Sudan: "Crossroads"

Posted by Scott Gration
September 18, 2009
Children Approach Gathering Under Shade Tree in Ain Siro

About the Author: Major General (Ret) Scott Gration currently serves as the President’s Special Envoy to Sudan.

For too long, Darfur has been a place of human failing and despair. For too long, the people of Darfur have suffered. And for too long, they have lived without peace and security. I just returned from another trip to Darfur — my fourth. I went back to assess the current situation on the ground and to listen directly to the people living in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. The capacity of humanitarian aid workers to deliver life-saving assistance is making slow gains, Darfuri armed movements are beginning unification efforts, and UNAMID is gaining strength in terms of force deployment and in fulfilling its protection mandate.

We are also making progress on agreements and promises—with rebel groups as well as the Government. These are critical, but the proof lies in the pudding. What really matters is what the parties to these agreements do in implementation. We are at a crossroads. We are moving forward, but we need to stay diligent and focused on ensuring that the agreements are followed through. We will hold all parties accountable for their actions. We will help where we can, but ultimate responsibility lies with the parties in Sudan.

Since I just returned from this visit, I wanted to take a moment to share with you some of our observations. You can also take a look at my flickr photo album to see pictures from our trip album.

IDP Camps

My first stop was in the Abu Shouk camp, which is home to a staggering 54,000 people. I met with camp leaders from Abu Shouk, along with others from four nearby IDP camps. I stressed my long-held view that all IDP returns must be voluntary, at a time and to a location of peoples’ choosing, and only when sufficient security exists. I further clarified that I do not advocate the lifting of sanctions against the Government in Khartoum. Finally, I made clear that I have not called for Sudan to be removed from the list of state sponsors of terror. Despite their remoteness, camp residents remain particularly well plugged in to global debates on these issues. Regrettably, they have also been influenced by the politics of their leadership and by mischaracterizations of my statements. So while it is unfortunate that there was this need to set the record straight, I will continue to return to these camps and engage with the millions of people trapped in these humanitarian prisons. It is their lives we are all trying to change.

A particular source of inspiration on my trip was my visit to a women’s center in Abu Shouk that provides psychological support and skills training for victims of gender-based violence. While I was there, I saw the women weave baskets to sell and watched a demonstration of the use of new solar cookers that are reducing the need for these women to leave the safety of the camp to search for firewood. These gracious women also shared with me their specific concerns over security, health, and education. Women will play a central role in the future of Darfur, and we in this administration will work to help bring women in Darfur the tools they need to rebuild their lives.

I was also encouraged by a return visit to Zam Zam camp. I came to this camp five months ago, and coming back showed me that while humanitarian gaps still remain (and some new ones have opened) there have been significant improvements in health, water and sanitation, and food distribution. We need to continue to buttress these efforts with greater humanitarian capacity and access, but we are on the right path and are making positive steps. Meanwhile, I was discouraged to hear that many of the aid workers who had been promised complete freedom of movement and access by local government authorities, and agreement I helped to broker back in April, was not being fully respected. It’s unacceptable that this far into the crisis aid workers are still encountering the slightest resistance in carrying out their work. Regardless of the cause of this circumstance, I am pressing for its resolution at the highest levels.


In Darfur we also went to UNAMID’s headquarters, where we met with General Patrick Nyambumba, the UNAMID Force Commander, and Mohamed Yonis, the Deputy Joint Special Representative for UNAMID, both of whom have both been appointed within the last two weeks. UNAMID confirmed that the current conflict in Darfur largely hinges around the lack of local law enforcement, which has resulted in an unacceptable number of kidnappings, carjackings, along with generalized banditry. . Despite major challenges ahead, I am encouraged by the prospects for more robust peacekeeping in the coming months as needed personnel and equipment arrive. I have been told by my UN colleagues that by the end of the year, it is expected that 85% of the force will be deployed. As we reach a critical mass of troops, it will be essential to translate those numbers into a more effective security force that can begin to change the fundamental dynamics on the ground.

