The international community, frustrated with the lack of progress, deeply worried about the humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur and bereft of viable strategies for ending the conflict, pursued a weak form of deadline diplomacy. As they hopped from one missed deadline to the next, the AU, UN, EU and donor governments complained that the negotiations were moving too slowly and warned that funding for the mediation might dry up in the absence of a quick accord.
This deadline diplomacy was intended to create pressure on the belligerent parties but the deadlines came and went without any negative repercussions and they were utterly unrealistic. By comparison, in the early 1990s earnest negotiations aimed at reaching a settlement in the context of civil war took over two years in the case of Mozambique and over four years in South Africa.
Unlike the parties, the AU mediators were obliged to heed the deadlines set by their political masters and donors. This inhibited the development of a meaningful mediation strategy. With the talks always due to end in a few weeks, there was no point in preparing a 6-month plan of action. The external pressure thus stifled a programmatic effort to build momentum over time, leading to an ad hoc approach and a haste incompatible with effective peacemaking.
The only sustainable solution to a civil war is a settlement shaped and embraced by the protagonists. The mediator's job is to help them overcome their enmity and mistrust, build their confidence in negotiations and facilitate dialogue, bargaining and cooperative problem-solving. This requires protracted efforts and immense patience: there are no quick fixes.