While candidate Obama spoke out fiercely against genocide in Darfur, President Obama extended a hand to the architects of the killing in Khartoum. The Administration’s policy review on Sudan, completed late last year, promised a new strategy of engagement with Sudan, spearheaded by Sudanese envoy, General Scott Gration.
For the moment, that policy, Gration claims, is on the verge of yielding positive results. “We have had agreements in the past; most have failed. I think this is different.” Gration’s optimism is powered by the signing by President Omar al-Bashir of a ceasefire deal in Doha with the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the largest rebel group in Darfur.
The Doha pact lays out a timetable for negotiations, promises to protect and defend Darfur’s residents from violence and intimidation, and commits Khartoum to establishing fair representation in democratic institutions. Chad, Sudan’s western neighbor, has also joined in the peace process, lowering tensions between rival neighbors.
While the ceasefire may be a positive sign, Sudan has a long way to go until it reaches stability. Other Darfur rebel groups have denounced the North’s deal with JEM. Additional points of controversy include a proposed referendum in 2011 to determine Darfur’s potential independence, resolution of war crime charges laid against al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court, and the upcoming April presidential elections to be held in most of Sudan, including the non-Arab south.
The Obama Administration is likely to claim a rare foreign policy victory in Darfur. But the U.S. should not get ahead of itself. With an estimated 300,000 people dead and 2.7 million displaced, any movement towards a permanent resolution is welcome. But the negotiations are only one step towards reducing violence in Darfur and must not be used as an excuse to prematurely lift sanctions. Sudan’s process of recovery has a long way to go and it must be held accountable.