What the Islamic Conference got wrong on Darfur

FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) pledged $850 million dollars for future development in Darfur on Sunday in Cairo.  Egypt and Turkey co-chaired the donor’s conference–which aimed to jumpstart international commitment to long-term reconstruction and development in Darfur after seven years of conflict, mass displacement, and humanitarian crisis. ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY

Members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) pledged $850 million dollars for future development in Darfur on Sunday in Cairo.  Egypt and Turkey co-chaired the donor's conference--which aimed to jumpstart international commitment to long-term reconstruction and development in Darfur after seven years of conflict, mass displacement, and humanitarian crisis. Some countries making generous pledges willfully ignored the ongoing security challenges and unresolved conflict between the Darfuri rebels and the Sudanese government. In this way, the OIC--like the League of Arab States in its response to the Darfur crisis--sought to help the people of Darfur without addressing those most responsible for their deplorable conditions.   

FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY

Members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) pledged $850 million dollars for future development in Darfur on Sunday in Cairo.  Egypt and Turkey co-chaired the donor’s conference–which aimed to jumpstart international commitment to long-term reconstruction and development in Darfur after seven years of conflict, mass displacement, and humanitarian crisis. Some countries making generous pledges willfully ignored the ongoing security challenges and unresolved conflict between the Darfuri rebels and the Sudanese government. In this way, the OIC–like the League of Arab States in its response to the Darfur crisis–sought to help the people of Darfur without addressing those most responsible for their deplorable conditions.   

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, for instance, said in his opening statement, "Since the beginning of the crisis in Darfur, the basic issue has been one of development, which has taken on political, tribal and social dimensions." This short-sighted view of the recent bloody history of Darfur conveniently avoids placing blame on the government of Sudan or any other political agents. 

Having just returned from Darfur, I know that Aboul Gheit’s prescription that "the core solution to the Darfur crisis must focus on increasing rates of development and improving the standard of living for each citizen in Darfur" will be met with heavy skepticism by the over 2 million people living in internally displaced camps and many of the United Nations agencies assisting them.  

To a person, they told me that security does not exist yet in Darfur to begin large-scale development projects in rural areas.  Continued clashes between the Sudanese government and various rebel factions, as well as general banditry, prevent Darfuris from returning home from the camps and development staff from venturing out into what’s referred to as "the deep field."  For instance, the Arab League over the last year has been championing its funding of "model villages" in Darfur–but those on the ground say that the few villages that have been built thus far are located in areas still not secure and therefore remain empty.

It is quite ironic that even Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir acknowledged this past Saturday that security and development are two sides of the same coin.  On a trip to Darfur for an election campaign rally in El-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur that sits on the border with Chad, he pledged the government’s willingness to make peace with all of the rebel movements and then to turn his government’s attention to reconstruction.  Unfortunately, Bashir and his party after so many years of conflict have lost the complete trust of people in Darfur to make good on these promises.

So when Darfuris hear of these pledges from the OIC, most will assume the assistance will be controlled by the Sudanese government to pave over its past crimes. For this reason, the OIC should encourage full transparency of all of the donors to ensure that Darfuris know where and how the money is being spent. The OIC should also coordinate all planning and implementation of development projects with relevant UN agencies that have been working in Darfur since the early days of the conflict. Likewise, rather than relying on the government as the chief intermediary, the OIC should engage directly with Darfuri civil society and local leaders.

More importantly, for the OIC’s considerable investment in development in Darfur to contribute to durable peace, its members must understand the political nature of their assistance and then use this leverage to press for behavioral changes by the Sudanese government and rebel movements.  It could rely, for example, on independent assessments from the United Nations/African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) and mediation team to tie development assistance to progress on security and political issues.  If, however, the OIC cannot muster the courage to confront Sudan–a member state–on dangerous elements of its military and security policies in Darfur (such as its failure to disarm the notorious janjaweed, and continued impunity  for all military personnel operating in Darfur), then its members should hold back their assistance until peace has been firmly achieved.

It would be so much easier if Darfur’s problems amounted simply to a lack of development.  Poverty though did not arm militias to push millions of people off their lands, and impoverishment does not today prevent the Sudanese government and rebel movements from taking actions to finally protect their people and secure peace. Until the OIC members acknowledge these facts, they will not be able to contribute significantly to peace and prosperity in Darfur and the rest of Sudan.

Sean P. Brooks is a policy expert at the Save Darfur Coalition. He recently returned from a trip to Sudan during which he spent a week in Darfur. 

<p> Sean P. Brooks is a policy expert at the Save Darfur Coalition. </p>

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.