Peace Politics in Sudan

Suzie Wagner


John Paul Lederach [1] argues that in order to move a conflict from violence to peace, peacebuilders must view the conflict using three separate lenses: one lens that is capable of viewing the immediate situation, another that can view the patterns and context that underpin the conflict, and another lens that "holds these perspectives together" by providing a conceptual framework that will create "a platform to address both the presenting issues and the changes needed at the level of the deeper relational patterns" (10 - 11).

In order to approach the topic at hand - a proposal to create peace by addressing the politics of the deeply divided society in Sudan - this paper begins with a brief overview of the present situation in Darfur and then moves to a more in-depth conflict analysis. Next, the paper will examine through the second lens a pattern and context that underpins the conflict. That understanding will demonstrate what has been missing in peacebuilding efforts thus far. The final section of the paper will then balance the two perspectives, holding them together in order to formulate a new conceptual framework that just might make conflict transformation from violence to positive peace possible in Darfur and greater Sudan.

The Immediate Situation

Most Recent Updates

The past few weeks have seen a flurry of activity surrounding the now eight-year-old war in Darfur. The Justice and Equality Movement [JEM] has signed a framework agreement that includes a ceasefire agreement with the Government of Sudan [GoS] [2]. The Liberation Movement for Justice [LMJ], a fairly new group comprising a group of rebels unassociated with JEM, has also signed an agreement with the GoS [3]. JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim has threatened to break the agreement his group signed if the government continues to talk with the other groups, insisting the others should fall in line with the JEM [4]. The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army Abdel-Wahid (SLM/A-Abdel Wahid) and SLM/A-Ahmed Abdelshafi have refused to sign an agreement with the [2] stating that security on the ground must come before a framework agreement can be formed [4]. Presumably in response to the increased prestige of the GoS with the international community for signing these agreements, and as a resort to the use of coercive force against SLM/A Abdel Wahi and SLM/A Ahmed Abdelshafi, the GoS has increased its military campaign in the Darfur region, especially near the Jebel Marra [5] [6]. The present situation in Darfur, then, is characterized by a heightened military presence and campaign by the GoS, two rebel groups refusing to engage the GoS politically until the violence stops, two groups of rebel factions entering into agreement with the GoS, and millions of Darfuri refugees in camps in Chad and internally displaced persons in camps inside Sudan.

Conflict Mapping [7]

Understand What the Conflict is About

The conflict in Darfur has elicited causal explanations ranging from economic and political marginalization to ethnic identity disputes to environmental scarcity and even to religion. This paper will focus first on the causes as identified by the aggrieved party and then review some of the causes as described by outside observers.

Analyze the History and Causes of the Conflict

Political and Economic Causes

In February 2000, anonymous authors (most probably related to the Justice and Equality Movement) began distributing The Black Book, outlining economic and political marginalization and developmental neglect of the eastern, southern, central and western regions by the GoS [8]. While the evidence in the book is represented as factual, it is nearly impossible to verify. That said, the claims in the book do represent the perspective of the authors, a valuable insight into the perceived political and economic causes of the conflict. Development money originally ear-marked for projects across the landscape of Sudan had been redirected to the Northern region. The Black Book accuses specific ministers of redirecting funds from projects outside the Northern region to projects inside that region.

Politically, government officials from the Northern region occupied more constitutional or ministerial positions than the population in the Northern region should claim proportionally. The GoS has employed specific strategies that maintain the dominance of the Northern Region [8]. With these two strategies in place, the prospects for change are dim.

Though difficult to verify the contents of the Black Book, it is clear that the perception of this marginalization caused by members of the Northern Region dominated the political scene in the entire country. As one commentator notes,

What created a shock were not the contents of the book but simply the fact that an unspoken taboo had been broken and that somebody (obviously not a [Riverine Arab]) had dared to put into print what everybody knew but did not want to talk about. [9]

It was not so much that the marginalization was shocking, or that the book provided any new information; rather it was that the authors of the book had broken that 'taboo' and talked about it publicly and explicitly.

Other Causes

The Ethnic Element

Explanations that emphasize Darfur's ethnic nature are certainly the most salient: the conflict is based on the ruling Arab elite in Khartoum ethnically cleansing the African periphery in Darfur. One expert on the region aptly stated, "The present crisis has been presented in the media as consisting of a form of ethnic cleansing verging on the genocidal, as carried out at Khartoum's behest by 'Arab' tribes against 'African' ones. This is both true and false…" [9]. While many interviews with refugees in Chad demonstrate very clearly the ethnic nature of this conflict, history actually shows us that the government was responding to a rebellion from the west when they hired Musa Hilal, the leader of the infamous janjaweed. Flint & de Waal [10] argue that Hilal , the leader of the infamous janjaweed, actually introduced the racist element of the conflict. If so, then it follows that the conflict is not an inexplicable ethnic campaign to eliminate the 'Africans' in Darfur by GoS, because had no rebellion occurred, the GoS would not have required Hilal's services in the first place. Ethnicity is very much an element of the conflict, and has contributed by escalating the conflict and in some ways sustaining it, but it should not be considered as a cause of the conflict itself.

