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David L. Phillips

Darfur's development gap

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By David L. Phillips
August 3, 2008

BY ACCUSING President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan of genocide, the International Criminal Court has caused Khartoum to change its approach to Darfur, where 200,000 people have died and millions have been displaced since 2003. Hoping to defer the court's charges, Bashir is promising peace, development, and restitution to Darfurians.

The United Nations Security Council should leverage efforts by Russia and China to defer charges against Bashir by securing an agreement with Khartoum to cooperate with the international community in a development plan for Darfur. The initiative would address a root cause of the conflict, which lies in Darfur's poverty and historic marginalization.

The Darfur development initiative would run parallel to efforts aimed at addressing immediate security and humanitarian needs. Despite the activities of state-sponsored militias - the "janjaweed" - development activities are still possible in parts of Darfur less affected by conflict. In addition to widening islands of stability, a "peace dividend" may have the added benefit of revitalizing the political process by getting Darfur's movements to focus on the development horizon as an alternative to continued conflict.

To this end, Columbia University's Center for the Study of Human Rights recently published a development dossier that identifies project opportunities focusing on water and the related sectors of agriculture, livestock, energy, and health.

The dossier proposes water catchment, harvesting, storage, conservation, and sanitation projects with immediate impact on traditional farming communities in the South, northern pastoralists who migrate seasonally, and Darfurians who share rangelands, woodlands, and water sources. It recommends expanding agricultural output through investments in improved seeds, fertilizers, and small scale water management, as well as agro-processing to make farming more profitable. In addition, it addresses the link between environmental conditions and public health.

A gap exists, however, between identifying projects and implementing them. A donor country can address this gap by agreeing to spearhead the Darfur development initiative. Of the major players in Sudan, Canada is best-placed for this role. Norway is preoccupied with leading the Sudan consortium of donors. The European Commission is too slow and bureaucratic. The United States and Britain are too deeply distrusted by the government of Sudan.

Canada is principled - yet pragmatic. Though Canada phased out its development activities in response to Sudan's poor human rights record in 1989, it remained a major supplier of humanitarian relief. Canada reestablished its aid program providing crucial food supplies, healthcare, and water and sanitation services after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. Canada provided more than $445 million in voluntary contributions for peace efforts, humanitarian assistance, and early recovery since 2006.

Taking the lead on Darfur development would incur no additional cost to Canadians, but it will require more concentrated efforts by the Canadian government. Focusing on development would enhance, not compromise, its existing support for the UN's Sudan-wide efforts.

The Darfur Development Coordinator would assist inter-agency cooperation among Canadian agencies. He or she would also be a person of high moral standing with the clout to encourage other countries to invest the development agenda for Darfur.

The coordinator would assist a Darfur to Darfur development dialogue to foster consensus among Darfurians on development priorities. The dialogue would be institutionalized through the establishment of a committee of Darfurian technical experts and representatives from Darfur's different political movements. To facilitate links between the committee and Khartoum, the coordinator would also encourage set-up of a Joint Planning Mechanism to assist both parties in assessing needs, developing priorities, and drawing up action plans for project implementation.

Development is no substitute for accountability, security, or political talks. But with Bashir on a charm offensive to defer his indictment, an unprecedented opportunity exists to enlist Sudan in a cooperative effort aimed at improving the living conditions of Darfurians while fostering sustainable peace through development.

David L. Phillips is a visiting scholar at Columbia University's Center for the Study of Human Rights and director of Darfur Development Initiative.

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