In early 2003, after several years of simmering violence, rebel groups in Darfur launched a full-scale rebellion against Sudanese government targets. Two groups emerged. The Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) enjoyed early successes, capturing el-Fasher airport, but then nearly succumbed to Khartoum’s brutal counter-offensive. It was further weakened by internal tensions between its two leaders, Abdel-Wahid Mohammad Nur (a Fur) and Minni Arku Minawi (a Zaghawa). The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) was more developed politically than the SLA but less significant militarily.
In recent years, the presence of arms in refugee and internally displaced person (IDP) camps in the Darfur region has led observers to describe them as militarized. Though the term is evocative, it is imprecise and does not adequately describe the complex situations in which many displaced Darfurians are living.
Beyond 'Janjaweed': Understanding the Militias of Darfur is not a comprehensive account of the scores of tribal militias that have been armed by, or cooperated with, the government. Its subject is not the human rights violations committed in the course of the counterinsurgency. Rather, it seeks to disentangle the militias and to begin to understand their motivations and grievances.
Rhetoric and Reality: The Failure to Resolve the Darfur Conflict, based on interviews with mediators, government officials, humanitarian workers, and militia and rebel leaders, traces the troubled history of peace efforts after Abuja.
Although the international community generally holds that the Darfur conflict has experienced profound and propitious improvement since 2010, Forgotten Darfur: Old Tactics and New Players thus argues that, as the conflict enters its ninth year, there is no clear-cut prospect of a decisive end to violent confrontation. Its key findings include the following:
On 5 May 2006 the Government of Sudan (GoS) and one rebel group, SLM-Minawi, signed the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA). This ceasefi re and peace agreement was the result of intense pressure from the international community and the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council on both the parties and the mediators in the hope of ending the killing and human rights violations in Darfur. Six previous rounds of talks and the agreements they produced had failed to accomplish this.
In early April 2007, China dispatched Assistant Foreign Minister Zhai Jun to Sudan to discuss Khartoum’s acceptance of UN peacekeeping support for Darfur, which Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir had long rejected. It was an unusually direct overture from Beijing, which had steadfastly protected the sovereignty of its African trade partner. Shortly after the visit, Khartoum reversed its previous intransigence and agreed to the ‘heavy support package’ of more than 3,000 UN military personnel to the Darfur region.
On 2 February 2008, a force of around 4,000 fighters from the three main rebel groups in Chad—Union des forces pour la démocratie et le développement (UFDD), UFDD–Fondamentale (UFDD/F), and Rassemblement des forces pour le changement (RFC)— reached the Chadian capital, N’Djamena. Supported by Khartoum, they had come from West Darfur less than a week before, crossing the border around Adé, south of El Geneina.
After nine years of rebellion, proxy arming, and shifting alignments between the Government of Sudan (GoS) and both Arab and non-Arab populations in the region, the Darfur conflict appears little closer to resolution than it did in 2003. 1 Successive mediation efforts—in Abuja (2006), Tripoli (2007), and Doha (2009–12), among other initiatives—have not bridged the gaps between Khartoum and the multiplicity of Darfur armed opposition groups. In fact, although some parts of Darfur have become appreciably more peaceful, the last 18 months has witnessed an evolution of the conflict as a whole.