The Environmental Element

Aside from the ethnic element of the conflict, probably the second-most cited cause of conflict in this region is environmental scarcity - and with good reason. The past several decades have riddled Darfur with declining rainfall and drought and previous conflicts in Darfur also have their roots in environmental scarcity. The desertification of the Sahel has exacerbated conflict between certain ethnic groups, to be sure. However, it is difficult to trace environmental scarcity outside of desertification as a direct and primary cause of the present conflict.

Confounding Effects

Economic underdevelopment and environmental scarcity as causes of a conflict are difficult to tease apart. The economically marginalized are usually those who are also living much closer to nature. Economic underdevelopment generally serves to exacerbate environmental constraints even more. Arguments have certainly been made that responding to economic needs will mitigate the effects of environmental scarcity and also reduce the use of violence.

In Darfur, where violence has erupted in the past, the parties involved have justifiably perceived the situation to be an existential battle over resources. Landowners plant crops and thus need their land to be free from grazing and trampling. Pastoralists need to move their herds to feed them. Historically, the relationship has been mutually beneficial: herders move across the land before the planting season, fertilizing as they go which in turn benefits the crop yields of the farmers [10]. When desertification began pushing herds to migrate earlier and earlier in the seasons, the farmers' crops began to suffer [11]. In turn, the farmers began to 'defend' their land by planting fences or by simply burning the grasses in the field to prevent the herds from having access to food [12].

Viewed within the ethnic context, the situation is even clearer. Generally, the farmers in the Darfur region are the 'Africans' and the pastoralists are the 'Arabs.' This typical generalization serves to cement the ethnic element, further blurring the differences between ethnic, environmental and economic causes. These 'causes' help explain past conflicts, but those past conflicts hardly grew to present-day proportions. These earlier conflicts simply did not persist as the present conflict has, suggesting some other factor must be also be present to sustain the conflict.

The Religious Element

Another, but less common, explanation of the conflict suggests that the Muslim government is prosecuting crimes against a Christian Darfur region of Sudan. Even though it has been nearly impossible to find documentation of this explanation, the Washington Post responded to this common misperception when it published an article, "5 Truths About Darfur," which demystified the religious aspect of the conflict and resolutely declared, "Nearly everyone is Muslim" [13]. Rather than the conflict being based upon Muslim-on-Christian violence, it may actually be because the Darfurians are mostly Muslim that they believe they are victims of targeted ethnic cleansing by the government. They might perceive a Muslim government targeting other Muslims; perhaps they are more likely to perceive "Arabs" targeting "Africans," the aspect of their identities conspicuously different from the government.

More importantly, the religious element of the conflict is more directly linked to the politics of the country. Ideological splits in the ruling party over the use of Sharia law to govern the country has caused turmoil between President Bashir, his former mentor Hassan Turabi, and Khalil Ibrahim, leader of the JEM. Just recently, this theory about the origins of the conflict has received more international attention after the US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice explicitly characterized the recently signed framework agreement as "a mere truce between two Islamist factions" [14]. The religious nature of this conflict is not based on inter religious fighting, rather on religious-political infighting.

Assess Positions and Interests

The current positions and interests of the parties are difficult to determine beyond those stated in the rebel manifesto at the beginning of the conflict. As the conflict enters its eighth year, the positions and interests of the parties must also have presumably changed over time. Based on the recent events in Doha, the positions and interests of each party have been at least partially enunciated, though some of these must be inferred as the information is not wholly available.

The rebels are currently comprised of four main groups (see analysis below). Presumably, many/most of the rebels are seeking improved economic development and access in Darfur, which includes development money for roads, healthcare, education, and access to jobs [15]. Also, many/most of the groups seek equal representation in the central government in order to control the disbursement of development money and the completion of development projects all over the country [15]. Therefore, the position of the groups is that the government must distribute revenue amongst the states in Sudan equally and that all the states must be equally represented in the central government. The groups are interested in fair and equal access to the government, both economically and politically, so that all Sudanese have the opportunity for improvement and a better future.

Politically, the JEM is the most suspect of all the groups. Originally, the JEM was closely linked with Hassan Turabi, the mentor to President Bashir and the man who helped the President successfully gain control of the government in 1989 in a coup d'état [10] [9]. The JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim has attempted to distance the group from Turabi due to Turabi's extremist Islamist connections in the past (notably Osama bin Laden) [10] [16].[17] It is possible JEM is seeking political access for more than just the representation of the Darfurians.

The GoS is interested in resolving the conflict in Darfur to maintain the status quo. The conflict in Darfur has the potential to disrupt the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (in the South). This may or may not be an advantage for the government, as disrupted elections would prevent the South from seceding from Sudan, or the conflict might create an even greater financial strain on the government if the CPA remains intact as it is.

The GoS is also interested in avoiding international repercussions for the conflict, while at the same time maximizing the opportunities the conflict creates in the international community. The ICC has brought several charges against Bashir (among others), but Sudan is not a signatory to the Rome Statute so the Court has no jurisdiction over the state [16]. The international community has imposed a sanctions regime on Sudan through Security Council resolutions 1556 and 1591 [19]. On the other hand, the Sudan Tribune has recently announced renewed funding from the US for famine watch infrastructure in the northern states of Sudan, presumably a bi-lateral deal to influence the GoS to sign the recent ceasefire with JEM [20].

