SA aims to ease Darfur crisis

Ido Lekota

Ido Lekota

Sudan's President Omar Hassan Ahmed El Bashir's visit to South Africa this week brings into focus one of Africa's most tragic cases - the humanitarian situation in Sudan.

Speaking at an official dinner on Tuesday, El Bashir expressed his government's commitment to finding a peaceful solution for the situation in Darfur.

International experts claim that at least 200000 people have died and 2,5million have been displaced since 2003 when rebels took up arms against Sudan's government, demanding more political rights.

The Sudanese government in turn used predominantly Arab militias to crush the revolt.

The situation has since got out of hand with the government losing control of even armed Arab militias.

But the Sudanese government has rejected the death toll recorded by international experts. However, there is general agreement that there is a humanitarian crisis in Darfur that needs to be addressed urgently.

Analysts have linked the situation in Darfur to the more than 20 years of civil war that has ravaged Africa's largest country.

The war was between the Muslim northern Sudan and the Christian/Animist African-led southern Sudan under the leadership of the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement.

The analysts claim that during the war both the southerners and the northerners recruited groupings from Darfur to bolster their armed forces.

With the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 that led to the Sudanese government of national unity - the people of Darfur felt that it was payback time.

What compounded the situation was the long-existing conflict between traditional Arab and African tribesmen who co-existed in the Darfur area.

"Historically there has always been conflict between Arab and African herders. The Arabs herded camels and Africans cattle.

"There have always been disputes around grazing grounds," claims Chaile Seretse of the Institute for Conflict Management and Peace Building (ICMPB) - a Pretoria-based organisation involved in conflict management in Sudan during the civil war.

Seretse argues that the situation in Sudan has now been compounded by the ecological conditions in the region.

Lack of grazing ground and drought have led to "an ecological disaster where villagers are finding it hard to survive".

At a political level, the situation is made worse by the fact that there are now several splinter rebel groups. Some key rebel groups such as the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) - which boycotted the recent Darfur peace talks held in Libya - have accused El Bashir's government of forming splinter groups to undermine the legitimate representatives of the people of Darfur.

Meanwhile, violence rages on in Darfur with claims of attacks on villages by armed militias.

This week both Sudan and South Africa's governments blamed the raging violence on splinter groups that are trying to gain recognition.

The irony of the situation in Darfur is captured by ICMPB's Gavin Bradshaw - who, together with Seretse, was part of a recent fact-finding mission to Darfur.

"The political stakes are high now that the world focus is on Darfur. We should now expect to see several groupings coming up to position themselves so that they can get the necessary recognition," says Bradshaw.

Given this scenario what then is the way forward for Darfur?

What is obvious from the inputs by the various stakeholders is that the situation in Darfur cannot be solved militarily.

The solution needs to be political so that there is a stable environment under which the basic needs of the people of Darfur can be catered for.

Having said so there is a need to secure the situation in Darfur by sending in the UN hybrid force as soon as possible. In this regard the call by Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad cannot be overemphasised.

The developed countries that made a commitment to contribute R4billion to support the hybrid force must keep their promises. At a political level countries like China cannot be allowed to have their cake and eat it while their actions do little to alleviate the situation in Darfur.

The rebel groups accuse China of behaving as if it is business as usual and operating oil fields in Sudan while doing nothing to contribute towards finding a solution to the country's crisis.

China's policy of non-interference in foreign issues does not help the situation in Sudan. The country has proved to be a serious economic player in Africa - it is time it also took political responsibility for this role.

As part of the South African civil society ICMPB has taken it upon itself to get involved in bringing together the various rebel groups.

The organisation intends to hold a workshop in South Africa that will involve all the rebel groups in Sudan.

"The intention is to try and get the various groupings to agree on a common programme that will eventually bring lasting peace in Darfur," said Seretse.

He said his organisation has the credentials to facilitate such a gathering given its previous involvement in the development of the Sudanese 2005 peace pact.

He said his organisation intends involving personalities like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Roelf Meyer, Alex Borraine and Cyril Ramaphosa in the pursuit of peace in Darfur.

The ICMPB has also offered to conduct research on the UN hybrid peacekeeping force once it is deployed in Darfur.

"Seeing that it would be first of its nature we would also like to see how effective this model is and how it can then be replicated in other future situations."

Seretse believes El Bashir's visit and the commitments he has made to finding peace in Sudan; as well as South Africa's commitment to also play a role is a major boost for his organisation's initiative.