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Relative quiet in Darfur: a window for progress in Sudan and eastern Chad

In order for Sudan to avoid a backslide into war, outside humanitarian aid work needs to cede the floor to local-led projects.

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Before the crisis, land in Darfur was managed communally. Given the rivalries of the past several years, such collaboration may now be distant. Support should be given to local councils that intimately understand such divisions and can peacefully determine and map title to land.

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Such councils already exist. Some were created by the international community to give voices at peace talks to leaders who weren’t warlords. These councils have included Darfur’s various ethnic groups, and women. Unlike most rebel groups, who plunder from their own supporters, they tend to accurately represent opinions of long-suffering residents.

Their power should now be expanded. Similar councils should be created among nomad leaders who renounce violence. Schedules and routes for nomads should be carefully and consensually mapped.

Using funds from Khartoum and the international community, a Darfur Development Bank should be created that funds such projects and insures and compensates for lost crops and herds. An emphasis should also be placed on solar investments and a paved highway.

Khartoum and the international community must recognize that many residents may never return to the life of farmers and will choose to remain in the highly urban milieu of camps that ring cities like Nyala, Abeche, and El Fasher. Therefore, Kartoum must lift restrictions on movement to cities, a system that distorts trade and penalizes would-be workers by isolating them.

The government of Sudan presently offers high school graduates from Darfur free scholarships to study at universities in Khartoum. Programs like this should be expanded by creating technical colleges throughout the region and having universities worldwide create scholarships for students from Darfur and eastern Chad.

To be sure, the Khartoum regime has backed away from previous political settlements in Darfur and so caution is called for. Yet indications exist that the stand-down in Darfur and eastern Chad may be different this time. That’s because, unlike past agreements, this latest rapprochement wasn’t generated by outside interests. Before, international forces had led the two countries to peaceful water but they couldn’t make them drink.

Now, for the first time in years, prospects for building a peaceful Darfur seem possible. Humanitarian aid work needs to cede the floor to local-led projects that offer Darfur’s long-suffering communities – including their young – the chance to regain some balance, peace, and prosperity.

Dorn Townsend is studying economics at Columbia University. From 2005 to 2007, he was a UN aid worker in Darfur.