Understand the Actors

Analyze the Parties to the Conflict

(SLM/A-Abdel Wahid, SLM/A-Ahmed Abdelshafi, JEM, LMJ, GoS, janjaweed, people of Darfur)

The parties in the conflict have morphed and changed considerably over time in this conflict. The single most important attribute to understand about the rebels is their fractioning tendencies; the rebels are not unified. As the conflict began, the SLM/A was a unified group, the larger of the two rebel movements [10]. The JEM was smaller, but had much more political savvy [10]. JEM and SLM/A loosely coordinated their efforts in the rebellion but did not merge into one group, mostly due to the religious differences between them; the JEM was more Islamic and sought Islamic law over the country where the SLM/A was Islamic but sought a secular government [10].

Not long after the conflict began, the SLM/A split into two separate groups, SLM/A Abdel Wahid and SLM/A Minnawi (after leader Minni Minawi) [10]. In 2006, Minni Minnawi was the sole rebel leader to sign the Darfur Peace Agreement and it was that signature that caused both SLM/A factions to splinter into many smaller groups, shifting alliances with one another and sometimes with JEM. The JEM also declined to sign the agreement [21]. Due to the fractionalization of the SLM/A groups, the JEM grew in momentum and has become the largest, most powerful rebel faction in the conflict.

Upon the recent signing of the new framework peace and ceasefire agreement between JEM and GoS, ten rebel groups splintered away from the JEM and formed their own umbrella organization, the LMJ [22]. This group is being backed by Libya [23]; the group's prestige is evidenced in that the mediation team is holding talks with the group, though the relative power and prestige of the group as compared to the SLM/A groups and the JEM is unclear.

The GoS armed force is made up of the Sudanese Armed Forces that comprises the regular fighting forces and the Popular Defense Forces (PDF) (a quasi-conscription service similar to our National Guard). The government employed the janjaweed because the soldiers in the SAF were mostly from the Darfur region and therefore could not be trusted to root out the rebellion. (Because the janjaweed is contentious and ambiguous, they will be treated separately below.)

The GoS is still militarily superior to the rebel movements that remain in Darfur and not at the negotiating table. While the GoS is under tremendous pressure to stop the violence in Darfur, the GoS is also simultaneously receiving weapons and armaments from China and Russia [24] [25]. At the same time, the GoS is also under pressure to conduct elections related to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in November of 2010.

The janjaweed are mostly drawn from the 'Arab' ethnic groups in Darfur under direction of Musa Hilal [10]. The janjaweed sustain their strength by receiving funds from the government, weapons from the government and through looting 'rights'. The janjaweed preceded the conflict in Darfur by more than a decade and is not a creation of the GoS [10]. The GoS has argued that it is no longer in control of much of the janjaweed. Some members of the militia were recruited from jails and other criminal groups [10]. Tanner and Tubiana [21] suggest the group is solely motivated by economics. And Flint and de Waal [10] note the inherent racism of the group while news reports suggest the GoS has little or no control over the group's movements. It is difficult to determine which account is accurate, but the analysis herein requires that we accept this ambiguity and promote policies that accommodate the possibility that janjaweed is an altogether separate entity from the GoS.

Analyze Civil Society and the Populace

Lesch [26] explains that the policies of the National Islamic Front (NIF) (the party that executed the coup in 1989 that brought Bashir to power) have undermined and "destroyed" civil society in Sudan. The NIF stifled all non-party organizations over most of the country [26]. Much of the population of Darfur is displaced either internally or as refugees in camps. 2.7 million are displaced in Darfur with an additional 268,000 Darfur refugees in Chad [27]. Some observers report voluntary return by a small amount of displaced in South Sudan. Otherwise, the region is rife with insecurity caused by attacks by the government and janjaweed, attacks by the rebels, fights between the rebel groups, and attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) coming from South Sudan states (though the LRA originally came from northern Uganda) [27]

Identify International Actors

(United Nations, African Union, International Criminal Court, China, Russia, Chad, Libya)

The United Nations has been involved in the conflict to the extent the Security Council has imposed sanctions on Sudan and to the extent the UN has cooperated with the African Union in forming and sustaining the African Union/United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur [28]. The UN also referred the case to the ICC to determine what, if any, criminal acts had occurred in Darfur [28]. The African Union is also involved in providing the mediation team being used to attempt to resolve the conflict. The UN/AU mediator is scheduled to begin his duties in August, though the ceasefire agreement just signed seeks peace by March 15 this year [29]

The International Criminal Court is also attempting to exert influence in the conflict by leveling charges against the GoS for atrocities in Darfur and by reopening the possibility of the charge of genocide to be issued against the government. As stated previously, Sudan is not a party to the Rome Statute so the effect of the charges is to prevent the government from traveling to certain countries that are signatories and would be required to arrest the officials named by the Court [30].

The Chinese government has been implicated in supplying weapons and other materiel, exacerbating the war in Darfur [25]. Russia has also been implicated in weapons supplies to the region [24]. The GoS has accused Chad of supplying weapons and materiel to the rebels operating out of that state's territory and Chad has reciprocated those allegations against the GoS [31]. Libya is reportedly backing the new umbrella rebel group LJM [32].

