Friday, 28 August 2009

War or no war?

Last Thursday the departing UN military commander in Darfur, General Martin Agwai, announced with a secondary qualification that the war raging in the region for the past 6 years is effectively over. According to Agwai the region now suffers from low level disputes and banditry. In historical perspective this is was Darfur has recently been suffering from since the mid-80's. The problem that President Bashir's, and Sadiq al Mahdi's government before him attempted to solve via military engagement masqueraded as a policing operation in achieving peace and stability.

The actions of Khartoum's rulers essentially followed the path of the colonial master, superego; Darfur featured as a stagnant ahistoric entity whose population vegetated in tribal continuum. Customary authority and customary land rights were the real land-lock of Darfur, facilitating, legitimising and minimising the costs of central control. In a sense Darfur's war marked the quest of the region for modernity, for citizenship, beyond the ties of tribal organisation. If the war is over, the conflict is certainly not.

The war as it was has been drenched of its conflictual content, presented mostly in the terms of a humanitarian catastrophe, an outburst of African violence that requires no further explanation. And in its so called end it suffers the same 'anonymity'. In his statement Agwai chose the term "security issues" to refer to the prevalent nature of the conflict, now beyond hardcore war. Isn't this the station where it all started? Under the title 'security issues' he cushioned "banditry, localised issues, people trying to resolve issues over water and land at a local level". In actual fact this is the 'real war' in Darfur, the rebellion of 2003 being a mutated attempt at giving it a name and a form beyond the disqualification of security qualms. In agreement with Agwai this attempt has largely failed, yes, the line of conflict has been blurred by the fractioned Darfuri leadership lost in the maize of identities, tribal and racial. Darfur's 'real war' has been in effect hijacked by a multitude of interests, as its 'peace process' currently is. The split in the Islamic Movement, the aspirations of the SPLM, the regional powers Chad and Libya, domestic US politics and the war on terror, to name some, are all factors that contributed to subversion of the conflict and rejoice at war. No wonder that a political settlement seems beyond reach despite diplomatic fervour.

If finding politics for Darfur is to be achieved a divorce from the misnomer 'security issues' is surely the first step. The framework of conflict that the Darfuri movements assumed has failed in that regard, and has been replaced by the obscenity of numbers, 10, 000, 300 000, or more dead, the only long-standing debate on the conflict, one fuelled by the dictates of US policy-making reduced to the singular question, is it a genocide? Apart from academic pursuits only a few institutional attempts have been made to retain, or discover, the politics of the conflict. One of these is the fieldwork done by the African Union High Panel. The report of the Panel is expected in the next few weeks. For those still interested in Darfur's crisis, not only in the spoils of its war, this is an initiative from which to re-start. The dead and dying in Darfur deserve a more informed distinction, a name, not only a count.

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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.