As someone who believes in ‘African solution to African problems’ I should be excited as everyone seem to be about the so called break through between the African Union and the UN on the one hand and the Government of Sudan on the other, on ending the genocidal war in Darfur. But I am not excited at all. I am not excited because we have been down this road several times before.
Khartoum has been taking everyone for a ride for so long that we take every sign of compromise as a breakthrough even if it will lead to yet another road bloc.
Khartoum has perfected the art of talking while continuing to kill its own citizens either directly or indirectly through its Janjaweed militia.
The timing of this latest breakthrough is very significant. An African Union summit is only three weeks away. The UN human Rights Council is sitting in Geneva and the Bush Administration has recently announced a raft of ineffectual sanctions.
Khartoum has played the Pan Africanist card very well, insisting on an ‘African only’ troops which satisfies our Pan Africanist instincts but knowing fully well that logistical, political and other technical challenges may make it ineffectual. It believes that an African force is more amenable to its delay tactics than a force that included other armies and with a UN command. It has exploited the understandable anti–American sentiments across the world and in Africa especially to hoodwink people into believing that any UN involvement will mean a proxy American war in yet another ‘Muslim’ , ‘Arab’ or ‘poor Third world’ country. It needs the shield Africa and the AU in order for it continue to fend off a more effective international involvement. It can also count on other shields in the Arab League and Muslim countries and in diplomacy with other Third world countries.
In proclaiming African solutions Khartoum has been counting on African incapacities as evidenced from the various challenges that the AU Force has been facing since its deployment. It has a very restricted mandate that limits it to ‘protecting civilians’ many of whom it can only reach after the Janjaweed and Khartoum forces have done their worst. Even on occasions when it had had early warning about impending attacks on innocent civilians it had been slow in responding or unable to do so.
The situation has not been helped by many of the rebels who seem to be more interested in their own egos and exaggerated political importance than the suffering of their own people. Their clamor for ‘international’ force (which in their colonial mindset means US or other western intervention) has consistently played into the hands of Khartoum. It helps Khartoum’s image laundering as an African country standing up for African solutions and sovereignty portraying the rebels as ‘agents’ of extra continental powers. The rebels have not learnt from the bitter lessons of the MDC in Zimbabwe whose struggles have been made difficult among many Africans because of the West’s support for them.
Just check your diary and see how many times Khartoum has looked very reasonable before an AU summit and only to return to its belligerency soon after. I am not sure this is not yet another of such deliberate rising of false hopes of a peaceful settlement.
Khartoum has been talking to any body that cares to talk about Darfur. That is why it has been involved concurrently in half a dozen of peace initiatives!
The problem with these talks is that they do not stop Khartoum and its allied killers in Darfur from continuing their violence against the people of Darfur but they hold those involved in the talks in check. You cannot be advocating tougher measures against a government that you are negotiating with. In the face of a fractious and faction –ridden opposition and rebel movements the government become reasonable and many peace brokers become more sympathetic to it as their frustration against the rebels grow.
However there is a wider issue relating to the mandate of the peace keeping force itself on which the Khartoum government has been giving the whole world a merry-go round. AU forces on the ground are not delivering not just for technical and logistical reasons or lack of numbers alone. There is no peace to keep since neither the government Janjaweed and the rebel factions have in practice committed themselves to ceasefire for any length of time.
You can increase the numbers of troops but without enlarging the mandate the butchering of Darfurians will continue. What everyone is now calling a breakthrough has been on the cards right from the start. Even the limited AU mandate envisaged an African leadership but did not exclude collaboration with the UN and contribution of troops from outside Africa. But Khartoum bogged everyone down in logistical issues for several months. Everyone is feeling so guilty at the horrible pictures from Darfur that we become desperate for any sign, no matter how vague that Khartoum is about to relent. Hence we are now supposed to jump that the government of Omar Al Bashir has agreed to a ‘hybrid force’. What is inherently good in a hybrid force? What is so new about it anyway? Any Peace keeping force is by definition ‘hybrid’. The people of Darfur have been under the attack of a hybrid of Sudan’s regular forces and their Janjaweed killers. Africa and the UN must really stand up to Khartoum and say : enough is enough, we will do everything possible to stop you from further killing your own citizens. It is peace making, peace enforcement before talking of peace keeping.
* Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is the deputy director of the UN Millennium Campaign in Africa, based in Nairobi, Kenya. He writes this article in his personal capacity as a concerned pan-Africanist.
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