Understand the Larger Context

Identify indigenous and international institutions for managing conflict

The African Union has created a Peace and Security Council in order to handle violent conflict when it arises and that council has provided mediation teams for the conflict in Darfur. Local mechanisms also exist for conflict resolution. Mohamed [33] describes local mediation efforts called judiyya. Ajwadi act as mediators and are usually elders in the community that are familiar with local customs. In most mediations, a group of Ajwadi perform the process of mediation which involves the separation of two conflicting parties and sometimes their arrest (offender and victim alike) until such time as the judiyya can be held and the status of 'brotherhood' can be restored. Mohamed [33] also notes that the government mediation institutions have come to slowly replace the traditional mechanisms where government institutions exist, though even still the government refers some cases to the judiyya because the traditional institution is more reliable and speedy.

Identify and Address Characteristics of Intractability

Many of the aspects of the conflict in Darfur contribute to its intractability. Parties on all sides of the conflict have been ushered (pressured) to the negotiating table by outside parties rather than coming to the negotiating table because the situation compels them to (ripeness/readiness) [34] [35]. The legacy of previous ceasefire agreements and failed peace agreements also increases the level of mistrust amongst all sides of the conflict. Some rebel groups have little legitimacy with the Darfur population and the GoS also has little legitimacy in the eyes of the Darfurians [34]. All parties to the conflict have potential ulterior motives (as discussed earlier), though it is nearly impossible to determine what the motivations are for each party. And the security situation in Darfur has created a dilemma for all parties to the conflict such that no party can reasonably or rationally disarm for fear of attack by the other parties. And the ethnic nature the conflict has taken on over time creates a situation where reconciliation and trust building becomes more and more difficult. Finally, the victim group has little to no voice in the negotiations and little or no way out of the conflict. Until that voice is tapped and those individuals are empowered, the conflict is likely to remain intractable.

Identify Resources and Parites' Control over them

The rebel movements and the janjaweed are draining resources from the land and the battles in which they are engaged. As noted, Chad has been accused of supporting the rebels against the government and the rebels are presumably receiving military assistance from Chad. Libya is also backing LJM and is most probably supporting that group as well. The janjaweed reportedly have connections with Libya as well as al Qaeda, though it has been difficult to confirm those connections [36] [37]. As noted, China and Russia are reportedly supplying the GoS with military materiel.

Assess the Relative Strength of Parties and how it is Changing

JEM is arguably the strongest of the rebel movements to date, though it is not strong enough to force the cooperation of the other groups to negotiate as a single unit. The GoS strength relative to the rebels has remained relatively unchanged. Neither party has had the military wherewithal to create that 'ripe' moment for negotiations; rather, the power situation has remained mostly balanced over time, prolonging the conflict because there is no decisive winner and loser. Even though the GoS had originally resorted to the janjaweed to fight the rebels, the janjaweed are largely out of the control of the GoS, indicating their increased in strength since the beginning of the conflict.

The Underlying Patterns and Context

The preceding conflict map does provide a rather thorough analysis of the situation in Darfur. The map explains the who, what, where, when and how of the story. The map identifies the issues of all the parties involved. But what the map does not explicate is how the conflict became violent; it is essential to clearly understand this aspect of the conflict because it provides insight into how violence can occur, on the one hand, and on the other hand, it identifies all the necessary elements involved in violent conflict. If we can understand all the necessary elements involved, then we can begin to pair those elements with intervention strategies and we will have a better chance at success in the future. This is not a novel argument. One can easily understand the logic behind the strategies presently used. Democratization and market liberalization both seek to neutralize 'causes' associated with deprivation or greed or grievance. Democratization in particular seeks to neutralize the power of the elites to garner support for a resort to violence by creating an alternative arena for competition.

But it is a profound and permeating failure to understand all the essential elements of violent conflict that has prevented the attainment of positive peace in these deeply divided societies. In order to move toward the ideal picture of the future, we must begin to focus on all essential elements of violent conflict. These four elements are: an elite element willing to organize and sustain violence, a group of followers willing to 'do violence' for these elites, an environment that provides the language to garner this support (political and economic deprivation, environmental scarcity, identity differences used to create fear), and a mass population willing to provide ideological and sometimes material support to these elites (but unwilling to 'do violence').

Most strategies for peacebuilding attempt to address three of the four elements. But it is the contention of this paper that by failing to address all four of these elements, any attempt at peacebuilding will have been set up for failure to begin. These four elements are linked in such a way that to ignore one of them is to sentence the entire effort at obtaining that ideal future to permanent failure. What is required is an approach that recognizes the essential nature of all these elements and begins to develop intervention strategies that confront each one effectively.

A Conceptual Framework

The question we are faced with, first, is what the ideal outcome of the intervention is or should be. Second, we must strategize regarding how to get there. In some ways, the first question is answered tautologically: the intervention strategies usually employed suggest the outcome we seek is one in which individuals can live their lives freely, with opportunity for education, healthcare, livelihood sustainability, and access to government. We imagine an outcome that resembles a just society, one that embraces positive peace and security. On the one hand, we have a list of the ideal elements that ought to be present in a post-conflict situation transitioning to peace. The focus on building democracy, market economy, and strong state institutions, and on decentralizing, all aim at providing this positive peace. These are seemingly logical steps toward the ideal, focusing on the government and building government capacity to provide essential services.

