I have a lot of respect for Gerard Prunier, a French Africanist with broad knowledge of the recent history of central and eastern Africa. I thought his 1995 book The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide was the very best study of that whole terrible episode. When I interviewed him in Paris in 2001 he was patient, articulate, and extremely informative.
Now he has what seems to me an equally informative article on the Darfur crisis on the Open Democracy website. He gives quite a lot of background about the nature and troubled history of Darfur-Sudan relations. His prescription for what might be done to improve the lot of Darfur’s people is, regrettably but probably realistically, rather depressing and very thin:
- What, then, is to be done? In the real world, the options are grim. It is possible to let things run their course and see the ethnic cleansing result in several thousand casualties more. This is still the most likely probability, given the incapacity of the international community to think beyond a ritualistic wail for a UN force to be deployed (which, even were it to be deployed, is unlikely to be effective).
Another option would be to accept the fact that a major historical process is at work in a key corner of the continent and that it can be brought to a close only by the Sudanese themselves, not by foreigners. The ensuing logic of intervention would be to take sides in favour or against some of the actors in the conflict. This would in turn involve a clear, realistic judgment of their political character…
In any case, there is no room for self-delusion: a true negotiation about the future of Sudan and the relative place of its various populations in an ensemble that still remains to be defined will in no way resemble the shadow theatre of Naivasha or Abuja [the locations of previous negotiations on the issue.] It can only come after political-military control and positioning on the ground have been redefined by the combatants themselves, rather than being artificially manipulated by outsiders (and outsiders, moreover, who are not even ready to honour the commitments they have made once the Sudanese they have “persuaded” into signing raise this issue).
A true negotiation would also mean that the type of centralised, Nile valley “Arab” regime which has ruled Sudan since 1956 under one guise or another will also have to go. Its replacement must be a federation of some kind, though the creation of such a model will require an immensely difficult and detailed task of institution-building. The multi-ethnic nature of the country will have to be turned into a reality and not – as is the case at present – remain a polite fiction hiding the reality of “Arab” cultural, economic and political domination.
None of this will be easy or peaceful. The elections scheduled for 2009 in Sudan will be an important political benchmark of progress in this direction, though if the present regime remains in charge it is unlikely that they will be free, fair or honest.
Even amid such a long-overdue comprehensive overhaul of an unjust and obsolete political system – still a distant prospect – Darfur will remain a particular case. Its citizens will have to choose whether they accept their common regional bonds or whether they prefer to follow the beat of a distant drummer on the banks of the Nile. Their future, their lives – or possibly their deaths – will depend not on short-term technical fixes but on themselves: on the choices they make and on the means put at their disposal to achieve them.