How did the manner in which the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was negotiated contribute to its failure to establish peace? This article, by the Crisis States Research Centre of the London School of Economics, examines the process of negotiations that took place between November 2005 and May 2006 in Abuja, Nigeria, leading to the signing of the DPA. It argues that the deadlines imposed by officials and the intransigence of the parties at the talks prevented effective mediation and contributed to the failure of the DPA to achieve peace. Ending civil wars requires patience and peace agreements have to be shaped and owned by the parties, not forced upon them.
In 2003 rebel movements in the Darfur region of Sudan mobilised against the government in response to the marginalisation of their communities. The brutal response of the government and its proxy force, the Janjaweed militia, has left an estimated 350,000 people dead and two million displaced. The purpose of the Abuja talks was to broker a peace agreement between the government and the two main rebel movements, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).
On the 5th of May 2006, the government and Minni Minawi, the leader of one of the two main factions within the SLM, signed the DPA. JEM and Abdel Wahid al Nur, leader of the other SLM faction, rejected the agreement. The DPA has since failed to bring about peace – the Janjaweed rampages continue and fighting between rebel groups has intensified.
The following dynamics of the Abuja process contributed to the failure of the DPA:
- The parties were unwilling to negotiate with each other. This was due to deep hatred and mistrust between all parties, divisions within and between the rebel groups, the government’s strong military position, and the belief amongst all groups that the battlefield and not the negotiation table remained the main strategic arena.
- The international community were keen for a quick accord and yet the deadlines set were unrealistic for the resolution of any civil conflict.
- The parties disagreed deeply over critical issues. This was exacerbated by the rebels’ unfamiliarity with the arrangements and language in the proposed DPA and the lack of time allocated for them to consult with their supporters in Darfur.
- The fulfilment of the DPA was always going to be a challenge because it was not a product of negotiated compromises and agreements reached by the parties themselves.
States and multi-national organisations should employ confidence-building mediation rather than power based diplomacy to end civil wars because, as demonstrated by the Abuja process:
- These wars have multiple historical, structural, political, social and economic causes that are complex, deep-rooted and intractable. Protagonists will view each other with mutual hatred and suspicion. Thus, however grave the humanitarian situation, mediators have no option but to be patient.
- Peace cannot be forced on parties. Rather, agreements have to be shaped and owned by the parties, as they cannot be implemented without the consent and cooperation of the parties and their adherence to its provisions in the long term.