On the other hand, the link between these strategies (democratization, liberalization of the economy, providing essential services) and the realization of positive peace remains hidden inside a veritable 'black-box' of connections we fail to fully understand. This fundamental misunderstanding is evidenced by the poor track record of post-conflict peacebuilding missions the world over. We must begin to recognize that employing the same strategies over and over again while only slightly tweaking the implementation strategy is simply not enough. Clearly, something fundamental is missing.

A Constitutive Approach

Essential Element #1: Violent Elites

The first essential element of violent conflict is an elite willing to use violence to pursue their goals (whether those are selfishly or selflessly motivated). In order to confront this element, we must employ mechanisms that intend to steer elites away from the resort to violence. Democracy provides an opportunity for elites to voice their interests towards achieving their goals in a non-violent manner. Roeder & Rothchild [38] prescribe power-dividing democratic governance in order to avoid a paralyzed state apparatus unable to function properly and unable to provide essential services for all the citizens of the state.

However, as those authors note, the security dilemma attendant to post-conflict states, especially when located in deeply divided societies, creates a situation that renders this an untenable option for those at the negotiating table. Paris [39] instead calls for a prolonged period of institutionalization that builds the capacity of the state to handle the democratic transition before actually democratizing. Because it involves power-sharing, there are fewer security risks involved for the parties, rendering it the most likely to be negotiated. But as Roeder & Rothchild [38] articulate, the power-sharing form of governance risks paralyzing the government as the competition is then played out in the political arena. There is less sustained violence, but the government cannot perform.

Lack of trust is at the core of this dilemma. Neither party can be sure the other party will not defect from the agreement and all parties are interested in maximizing their own positions. Once the conflict is moved from the violent arena to the political arena, the parties will paralyze the state apparatus as they compete over the same resources that drove the conflict to begin. In Darfur, the process has not even evolved to this point yet as none of the parties have agreed to a form of democratic governance. However, one of the main elements of the Darfur Peace Agreement was a negotiated settlement over the future governance of Darfur. The framework included a governance system that was controlled almost wholly by Darfurians, of Darfurian choosing [40]. How does this affect their desire to be more fairly represented in the federal government?

Based on this agreement and the concessions the GoS already made on this issue area, the next round of negotiations should begin by focusing on this governance apparatus in Darfur. The parties should come to a negotiated agreement with a strong Darfurian government in the three states of Darfur. The parties should negotiate a percentage of the national revenue to be disbursed to Darfur over a negotiated period of time while the rest of the peace agreement is negotiated. As time passes and negotiations continue, the regularization of payments to the region will build trust and confidence such that a power-dividing democratic system might become a possibility over the long run.

Potential Problems

Of course the strategy is loaded with potential problems and pitfalls. Leading a government in Darfur simply may not satisfy the elites, though the temporary nature of the partial agreement should reasonably satisfy the elites because it leaves open the opportunity in the future for more control at the central level of government. It is a temporary measure and this characteristic should be emphasized. Also, the GoS might not follow-through with the payments; the process for establishing the amount owed the Government of South Sudan, for example, is riddled with trust and verification issues [41]. Also, any agreement that does not address the entire state of Sudan is likely to invite continued conflict from areas not included in a peace agreement, as has arguably happened with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in the South. This list of potential problems could probably be considerably expanded.

Essential Element #2: Violent Followers

The second essential element of violent armed conflict is the followers or foot-soldiers of the elites that actually do the violence. In Darfur, Flint & de Waal [10], Prunier [9] and Tanner [11] have documented that these individuals have joined the rebellion because they have been recruited from the jails, because they seek economic benefits from joining, because they seek revenge for personal or familial injuries sustained, because of a need for security or sense of duty to family or group, or simply to avoid living in the camps. In identifying the motivations of these individuals to joining the rebel groups, the appropriate interventions become clear.

For those seeking economic gains, an economic approach to the conflict seems appropriate. Building up the economy can give these individuals the opportunity for income, for education and for sustainable livelihoods. For those seeking revenge, restorative justice approaches to conciliation and reconciliation can work to satiate the relational needs of all parties to the conflict [42]. A political approach that provides security for the region can neutralize whatever sense of duty might motivate some of the individuals to join the rebel groups. And security can discourage those recruited from the jails from returning to a life of criminality, or by providing a justice system that can handle them if they do return to a criminal life.

Potential Problems

The potential problems associated with these strategies abound. Clearly the state has been incapable of providing security, by the very definition of being a post-conflict state. And reconciliation will do little to satiate the desires of those who truly experience a need for revenge. Also, a transition to market-based or liberalized economies can be riddled with philosophical and normative problems, not to mention the attendant moral ambiguities. And the effectiveness of the relationship approach has yet to really be established in the literature. Truth and reconciliation commissions provide some relief in some cases, while in others they do not.

