Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Saturday, January 2

The state of Sudan

Jeffrey Gettleman writes in today's New York Times about the uneasy calm that has settled in Darfur. With attacks down and freedom of movement increased, with the government's sponsorship of violence seemingly ceased and the janjaweed subdued, the situation seems markedly improved from a few years ago. Still, while the dire predictions upon the expulsion of 13 aid agencies last year never materialized, 2.7 million people remain displaced and continue to harbor legitimate fears for return. And, peacekeepers and aid workers are still under siege.

Sudanese Darfur has started to look much like its cross-border counterpart in Chad, where criminality is rampant and rebel groups lie dormant, but never at peace. According to the article, Lt. Gen. Patrick Nyamvumba calls the crisis "frozen."

At the same time, Gettleman writes, "The focus in Sudan seems to be steadily shifting to the South." But while he notes that "the root cause of both rebellions, in the south and in Darfur, is the same: marginalization," the connection is stronger than this—these two conflicts have always been intrinsically linked, with an ebb and flow of violence between the two regions: Darfur erupted in 2003 as South Sudan's 20-year civil war drew to a close, culminating in 2005's Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Now, with the South's referendum on independence looming, the tide seems to be rising again there.

Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of independence in Sudan, and Alex de Waal, on his blog Making Sense of Darfur, summed up the mood eloquently:

What has unified the Sudanese people is not a permanent constitution or a common national project, but an unending dialogue, a vibrant national discussion about what Sudan should be. The tragedy is that this debate has been too often conducted with intolerance and violence. But the Sudanese have also shown a remarkable capacity for reflection, reinvention and civil debate about their collective identity.

South Sudan's referendum is scheduled for a year from now; in the next 12 months, we can only hope that the situation in Darfur will continue to improve and that the South will enter this momentous vote without violence—and that their independence day, if such is the outcome, will portend more peace and prosperity than did the one 50 years ago.