normality-in-ain-siro/).
From the example of Ain Siro, de Waal draws a conclusion that shows finally just how shameless his accommodation of Khartoum’s ambitions has been over the years:
Ain Siro shows how people on all sides are tired of war and, when given the chance, can make their own small but significant steps towards peace and normality. When Julie Flint first wrote about Ain Siro “saving itself” in 2007, most were sceptical that it represented anything significant. Two years on, not only has Ain Siro survived, but its model of self-help is less exceptional than it was.
Given what we are seeing more than five years later—the destruction of the very villages de Waal invokes, the complete lack of normality, the overrunning of Ain Siro by the RSF, the burning of schools and clinics—his assessment of what the future held was spectacularly erroneous, even as it was belied by a great deal of evidence in much of Darfur at the time.
But de Waal is not just any commentator: he has been used extensively as a regional expert by the UN, the U.S., and the African Union. As part of his self-description, de Waal notes of himself in an author bio:
During 2005-06, de Waal was seconded to the African Union mediation team for Darfur and from 2009-11 served as senior adviser to the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan.
This represents participation in a long and dismal record of failure: the utter failure of the Darfur Peace Agreement negotiated in Abuja, Nigeria (May 2006), which de Waal pushed so hard and defended so long after its failure was manifest. As a senior advisor to Thabo Mbeki and the feckless “African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan,” he participated in failures not only in Darfur, but in the run-up to the self-determination referendum for South Sudan and Abyei. Mbeki, along with senior U.S. officials Gration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Senator (now Secretary of State) John Kerry, pushed Juba to “compromise” on a further truncating of Abyei. Khartoum seeing this, saw calculated that it would pay no price for the military annexation of all of Abyei, even that part delineated in a July 2009 by the International Court of Arbitration. The annexation, which began with military seizure in late May 2011, is now virtually complete and Khartoum has begun to extend northern infrastructure into the lands that historically are those of the Dinka Ngok. There has been no international objection.
And what to make of the “Implementation” in the title for Mbeki’s ongoing, and fruitless, diplomatic roadtrip? What is being “implemented”? “Implementation” was to have been of the “Roadmap for Peace in Darfur,” which de Waal played a large part in assembling—and which led nowhere. This failure in turn opened the diplomatic door to the Qataris, who were happy to provide diplomatic auspices negotiators from Khartoum and a small, patched together group of minor splinter rebel factions (with, incredibly, the assistance of Libya’s Muamar Gadhafi). The “Liberation and Justice Movement” was entirely contrived and represented no one—not the militarily consequential rebel movements or Darfuri civil society. The document that was eventually signed in July 2011—the “Doha Document for Peace in Darfur” (DDPD)—had no chance of success, as was immediately evident to anyone who had followed the negotiations and understood the complete lack of support for the process by the overwhelming majority of Darfuris (one participant, who had also advised in the Abuja talks that produced the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement, described the Doha negotiations as “Abuja replayed as farce”). Today the DDPD has been revealed again as a total failure, and the Darfur Regional Authority it created has proved ineffective, corrupt, and widely disliked, if not hated as a betrayal of legitimate aspirations for these long marginalized people.
We would have learned much more in 2009 by reading the dispatches of Radio Dabanga than de Waal’s blog, as remains the case today. Expediency of the sort represented by de Waal has no place in any genuine effort to bring peace to Darfur. This is a lesson no one seems willing to learn: not the African Union, not the UN, not the European Union, not the United States. None will clearly and soberly assess the catastrophe that is impending, or declare what must be done to halt it.