Essential Element #3: Context

The third essential element of violent conflict is the situation in which the conflict takes place. If the state is weak, violence is an option. State-based mechanisms for preventing conflict will be less powerful as well because the relationship between the individual and the state is nearly non-existent, which detracts from the legitimacy and monopoly over violence held by the state [43]. Economic deprivation and political marginalization provide the language the elites use to get the support they seek and need in order to organize and sustain violence. The political, economic and relational approaches already described aim at neutralizing the potential power the associated rhetoric can give to the elites willing to use violence.

Potential Problems

But, as the case study in Darfur has demonstrated, when political and economic marginalization rhetoric failed to sustain continued support from the masses, the elites turned to the use of ethnic rhetoric to garner continued support. Ethnicity cannot be 'developed' away and it cannot be reconciled politically when the fear attendant to ethnic disputes literally becomes an existential threat.

Essential Element #4: The Masses

The fourth essential element of violent conflict is the mass of people that offer ideological, psychological, or materiel (but non-violent) support to the elites. What is necessary yet persistently missing from post-conflict peacebuilding strategies is an intervention mechanism to match the fourth essential element. It is the contention of this paper that the current effort in post-conflict peacebuilding in deeply divided societies has not addressed this element to the extent necessary. Truth and reconciliation measures begin to get at healing the relationships between people, an important step in addressing the masses. Lederach [42] begins to get at the masses, but focuses only on the middle level, not the individual level. What is notably missing in the field of practice is any attempt to strengthen the individual sense of power and capacity, a theory of change that empowers the individuals to resist elites resorting to violence and empowers individuals to embrace their own security at the individual level. Rather than focus on reducing the power of the language of the elites, empowerment focuses on increasing the power of the audience of the elites as a mechanism to peace.

What is empowerment?

Several fields in academia have developed a literature on the topic of empowerment. The field of Community Psychology, for instance, has developed a bank of knowledge on the subject of empowerment as it relates to organizational structure, healthcare, disability, domestic abuse and community organizing.[44] And the field has begun to identify markers that demonstrate (in the US context) an individual has begun to experience empowerment rather than victimhood. Other research has investigated the subjective experience of empowered individuals who have identified critical situations that contributed to the participants' transformation from victimhood to empowered individual. More specifically related to security and safety, Liberation Psychology has also developed research on the topic.[45] Also, the field of Criminal Justice has begun to develop some literature related to citizen empowerment and crime prevention.[46] This literature focuses on situational crime prevention and how the individual can establish a sense of safety and security.

This set of literature identifies a number of "markers" that can signal whether or not empowerment is being experienced by an individual, as well as indicate where in the process of becoming empowered a particular individual is at a given moment: perceived self-control, perceived self-efficacy, motivation to exert control, perceived competence, perceived options and choices, critical awareness of the individual's context, critical awareness of the causal processes in that context, actual capability to mobilize resources, type and degree of behaviors of an empowered individual, feelings of power and powerlessness, identification of triggering events, sourcing outside support, effects of participation, individual concern for the common good, and a sense of connectedness to the larger social context. All these variables offer insight into the nature of the phenomenon and academia has already begun to formulate a better understanding of each of them.

How can empowerment work toward peace?

There is a dearth of information on empowerment as a mechanism toward peace in the international relations literature, but the field of Community Development has produced some research on empowerment in the international arena. Unfortunately, that literature demonstrates that empowerment itself has been a by-product of community development programs but is rarely a stated goal. The empowerment of women has been a focused and stated goal of many development schemes for the past fifteen or so years [47]. In this sense, empowerment is a dependent variable, whereas we seek to understand empowerment as the independent variable. While none of these fields appears to specifically address our concern - how empowerment of individuals can act as a peacebuilding mechanism in and of itself - they do skirt the topic enough that, when combined, they may provide a foundation for the genesis of a literature on the topic.

Some critics have argued that researching empowerment is nearly impossible and riddled with problems. Wilkinson [48] notes the term empowerment is used "loosely" and creates ambiguity as to whether we are comparing the same phenomenon. Also, empowerment is not historically documented, rather it is seen as a new case to be studied. And the "implementation" of empowerment has hardly been discussed, let alone the probable or practical problems associated with such an endeavor. Finally, when referring to group empowerment, the literature fails to recognize the likely conflicts and disagreements about empowerment and its implementation or its product within organizations [48]. In other words, organizational empowerment and the attendant goals and experiences are comprised of individual empowerment and those attendant goals and experiences. Empowerment by different agents (individuals versus organizations) may have variables separate from each other [48].

Others may argue the absence of a pre-existing framework and literature is prohibitive enough to scrap the idea altogether, for the people of Darfur need help now and should not be made to wait for this literature to develop. Still others may suggest that the task would require targeting millions of people in a single conflict - logistically impossible. Both arguments contain a moral component that implies any action in the face of conflict is appropriate and the assumed 'best bang' approach is the moral imperative. Or some might simply argue, "this is not the way we do things."

