Darfur's best hope: the ballot box
A regime-ousting election could help more than peacekeepers.
This weekend's revelation that Sudan had appointed a notorious janjaweed militia leader to a senior government post was, as Human Rights Watch rightly called it, "a stunning affront to victims" of the violence in Darfur.Skip to next paragraph
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It was not, however, much of a surprise. After all, Sudan's government already includes a state minister for humanitarian affairs who is one of just two men currently under indictment by the International Criminal Court for crimes in Darfur.
No, President Omar al-Bashir and his National Congress Party (NCP) have long demonstrated their contempt for both Darfur and international opinion, to the enormous detriment of the new United Nations peacekeeping mission, which remains undermanned, undersupplied, and undermined. Last month, a coalition of prominent nongovernmental organizations accurately described it as being "set up to fail."
The United States and its allies on Darfur have long responded to Khartoum's obstructions with public complaints and reaffirmations of their commitment to the mission. Though well-intentioned, this approach has played into the NCP's hands. While American attention has been narrowly focused on the struggling peacekeeping mission, the NCP has been undercutting a potentially dramatic challenge to its rule – and with it, the greatest opportunity for lasting peace in Darfur. With the swearing in this month of a new special envoy for Sudan, Rich Williamson, it is time that America revisits its approach to Sudan – and recognizes that the peacekeeping mission should not be its exclusive focus.
As Mr. Bashir's latest provocation suggests, the problem in Darfur is one that ultimately cannot be resolved by peacekeepers. That's because its roots don't lie in local grievances or ethnic divisions – though both have fueled the fighting – but in the halls of power in Khartoum. The peacekeeping mission is urgently needed to improve immediate security, but lasting peace will come to Darfur and the rest of Sudan only when the country is led by a government genuinely committed to the cause. Remove the NCP from power and, as a senior UN official in Sudan told me recently, "the problem in Darfur is over."