Doha Peace Agreement: Khartoum and the Rebel Groups’ Moment of Truth

In June, Special Envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman displayed cautious optimism when he called the Doha Peace Talks to reach a peaceful agreement between the Sudanese government and Darfur’s rebel groups a step in the right direction. On July 14, 2011, Khartoum and some of the major rebel groups in the Northern half of Darfur, including the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) and Abdul-Wahid Mohamed Nur faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), officially signed the document these talks produced. After nine years of genocidal civil war and thirty months of dialogue, the situation is still less than ideal. In spite of this, the implementation of a peace agreement will finally begin. How much of a cause for celebration this is will become clear in the weeks and months to come.

In accord with the signed agreement, local governance is being returned to the people of Darfur – even those rebel groups that denounce violent resistance and join the fold. This includes leadership postings. Former rebels will occupy positions such as the chairmanship of the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA), the assistant and advisor to the DRA, ministerial positions (the latter three to be held by LJM members), as well as a gubernatorial position in one of the new states being established in the region. In addition, the LJM will hold 17 of the 67 seats in the new DRA Council that will act as a parliamentary body to assist the DRA implement the peace agreement. Among those 17 positions is the Council vice-chairperson. Abdul-Aziz Adam, Commander of the Bedouins and Routes Alliance forces that signed its own agreement with the government shortly after LJM signed on to the Doha agreement, says:

This is a great opportunity to achieve the comprehensive peace in Darfur. The signing of the Doha agreement, with a great support of our people in Darfur and the international community, avails the chance for the realization of peace in the region according to the aspirations of its people…

Not all of the parties in the Darfur conflict are willing to sign on to division of authority prescribed in this agreement. Still noticeably absent are the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) as well as the Nur and Minnawi factions of the SLA that continue their military struggle in the southern part of Darfur. Though provisions exist in the document that would award JEM government positions should they put down their arms, these groups argue that the agreement does not meet their needs and that the government in Khartoum cannot be negotiated with on principle. They seek to not only achieve reforms in Darfur but to instigate regime change that will finally topple the power of President Omar al-Bashir and the National Congress Party (NCP).

Khartoum vows to continue its fight against those groups reluctant to cooperate with what it vows is the “final document.” The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have begun bombing villages in South Darfur in an effort likely to pressure those rebel groups refusing to buckle and submit. Typical of Sudanese military-political strategy, civilians are caught directly in the crossfire.

The implementation of this peace agreement should be used as a barometer of many things. First and foremost, Khartoum now has the opportunity to prove that it can be taken at its word. Should the NCP allow the peace agreement to help the rebel groups who put down their weapons and bring stability to the people of North Darfur, it will prove to onlookers that it is seriously interested in honest cooperation and creating what Special Envoy Lyman calls an “enabling environment” for open political dialogue that is currently missing the in the region. The other groups in Darfur might consider ending their fight and coming into the fold as well. South Sudan could be encouraged to work more cooperatively with Khartoum to make progress on border disputes and oil revenue sharing.

As lofty as the upsides of cooperation are, the consequences of a disappointment are just as extreme. If the NCP allows the Doha agreement to become a meaningless piece of paper, all semblance of regional trust could be destroyed. By proving that a zebra cannot change its stripes, the rebel groups and regional players will be even more skeptical about accepting Khartoum’s olive branches in the future. Regional conflict and suffering would be sure to deepen, as would the international isolation of Bashir’s regime. As it becomes clearer that carrot and stick calculations do not faze the Sudanese government, ending the humanitarian crises it incites becomes a difficult paradox to solve. All have much to gain from making good on this step forward. All have much to lose.

Adam Cohen is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.