Saturday, May 06, 2006

Fragile But Crucial Peace

After a couple of deadlines had passed, and two minor rebel groups deserted the process, there was a peace deal signed between the Sudanese government and the main rebel force in Darfur.

It's undoubtedly a huge step forward - but represents just another step in the long and difficult road towards stability for Africa'a largest country.

Darfur was a strange war in that it, at least to some extent, was a war triggered by peace.

It was when the long efforts to get a peace deal between Khartoum and the Southern parts of the country finally were crowned with success, and the South suddenly got a major share of both the power and the resources of the country, that there was a feeling in far-away Darfur that they ought to have the same.

That lead to the first attacks against government forces in the area. And with the government army so worn down by the long conflict in the South, they really didn't have the capability to respond and restore order. That was when the militias and thugs were let loose and the carnage and tragedy really started.

But now a combination of factors have lead to a peace deal.

I haven't seen its details, but it's bound to be fragile. All peace deals initially are. There are hard compromises to be swallowed, and there are always then men with the guns that want to carry on.

Sudan will require an enormous amount of internatonal attention and resources in the coming years. Its fate will be the fate of much of Africa.

Key to its future is to get the deal between the North and the South to work. Five years from now there will be a referendum on whether Sudan should stay united or whether they will go their separate ways. It's critical to make Sudan feel like a country with hope for the future prior to that.

If the North and the South where to split, there is no hope for peace in Darfur, and there is the significant risk of carnage also in other parts of the huge country. If the country should be split apart, there are many that would lay their claims to the spoils, and they know how to do it.

Such a process of disintegration will not remain within the borders of Sudan.

We have already seen how the conflict in Sudan has been spilling over into Chad - or the other way around. There are numerous other such examples along the long borders of the country. Sudan borders on no less than ten other countries - many of them with unresolved issues not too dissimilar from those of Sudan.

So we have every reason to hope that peace will get hold in Darfur.

A massive humanitarian effort is needed immediately. But there will also be a need for a truly massive UN operation to make the country as a whole succeed.

The biggest UN operation today is the one in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I would expect the one in Sudan to be even bigger a year from now.

Africa is at stake.