Sudan and Darfur: The Problem Is Political

By Fathi M. El Fadl People's Weekly World

June 10, 2006

The following is a response to questions posed by the People’s Weekly World editorial board to Fathi M. El Fadl, a leader of the Sudanese Communist Party, about the current situation in Sudan and in particular Darfur.

Founded in 1946, the Sudanese Communist Party has been a political force in the country for 60 years, despite harsh repression against it. Although relatively small, it was considered the best organized political party when Sudan won its independence from Britain in 1956. Sudan’s current president, Omar al-Bashir, took power in a 1989 coup. Since then, “the SCP has emerged as one of the Bashir government’s most effective internal opponents, largely through fairly regular publication and circulation of its underground newspaper, Al Midan,” according to

Taking issue with many western media reports, El Fadl says the crisis in Sudan is not one of race or ethnicity (Arab vs. African), but a political and economic one that requires political and economic solutions.

The problem of Darfur is a political one. It is part of Sudan’s overall political crisis. It will never be properly tackled except in the framework of a comprehensive political solution to the problems of the country.

Sudan’s colonial legacy cannot be blamed for today’s problems. It is 50 years since the British left the Sudan. The problem is that Sudan is 10 times worse than when the British left. Those who took power either through democratic election or military means failed the people of the Sudan miserably.

All Sudan’s regimes followed a capitalist path of development. The present regime of the National Islamic Front — now they call themselves National Congress — is considered by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to be one of their success stories. It implemented the IMF structural program to the hilt. The policies implemented by Sudan’s various regimes have resulted in the uneven development in the country. Today, people in the center can use computers, graduate from universities, have access to medicine and some modern life, while in the majority of the Sudan, west, south, east and north, people are hungry, with no future.

Solving the Sudanese crisis, with all its depth, complexity and interconnected aspects, requires peace, unity, democracy and balanced development that can only be achieved through the active participation of political parties, representatives of the regions, including those carrying arms, and civil society organizations. The problems cannot be dealt with as a secondary byproduct of the settlement of the civil war in the South, as the U.S. and other governments think. The grounds for civil wars are still there. The agreement reached on the South in 2005 did not put an end to the factors fueling conflicts and the dangers to the unity of the country.

Real solutions for Darfur

The Darfur crisis is the result of the political and economic marginalization of broad sectors of the Sudan, and cannot be remedied except by a dialogue, leading to a peaceful, just political solution based on commitment to eradicating the roots of the conflict.

A real solution requires:

  • emphasizing the principle of democratic transformation on both national and regional levels, respecting human rights as stated in international convenants, and the supremacy of the rule of law — guaranteed by a permanent constitution providing civil rights and liberties, separation of powers with an independent judiciary, equality and nondiscrimination based on race, religion, gender or culture, and non-exploitation of religion in politics.
  • equal participation in all levels of government, a commitment to the principle of decentralization and a federal government based on diffusion of authority between the center and the regions.
  • just distribution of wealth between the center and regions to achieve balanced and sustained development.
  • establishing ownership of land in Darfur based on rights of the various tribes, while at the same time taking into consideration the common good in the area.
  • spreading the principle of reconciliation and coexistence among tribes in Darfur with the aim of preserving the social fabric.

    Steps towards a settlement of the war in Darfur must start with putting an end to acts of belligerency. A real ceasefire, supervised by enlarged African Union forces, well equipped and supported, must be followed by immediate disbanding and disarming of the Janjaweed militias. Direct dialogue should be initiated to attain a just settlement based on the principles listed above.

    Participants in the Arab Summit in Khartoum last March committed themselves to finance African Union troops in Sudan until October. The AU forces have extended their mission till September. By October they will be under United Nations mandate. The composition of an international force under the UN mandate should follow those already on the ground, that is, African and Asian forces. It should not include forces from NATO or Arab countries.

    While noting the efforts of AU forces to monitor the ceasefire and protect civilians, we nevertheless notice the persistence of grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Darfur.

    Troops in Darfur, AU or UN, must include in their mandate and duties the protection of the civilian population and cooperation with the International Criminal Court. The failure of the government to settle the conflict is reflected in the impunity of the authors of the heinous crimes committed in Darfur. The court established by the government to prosecute criminals has neither the will nor the power to prosecute. Effective access to justice must be provided for victims of crimes against humanity, before national and international jurisdictions.

