Press Releases

Thursday, April 19, 2007

De Waal Says Last Year’s Solutions Won’t Work in Darfur

Appearing before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, April 19, to deliver testimony on the current situation in Darfur, SSRC Program Director Alex de Waal told committee members that the conflict can no longer be described as one between Africans and Arabs. Predicting that the region would take at least five years to stabilize, he urged the committee to take the "long view" in setting policy for achieving peace and security in Sudan.

De Waal was invited by Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Lantos (D-CA) to give testimony along with actress Mia Farrow, who in her capacity of goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, recently launched, containing a guide on how to get involved in Darfur activism, and John Prendergast, a senior advisor to the International Crisis Group who has focused on bringing international attention to the situation in Sudan. Go to Foreign Affairs Committee program.

Specifically, de Waal was instructed by the committee to give his assessment on the current violence and humanitarian situation in Darfur:

  • What impact has the recent rash of violence had on the stability of Darfur and the region?
  • Will the new agreement between the Sudanese government and the United States to deploy UN peacekeepers bring temporary peace for the people in Darfur?
  • What role has China and the Arab League played recently towards a settlement of the Darfur crisis?

De Waal used the opportunity to deliver the following key points:

  • While the current political alignment is not favorable for a rapid peace settlement in Darfur, the immediate aim of policymakers should be a "robust and monitorable ceasefire."
  • Darfur's nightmare is taking new forms. Thanks to the work of humanitarian agencies, fewer people are being killed than at the peak of the atrocities (2003 - 2004), but the capacity for renewed violence on a comparable scale remains, especially as Darfur is "awash with weaponry."
  • "Genocide" implies that Darfur's crisis consists of Arabs killing Africans, but such a depiction is inaccurate. "Darfur's crisis is complicated and has changed. Last year's solutions can no longer work. Last year's labels may no longer fit."
  • The Darfur armed groups are more fractured today than at any time in their short history, and the prospects of unifying them are remote. "Arab groups have emerged as independent actors and should be represented in any new peace process."
  • External interference by Chad , Eritrea, and Libya has intensified.
  • Credible mediation is needed, but the most important interlocutors--the African Union, the UN--face conflicts of interest.
  • A larger international force could improve conditions in Darfur, but it would need to devote much of its capacity to force protection. Also, any international force dispatched to Darfur "should expect to be there for a minimum of five years."

Alex de Waal's Involvement in Darfur

Alex de Waal lived and worked in Darfur from 1985 to 1987, where he conducted research for his Ph.D. thesis on the 1984 - 1985 Darfur famine in Sudan. During the 1990s, he dedicated his attention to the question of the marginalized peoples of Northern Sudan. He spent much of 2005 and 2006 as an advisor to Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, the African Union's chief mediator for the Darfur conflict. His principal role in the peace talks was in facilitating the negotiations on security issues. The role also included overseeing an implementation task force, consisting of military officers from the UN and the AU. At that time, he also made a last-ditch, and ultimately unsuccessful, effort to persuade Abdel Wahid al Nur to join the peace agreement.

De Waal has been a frequent commentator on Darfur in major print and broadcast media. Most recently, he was cited in a New York Times article by Lydia Polgreen, "Militia Talks Could Reshape Conflict in Darfur," and he was also the inspiration behind a feature article in the April issue of the Atlantic Monthly called "The Real Roots of Darfur."

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Alex de Waal of the SSRC will present five points of “necessary knowledge” for taking effective action in Darfur.

photo: Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard News Office


John Prendergast of Enough! will present his Plan B “with teeth” for Darfur.

photo: Ed Schipul