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Doha’s Violent Cocktail Party

By Gérard Prunier

The so-called, “Darfur peace talk” in Doha, Quatar on February 17th was even more ridiculous than the previous efforts at “building peace” in the desperate province of Western Sudan. The language of the final communiqué sounded like an Arab transliteration of a Henry James novel: they expressed their “high appreciation for His Highness the Emir of Qatar Khalifa al-Thani’s generous sponsorship of the peace process,” they “recognized the constructive support of neighboring countries,” they “accorded a strategic priority to peace,” they “accepted to take the necessary measures to create a favorable environment to help attain a lasting peace settlement,” and they promised “to commit themselves to continue serious discussions leading towards peace.”

The reader remains dumbfounded by the yawning abysses of what we call in Arabic, kalam faadi (empty talk). The whole reunion led to absolutely nothing but pious platitudes, while all hell broke loose between the very parties who were facing each other and discussing in Doha.

In early February violent fighting had broken out in Muhajiriya, in South Darfur. This was followed by the bombardment of Thabit on the 18th and a battle in Sheriya, just west of Al-Fashir on the 19th. Finally there were carpet bombings of various locations in the west of Jebel Mara in Central Darfur. The government congratulated itself on a “new development in the peace process,” and The Justice and Equality Movement(JEM) guerrillas declared on February 23rd that “the signing of the Doha Agreement, February 17th 2009, was certainly a step forward along the road for peace in Darfur.” Then, on February 24th, upon learning about the probable indictment of President Omar el-Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC) next March 4th, JEM guerrilla chief Khalil Ibrahim announced that “now the war will intensify.” Did I hear anyone mention the word duplicity?

So, what was Doha apart from an alcohol-free cocktail party? It was:

  • A failed attempt by Khalil Ibrahim to free his brother who had been captured by the Khartoum Army after the failure of the JEM raid on Omdurman last May. Khalil’s brother was also his Chief-of-Staff and his main weapons procurement officer. Many other prisoners were to be exchanged (JEM , which had had the upper hand, has captured a lot of government Army officers in Darfur).
  • It was also a bid by JEM for center stage. Their desire to be recognized as the main, or perhaps even the sole, interlocutor of the international community among the Darfur guerrillas.
  • It was a signal to Muhamar al-Gaddafi, the new “King” of the African Union, that JEM and Khalil were the main players in Darfur.
  • It was also a discreet forum in which to try to negotiate the freedom of Hassan al-Turabi, Khalil’s old political mentor who was arrested last month and is now in dangerous detention in Port Sudan (Turabi is 72, he has high blood pressure and Port Sudan is one of the hottest spots on earth. His place of detention is not air-conditioned).

In other words, Doha’s cocktail party was only an episode in the ongoing conflict in Darfur and logically just opened into more violence. As Khalil said, now that the peace talks are over, “the war will intensify.”

Gérard Prunier is a widely acclaimed journalist as well as the Director of the French Centre for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa. He has published over 120 articles and five books, including The Rwanda Crisis and Darfur: A 21st Century Genocide. His most recent book, Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophefocuses on Congo, the Rwandan genocide, and events that led to the death of some four million people. Living in Ethiopia provides Prunier with an up-close look at the politics and current events of Central and Eastern Africa. Be sure to check back on Tuesdays to read more Notes From Africa.

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