    Destroyed villages must be rebuilt and safe return of the original inhabitants must be made possible.

    Who is responsible?

    The government is the main force responsible for the catastrophe in Darfur. It, and its Janjaweed militia, have targeted civilians from the same ethnic groups as Darfur’s two rebel movements. As part of this campaign of ethnic cleansing, the government has encouraged, supported and armed members of Arab tribes to attack their neighbors. The increasing violence has left hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need of food, shelter and protection against ongoing attacks. Whether it has reached the level of genocide is irrelevant for the people of Darfur. They simply want to live in peace.

    Since the beginning of the year the situation has significantly deteriorated, due to attacks by the Janjaweed and government forces on civilians, both within and outside the camps. In addition, all parties to the conflict have violated the ceasefire.

    Recently the conflict has taken on a larger international dimension: Sudanese government-backed militias and Chadean rebels have launched cross-border attacks into Chad. The African Union has cited both the growing complexity of the operation and the need for a stable source of funding as the main reasons for handing over its 7,000-strong mission. Yet the AU forces continue to suffer from capacity constraints, insufficient technical support and constant obstruction from the Sudanese government.

    The government has promoted anti-UN propaganda, comparing the introduction of UN troops in Darfur to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. What the government officials neglect to say is that 6,000 UN troops are already in the Sudan, deployed as part of the 2005 peace agreement for the South. This mission is expected to reach 10,000 troops. Thus Sudan already hosts foreign troops in its territory. It was the government that invited them. The government is clearly attempting to manipulate public opinion with inflammatory misinformation about a non-existent invasion of the country.

    Rich in resources

    Darfur is rich with natural resources. Oil is one. There is talk of uranium, gold and other resources. At the same time, it is known that the U.S. is planning to build a pipeline from Saudi Arabia through Sudan and Chad down to Cameroon, to transport the oil of all these countries to the USA. The carrot-and-stick game between the U.S. administration and Sudan’s government is indicative of the behind-the-scene talks on the pipeline project, and the aim of U.S. oil cartels to replace the Chinese in the oilfields in Sudan’s South.

    France is another player. Chad is its domain and Chad has oil. France is not ready to let the situation in Darfur endanger stability in Chad and the flow of oil to France. Libya played a major role in the change of regime in Chad. Libya has tribes that move in and out of Sudan. It has a vested interest in the conflict.

    Sudan’s people and its future

    All the people of Darfur are Muslims, and all are black. The nomadic tribes are mainly of Arab origin and the rebels belong mostly to African tribes. There are two main rebel movements in Darfur. The major one is the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement. Its leaders come from the major African tribes. Its policies are to a great extent a reflection of the mainstream policies of the Sudanese opposition to the regime. It has good relations with the National Democratic Alliance, the umbrella that groups all opposition forces including the Sudanese Communist Party. A small group split off recently, over personality issues.

    The second group is the Justice and Equality Movement. It has strong links with the Islamic leader Hassan El Turabi who engineered the 1989 coup that brought the present government to power, but who was removed in a palace coup in 1999. It is difficult at this stage to envisage separation of Darfur from Sudan. No one in the rebel movements is advocating independence. But also it cannot be ruled out if a solution proves difficult to achieve.

    It is rather difficult to pass a judgment on the agreement reached on Darfur. But it is not a good omen that not all factions have signed. Even if all sign on, it will take a long time to see results. The people on the ground are also important and may have a different view of what has to be done. That is why it is important that the AU and the so-called mediators should try to accommodate the requests of the groups involved, imploring the government to give more concessions with regard to sharing genuine power, ensuring security on the ground and wealth-sharing.

    I think Sudan as a country is in danger, but the danger is coming from the government, which refuses to implement the peace agreement signed last year with the SPLM of the South. The government is playing with fire that can burn the unity of the country.


    For those in other countries wishing to express solidarity with the Sudanese people, the most important action is to explain the political ramifications of the crisis of Darfur, both domestic and international, and the real way out, as described here. As important as humanitarian aid is, in fact charity organizations are carrying out their work in Darfur. What is missing is an understanding of the political depth of the problem. On the other hand for us it is important to unmask the position of the Sudanese government, to demand that it cooperate with efforts to hold accountable those responsible for violation of human rights in Darfur, including through the International Criminal Court.

    About the author: Fathi M. El Fadl is a member of the Sudanese Communist Party’s international affairs committee.