Collier and Hoeffler [49] conclude, "An implication of [their findings] is that if the incidence of civil war is to be reduced, which seems appropriate given its appalling consequences, it will need to be made more difficult" (27). If democracy aims at neutralizing the elite, market economy targets the tools the elites use to get support and also seeks to provide alternatives to those creating the insecurity. Empowerment, in contrast, renders both the elites and their tools ineffective by increasing the power of the audience. In other words, empowerment makes civil war more difficult, regardless of the permissive environment. If we add empowerment at the individual level to the peacebuilding strategy, then addressing each of these essential elements just might create a system that might be capable of repelling violence. That provides the stability necessary for the political institutionalization to develop and the environment in which livelihood sustainability to flourish.

Potential Problems

Empowerment at the individual levels also carries potential problems. First, there is the practical issue. An individual empowered psychologically may still not be able to repel violence when facing a gun pointed directly at them. The second potential problem is a question of implementation. How do you 'teach' or cultivate empowerment? Third, most peacebuilding strategies do not target the individual level: 'that's just not the way we do things.'

Empowerment cannot do it all. For that reason, the approach described here is constitutive in that all the mechanisms provide a foundation for the other mechanisms, and each reinforces the others such that the realization of the goals together creates a scenario in which violence no longer is an option.

The political approach will distract the elites away from violence at a minimum. And, if the individuals within the state borders are lucky, the political approach might actually produce a political system in which the state can and does provide services that otherwise would not be provided (like healthcare, education, infrastructure, etc…) The economic approach would at a minimum help distract the followers of the elites that actually commit violence and also might provide more access for the individuals again, if they are lucky and it works like it is supposed to. The social approach would not only take power away from the elites but it would also empower the individual to resist elites that do not have their best interests truly at heart. And it would empower individuals to resist the sorts of security problems that exist post-conflict (as described by Paris) and possibly provide a normative mechanism that embraces security and acts as a further bulwark against those violent followers of the elites that are not actually distracted by the economic approach.


The fact is that in the post-conflict peacebuilding field, something is clearly not working. The theories of change that are currently out there seek to tweak the interventions we already employ to better handle the realities of the situations. While these attempts may not necessarily be misdirected, they do miss the essential point of this paper, that violent conflict has (at least!) four essential components: elites willing to organize and sustain violence, followers willing to commit violence, a mass of people willing to support the cause ideologically and materially (but not necessarily violently), and a context that provides the powerful language for the elites to use. If the focus is on the elites (political approaches), the followers (political, economic and security approaches), and the context (neturalizing approaches through economic development and political representation), then the strategy for conflict resolution is leaving behind perhaps the greatest single resource available in order to prevent violent conflict from re-occurring - the mass of people that are usually the ones that suffer the greatest consequences for the violence.

This paper argues that Lederach's approach begins to tap that resource but does not go quite far enough. The theory of change employed here, then, seeks to add efforts at the individual psychological level to the menu of intervention strategies already employed. Empowerment of individuals (comprised of critical thinking skills, sense of security and control, perception of capacity to mobilize resources, and perception of capacity to intervene effectively in cause-effect relationships) will act as the strongest, most reliable safety net to prevent sustained violent conflict from erupting due to a failure of the other interventions to guarantee positive peace.


[1] Lederach, J.P. (2003). The Little Book of Conflict Transformation. Intercourse, Pennsylvania: Good Books.

[2] Sudan Tribune. (2010, February 25). UN Security Council calls on other rebels to join Doha talks. The Sudan Tribune.

[3] Sudan Tribune. (2010, February 26). Darfur mediation meets government and rebels to discuss ceasefire implementation. The Sudan Tribune. Retrieved from spip.php?article34250.

[4] Sudan Tribune. (2010, February 25). JEM leader rejects separate talks on Darfur with other rebels. The Sudan Tribune. Retrieved from

[5] Sudan Tribune. (2010, February 25). Government kills 50 civilians in two-day attack on Jebel Marra. The Sudan Tribune. Retrieved from

[6] Associated Press. (2010, February 26). Sudan: Clashes in Darfur. The New York Times. Retrieved from

[7] This analysis roughly follows the United States Institute of Peace conflict-mapping tool, found at http://www.usip. org/print/ step-1-assess-the-conflict.

[8] Seekers of Truth and Justice. (2002). The Black Book Part 2. Retrieved from 2004/en/books-php/blackbook-part2/bbtwo.htm.

[9] Prunier, G. (2007). Darfur: The ambiguous genocide (2nd ed.). Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

[10] Flint, J., & De Waal, A. (2005). Darfur: A short history of a long war. New York, New York: Zed Books.

[11] Tanner, V. (2005). Rule of Lawlessness: Roots and repercussion of the Darfur crisis. Kenya: Rift Valley Institute. Accessed from Sudan Open Archive Web site:

[12] Harir, S. (1994). Short-cut to Decay: The case of the Sudan. Sweden: Motala Grafiska AB.

[13] Wax, E. (2006, April 23). 5 Truths About Darfur. The Washington Post. Retrieved from _pf.html.

[14] Sudan Tribune. (2010, March 7). Sudan dismisses Rice's remarks on arms embargo violation. The Sudan Tribune. Retrieved from 5.

[15] Seekers of Truth and Justice. (2000). The Black Book. Retrieved from 2004/sudan-alt/english/books/blackbook-part1/book-part1.asp.htm.