Ain Siro

In addition to the IDP camps, I also traveled to Ain Siro, a small village in North Darfur. It is a place that has largely been unaffected by the conflict, and it showed me how life in Darfur used to be. The armed movement commanders I met there expressed their willingness to unify and engage in the peace process. I have said it before, but it really is crucial that we work towards armed movement unification if we hope to have a successful and sustainable peace in Darfur. In these coming weeks my team will be stepping up these efforts, along with a parallel outreach towards civil society, in the hope that we can relaunch formal talks with the government before the end of October.

Next Steps

Darfur is at a critical crossroads. Armed movements can join together at the peace table, or they can remain fractured; civil society can remain in the shadows of the peace process, or we can make them a centerpiece of peace negotiations; humanitarian efforts can shift from emergency response to sustainable development, or IDPs can remain dependent on NGOs and without local capacity; local law enforcement can step up to provide the security needed to protect civilians, or lawlessness and banditry can continue to reign.

The United States will play a central role in setting the right course, but the responsibility for peace and security ultimately lies with the Government of Sudan and its people.

As always, thank you for your continued interest and dedication, Scott.

Stay connected: Receive Updates From Special Envoy Gration.



Kim A.
California, USA
September 18, 2009

Kim A. in California writes:

Please if I can do anything to be of help.. Plan on being in Uganda in November or December -- I could be of great use to you -- In Africa... Let me know..

Thank you,


Judith B.
Massachusetts, USA
September 20, 2009

Judith B. in Massachusetts writes:

I am interested in knowing if there is a U.S. government strategy developing to deal with the region's conflicts. How do those of us who have worked on peace issues in the region for many years participate in the framing of that strategy?

Virginia, USA
September 20, 2009

Jake in Virginia writes:

Interagency effectiveness seems to be the organizational center of gravity for whole of government approaches to U.S. Engagement. If the U.S. military is an instrument of national power, what means unique to the military can and should be used in support of a DoS led effort in an area where the history of colonialism and military abuse make it seem inappropriate at worst and difficult at best? E.g., Civil-military and military professionalism training support to UNAMID. What means unique to the military can and should be dedicated or improved to support unity of effort in the interagency process? No reply needed.

September 23, 2009

Aden in Sudan writes:

I attest that general conditions on the ground in Darfur have improved to a great extent since your appointment and almost all the people I meet are hailing your pragmatic approach to the this multideminsional conflict that resulted the humanitarian misery for millions of Darfuris. When I came to South Darfur in October 2008, there were 6 active tribal conflicts amongst the tribes, i.e. Tarjem Vs Benihalba, Birgit Vs Zaghawa, Maalia Vs Zaghawa, Birgit Vs Misseria, Salamat Vs Habaniya and Fellata Vs Habaniya, etc.

Today 23 September 2009, none of these conflicts are active and the path of reconciliation is wide open before all the communities. When the humanitarian work was undermined by the expulsions you were here to negotiate for not only the reverse but a better and bigger deal in access and freedom to work, i.e. now humanitarian workers are having one year residence and multiple entry permits. The current atmosphere is allowing some people to return back to their villages to plant for the season...some 216 young men and women from Kalma IDP camp are attending classes at the Government run Nyala Technical College to acquire 13 different livelihood skills, ranging from carpentry to electrician and other badly needed skills, including building homes. After their graduation this October, State Government has committed to helping them access to loans for start up capital and they will be able to work wherever there is an opportunity for them to live and work. The social relations between the ordinary Darfuris is improving quite a lot despite sometimes dramatic political and media news. People are optimistic about the possibility of a peaceful resoultion of the conflict more than ever before and for sure.

In this background, the unification of the rebel positions and mainstreaming into the rest of Darfuri tribes outside the rebellion and firm GOS support to the process will definitely improve the chances of peaceful co-existence and bright future for all Darfuris. Keep up the good work and your efforts shall not go unrecognised. Thanks


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