Dear Monim,


I have long argued that humanitarians and human rights activists should embrace critical self-reflection including acknowledging their mistakes (see my piece, originally entitled “Writing rights and getting it wrong”.  So I welcome the change to debate–though not, of necessity, on everything. Monim puts his finger on two closely-related key issues, which are (1) the tension between transparency and confidentiality in conflict mediation, and (2) the associated tension between securing an end to a war and promoting a democratic transformation.


Let me make four points. First: my record as an activist and academic from the 1980s until 2005 included considerable critique of international humanitarian and advocacy efforts. I came to Sudan in the early 1980s precisely because Sudanese academics were leading the way in developing a critique of international humanitarian action. I resigned from Human Rights Watch in 1992 rather than support the U.S. military intervention in Somalia. The African Rights project to gain access to the SPLA-held areas of the Nuba Mountains in 1994-95 was intended to give a high profile to the Nuba’s own efforts at survival and socio-political renewal, and a low profile to external players. We did not trumpet our role in that effort but put Yousif Kuwa and the Nuba Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Organisation in the spotlight. I was a strong critic of what I saw as an opportunistic approach to the question of slavery by foreign advocacy organizations. So you should not be surprised to see me mounting a critique of those who advocate solutions from outside.


Second, I believed that progressives in Sudan, especially those elements of civil society that had earlier been sympathetic to the Sudan Communist Party, were making a strategic error in aligning themselves with the SPLA. Much as I liked the rhetoric of the New Sudan, the actual record of the SPLA suggested something rather different. In fact part of the rationale for the “human rights in the transition” project was in order to strengthen progressive forces, both those inside the SPLA and those who shared its stated aims. The issue of the political organization of progressive elements in Sudan demands serious reflection and debate, similar to that initiated by the late Khatim Adlan with his famous tract, “It’s Time for Change.” The question of the political organization of progressives in Sudan is unresolved.


My third point is the most important: the record of the outcomes of international-led mediation activities, including the AU-led efforts of the last nine years has been mixed. There’s no question: I have been involved with them, beginning with the Abuja negotiations, and so I am associated with their outcomes, which have mostly been disappointing. But that’s not the whole story.


Of necessity, most negotiations takes place out of the public gaze. And in most cases of mediation, the record then remains locked away, except what participants later want to talk about. When there’s a successful outcome, mediators and their friends write glowing memoirs. When there isn’t, no-one wants to accept the blame. But either way, because the records aren’t available for independent scrutiny, it isn’t possible to make an objective assessment. With the partnership of the World Peace Foundation, the African Union will be making an archive of these materials available, so that Sudanese and others can assess them and make an objective assessment.


For example, there is no comprehensive analysis of the effort that led to Darfur Peace Agreement.  Critics of the DPA write as though the intent was to create a partial agreement with Minni Minawi, or to abandon democratization and justice. I can assure you that those were not the aims. When the DPA was signed and the entire mediation team left, I stayed behind for another week in an effort to bring Abdel Wahid on board–and in fact reached an agreement on a supplementary document to the DPA that would have brought him on board. The U.S. insisted that not a word could be changed in the DPA however, and the AU fell in line with that.


When I wrote about the lack of justice in the DPA, it was an exercise in public education, not endorsement, and an attempt to remedy that fault next time round. But you should also recall the words of John Garang, speaking to the UN Security Council on February 8, 2005, who referred to Darfur, saying:


“the conflict there was an old one that had begun in the 1980s, rather than in 2003, as commonly reported.  It had existed even before the present Government of the Sudan had taken power…. The SPLM, having concluded its own accord with the Government of the Sudan, was confident that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement enhanced the chances for a comprehensive and lasting solution to the Darfur conflict.  However, the Janjaweed militia must be reined in and eventually brought to justice after the achievement of a solution – otherwise the cart would be placed before the horse, in which case neither would move.  The SPLM stood ready to offer assistance.”


The CPA was not as inclusive as I would have liked, and did not prioritize democracy in the way I would have liked. But in 2005/06 it was a reality and the task was to make it work. The vision that most of us in the mediation had for the DPA was as a buttress to the CPA, to bring in the Darfurians to bolster the democratization of Sudan. It didn’t work, but we tried.


As for the International Criminal Court, the prosecutor’s public application for an arrest warrant against President Bashir was so incompetent that, if the case had come to court on that basis, I have no doubt that it would have been thrown out. It was irresponsible not to criticize that.


Turning to the AU High Level Panel on Darfur (AUPD): it is clear, the process of consultation that produced the report, and the report itself, were a model of participatory analysis and democratic recommendation. The substance of the report was that the conflict in Darfur was properly defined as the Sudanese conflict in Darfur, and it could only be settled by a comprehensive approach that involved all Darfurians addressing the challenges of peace, justice, reconciliation and Darfur’s place in Sudan, in an inclusive way. The AUPD spent forty days in town-hall style meetings listening to the views of Darfurians, and having formulated its recommendations, went back to discuss them with Darfurian stakeholders to make sure that they were endorsed by the people. Only with popular support would such recommendations be meaningful.


As for the late Ahmed Maher, former Egyptian Foreign Minister, he came to Sudan just once or twice and did not participate in any of Darfur consultations and was expressing a personal view.


It is deeply unfortunate that the AUPD recommendations have not been implemented. My colleague Abdul Mohammed does not consider them in any way irrelevant or superseded. But it is a simple political reality that the international community, led by the UN and Qatar, chose a different path, leading to the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur. That is a reality that Darfurians must deal with. And it is also true that the AU Panel simply does not possess the power to enforce its own resolutions. How would it force the Sudanese government or rebels to follow a particular course of action that they did not want to follow? The AU Panel does not have the authority to write and adopt Chapter VII resolutions at the UN Security Council, and does not possess an army.


My last point concerns the lull in my writing on Sudan since I scaled back on writing for my “Making Sense of Sudan” blog in September 2010. The last two postings were: “Sudan: On Mistrust and Defamation,” (September 13, 2010). And “Sudan: Time to Begin a National Constitutional Review,” (September 19, 2010). For the following ten months I was wholly taken up with work for President Mbeki and the AU High Level Implementation Panel, particularly on the Two Areas. For obvious if regrettable reasons, the records of that period are still confidential.President Mbeki has been adamant that he will not negotiate through the press, and correctly so. But, given that the negotiations constitute an important part of Sudan’s modern history, I have also initiated a project whereby the process will be properly documented and the archive will be made available to researchers. Then it will be possible to have an objective and properly informed debate about what was done and not done, what mistakes were made, what crises were averted or not averted.



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One Response to Some Critical Reflections on Activism and Sudan: A Reply to Monim

  1. Mr. de Waal you must really continue your work on Sudan. There is no other analyst who writes with clarity as yourself. No one. Sudanese need it.
    Be tough on the Sudanese opposition. They need to get their act together.

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