What do Sudan’s recent elections mean for the people of Darfur? In all likelihood, they augur increasing violence and deteriorating humanitarian conditions. There has already been a sharp increase in military activity by the Khartoum regime and its Janjaweed militia allies over the past four months, particularly in the Jebel Marra and Jebel Moon regions, where rebel presence is most significant. All signs since the elections suggest an even greater increase in violence. And as has been the case since the beginning of the genocidal counter-insurgency effort that began in earnest in 2003, civilians are the ones bearing the brunt of renewed attacks by the regime. Numerous reports come from The Sudan Tribune and Radio Dabanga, both of which have extensive contacts on the ground; additional reporting comes from Darfuris in the diaspora who remain in close touch with their families, villages, and important leaders in the region.
One ominous result of the electoral triumph by Omar al-Bashir and his National Congress Party is that negotiations with Darfur’s rebels will almost certainly become more unyielding. Claiming the mantle of national authority on the basis of April’s hopelessly fraudulent elections, al-Bashir and his security cabal will give less and demand more of the rebel negotiators, who themselves seem to be weakening politically. With the rapprochement between Khartoum and N’Djamena and the associated loss of military might, the Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM, has lost significant negotiating strength in Doha. (Chad has long been the mainstay for JEM logistics, weapons, and safe haven.) The various factions that make up the newly formed Liberty and Justice Movement have yet to prove themselves to be a cohesive force, either on the ground or in the talks in Doha, which seem to be withering. JEM formally suspended participation in the Doha process on May 4 because of ongoing military actions against them, despite the February 23 cease-fire signed by Khartoum—only the latest that the regime has failed to honor.
Abdel Wahid el-Nur, leader of the original Sudan Liberation Army, or SLA, movement remains adamant in refusing to participate in peace negotiations prior to establishment of security in Darfur. This is an impossible precondition, a fact made ironically clear by intra-factional fighting within Abdel Wahid’s SLA in March. This emboldened Khartoum to mount a major offensive in previously impregnable eastern Jebel Marra, Abdel Wahid’s stronghold. There are numerous reports of villages destroyed, civilians slaughtered, and indiscriminate aerial attacks—hitting water sources, killing not only people but massive numbers of livestock, and producing large-scale human displacement. Before being forced to leave eastern Jebel Marra in late February, Medecins du Monde estimated that some 100,000 civilians had been newly displaced. Other aid groups have put the figure at 150,000.
Humanitarian conditions have deteriorated of late, as the consequences of Khartoum’s March 2009 expulsion of international humanitarian organizations bite deeper. Assessment, management, and overall quality of humanitarian assistance have declined significantly. Food is frequently reported as inadequate in a number of camps, and clean water is too often not available. The Famine Early Warning System warns of a very difficult “hunger gap” this year, with food security already deteriorating and expected to continue to do so through September because of poor harvests in 2009-10. One especially well informed Darfuri tells me he thinks the Global Acute Malnutrition rate for North Darfur already exceeds 40 percent; 15 percent is the threshold for a humanitarian emergency.
Darfur is looking at an exceedingly grim future, even as international attention has steadily drifted away—first to the national elections, now to the referenda in southern Sudan (including Abyei). Protection provided to Darfuris by the U.N./African Union “hybrid” force is woefully inadequate, and even the force’s ability to report in reliable and timely fashion on violations of the nominal cease-fire in place is extremely limited, often because of Khartoum’s obstructionism.
No region in Sudan saw more egregious fraud in the April elections, as well as in the census and voter registration processes that preceded. No region in Sudan is poised to suffer more from the results of this electoral travesty.
Dr. Eric Reeves is a professor of English language and literature at Smith College. He has spent the past 11 years working full-time as a Sudan researcher and analyst, publishing extensively both in the U.S. and internationally.