Those Darfuris lucky enough to survive still suffer in fear. Fighting in North Darfur in late January added another 100,000 civilians to the ranks of those forced from their lands. This is on top of the nearly 3 million civilians who remain displaced in the region and in refugee camps in neighboring Chad.
What has become increasingly clear over the past ten years is that the conflict in Darfur cannot be viewed in isolation from Sudan’s other conflicts or even its policing tactics within the capital of Khartoum. Government forces honed the tactics that they used to perpetrate genocide in Darfur in Southern Sudan during the country’s protracted civil war and continue to employ them today against civilians in Sudan’s southern region, specifically South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, in the east, and in the disputed border region of Abyei.
All of these internal Sudanese conflicts share the same underlying causes, the most significant being the central government’s marginalization of Sudan’s peripheral populations. Khartoum has continually denied these populations a meaningful right to participate in government, which has traditionally led them to resort to violence as a means of voicing their grievances and protecting their interests against a repressive regime, perpetuating the cycle of violence that has plagued Sudan for decades.
The piecemeal peace processes that the international community has used to address Sudan’s conflicts have continually failed because these processes have not addressed the most significant underlying driver of conflict in Sudan: the lack of a representative central government. As long as a central government in Khartoum fails to represent the interest of all of Sudan's regions, including Darfur, then the government will continue to repress any of their own citizens who oppose them, most notably those living in the peripheries of the nation. Such a truly representative central government can only follow from a real democratic transformation of Sudan’s political life. A government that includes political opposition parties, civil society, representation from the peripheral regions, and moderate elements of the ruling National Congress Party will be in a position to resolve long-standing conflicts and bring peace to Darfur and all of Sudan.
The U.S. Congress should carry through on the concern and commitment to Darfur that was initiated in 2003. While change in Sudan must come primarily from within, the U.S. and other international actors must support Sudanese efforts for peaceful democratic transformation. To this end, Congress should ensure that adequate funding is allocated for democracy and governance programming designed to build the capacities of civil society organizations, including women's and youth groups, and opposition political parties working for a peaceful transition. Congress should, as well, encourage Secretary of State John Kerry to increase U.S. engagement with Sudanese opposition parties and civil society groups working for democratic change, while, simultaneously, widening and deepening dialogue with factions within the ruling National Congress Party, as they will also be crucial in any potential transition to democracy. Like other countries in the region, Sudan deserves a chance to experience its own version of the Arab Spring, which, with the appropriate international support, can lead to a truly representative and open government. The Congress and the Administration should commit to help make this happen.
Perriello, a former congressman from Virginia’s 5th District, is the president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund; Bradshaw is the executive director of the Enough Project, an anti-genocide advocacy organization.