[16] Wright 2006

[17] Ibrahim claims Turabi's influence over JEM activities was ever minimal at best, and his credibility with the people of Darfur had long since waned. Turabi was responsible for gaining the Darfurian Muslim support for the National Islamic Front prior to 1989 when he and President Bashir attempted their successful coup. Since then, his promises to the Darfurians have remained unfulfilled. Because of this, the JEM claims that Turabi holds no influence over the group (see Flint & de Waal 2005, 89). Given the link to bin Laden and Turabi's involvement with the SPLM/A in the South, a healthy dose of skepticism is probably warranted (see Prunier 2007, 81 - 93 for a discussion of this involvement).

[18] Sudan Tribune. (2010, February 19). Darfur mediator pushing for direct talks on Monday. The Sudan Tribune. Retrieved from

[19] United Nations. (2010). Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan. Retrieved from

[20] Sudan Tribune. (2010, February 27). ICC says no absentia trial for Sudan president. The Sudan Tribune. Retrieved from

[21] Tanner, V., & Tubiana, J. (2007). Divided They Fall: The fragmentation of Darfur's Rebel Groups. Geneva: Small Arms Survey, Graduate Institute of International Studies.

[22] Sudan Tribune. (2010, February 27). Sudan and new Darfur LJM to sign another framework agreement. The Sudan Tribune. Retrieved from spip.php?page=imprimable&id-article=34264

[23] Sudan Tribune. (2010, February 24). Darfur rebel factions unite under new umbrella in Doha. The Sudan Tribune. Retrieved from

[24] Reuters. (2007, May 8). China, Russia breach Darfur arms embargo. Reuters AlertNet. Retrieved from

[25] Anderson, H. (2008, July 13). China 'is fuelling war in Darfur'. BBC News. Retrieved from

[26] Lesch, A.M. (2001). The Destruction of Civil Society in the Sudan. In A.R. Norton (Ed.), Civil Society in the Middle East, Volume 2, (pp. 153 - 192). Netherlands: Die Deutsche Bibliothek.

[27] United States Agency for International Development (USAID). (2010). Sudan - Complex Emergency: Situation Report #4. Retrieved from

[28] United Nations (2010). UNAMID facts and figures. African Union/United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur. Retrieved from facts.shtml

[29] Shazly, A. (2010, February 24). "War in Darfur is over," says Sudanese president. Agence-France-Presse. Retrieved from

[30] International Criminal Court. (2010). Darfur Sudan. Retrieved from

[31] Rebhi, A. (2010, February 23). Khartoum, Darfur rebels sign ceasefire accord. AFP. Retrieved from

[32] Sudan Tribune. (2010, February 26). Sudan and new Darfur LJM to sign another framework agreement. The Sudan Tribune. Retrieved from article34264.

[33] Mohamed, A.A. (2002). Intergroup Conflicts and Customary Mediation: Experiences from Sudan. African Journal on Conflict Resolution, 2(2).

[34] Nathan, L. (2006). Failings of the DPA. Conciliation Resources. Retrieved from

[35] Brickhill, J. (2007). Protecting Civilians Through Peace Agreements: Challenges and lessons of the Darfur Peace Agreement. Institute for Security Studies, ISS Paper 138.

[36] Farah, D. (2006, July 16). Intelligence Report links Janjaweed to al Qaeda. Counterterrorism Blog. Retrieved from php.

[37] McGregor, A. (2006, May 18). Bin Laden's African Folly: Al Qaeda in Darfur. The Jamestown Foundation, (4)10. Retrieved from Issue-id=3732.

[38] Roeder, P.G., & Rothchild, D. (Eds.). (2005). Sustainable Peace: Power and democracy after civil wars. New York: Cornell University Press.

[39] Paris, R. (2004). At War's End: Building peace after civil conflict. New York: Cambridge University Press.

[40] Darfur Peace Agreement. (2006). Accessed online at spip.php?article15587.

[41] Global Witness Limited. (2009). Fueling Mistrust: the need for transparency in Sudan's oil industry. London.

[42] Lederach, J.P. (1997). Building Peace: Sustainable reconciliation in divided societies. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press.

[43] Boege, V., Brown, A., Clements, K., & Nolan, A. (2009). On Hybrid Political Orders and Emerging States: What is failing - states in the global south or research and politics in the west? In M. Fischer, H. J. Gießmann, & B. Schmelzle (Eds.), Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation: No. 8 Peacebuilding in the Absence of States (pp. 15 - 35). Berlin: Berghof Research Center:

[44] See Zimmerman (1995); Lord and Hutchinson (1993); Perkins (1995); Rappaport (1987); Speer (2000); Wilkinson (1998); and Zimmerman and Rappaport (1988).

[45] See Moane (2003) and Prilleltensky (2003).

[46] See Florin and Wandersman (1990) and Ericson and Doyle (2003).

[47] Perkins, D. (1995). Speaking Truth to Power: Empowerment ideology as social intervention and policy. American Journal of Community Psychology, 23(5), pp. 765 - 794.

[48] Wilkinson, A. (1998). Empowerment: Theory and Practice. Personnel Review, 27(1), 40 - 56.

[49] Collier and Hoeffler