The Government of Sudan is one of the most unscrupulous governments in the world. And this is no mean ‘achievement’ given the many claimants to this dubious honour. It is so cynical that the words ‘shame’ and ‘sensitivity’ do not exist in its political dictionary and they do not have any equivalent meaning in its diplomacy either. Otherwise how can one explain its persistence in seeking the Chairmanship of the African Union despite its continuing ignoble record in the massacre and Gross Violation of the rights of its own citizens in the Darfur region, a killing field assuming the proportions of industrial mass murder. With the best of good will and efforts from the African Union through AMIS and now jointly with the United Nations through UNAMID the Khartoum government has played games with the lives of its own citizen with impunity.
It has been angling the chairmanship since 2006. However other African states have been so embarrassed by Khartoum that they were unwilling to allow it to be spokesperson of Africa’s premier diplomatic and political institution. It was largely because of Khartoum that the AU abandoned the OAU twin practice of rotation of the hosting of the Summit between the different regions and also the automatic assumption of the office of the Chair of the Union by the host country. Khartoum hosted the Summit in 2006 but did not become chair of the Union. Subsequently Gambia hosted the Summit in July 2007 but its erratic soldier-turned president and more recently mutating as HIV/Aids Doctor, Yaya Jameh, did not become the Chairperson either.
Khartoum has not given up its ambition and it is again one of the contenders for the Chairmanship at the 10th ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of state and Governments of the Union holding this week in Addis. The other contender is Egypt though there are also rumours that Tanzania may be a surprise contender to stop Khartoum. From all indications Tanzania may not enter the race unless really pushed. This is a shame because neither Sudan nor Egypt , for different reasons, deserves to head the Union. In Egypt’s case in spite of its status as the most significant of the North African countries in the Union it has always been a reluctant member. Like its other cousins in the Sahara except Libya, it is in Africa but its heart and soul are in the Middle East. I am not sure when the Egyptian President last attended an AU summit. It is supposed to be one of the five pillars of NEPAD but only on paper. It is more interested in the Arab League than any other multilateral body and generally prefers bilateralism with African states and special deals with extra African interests. Egyptian Chairmanship will induce more inertia in the AU for a year and probably sabotage any collective action on Sudan.
While Sudan shares some of the Egyptian Arab-centrism it is one of the most active member states in Pan African affairs however not always for the best of reasons. While its Arabised elite continue to look towards the Middle East it has to face the reality of having huge Negroid population not only in the South but across the country. The dominant elite may be Arabised and Muslim but the people are Africans. Even its name belies its racial claims. Bilad el Sudan means Land of the Blacks! The most obvious character of Sudan is the least talked about. When it serves its interest Sudan plays the Pan African and anti imperialist cards in the AU and the Arab/Islamic cards with Arabs and other Muslim countries.
It used the OAU and is now using the AU platform to fence off Western , mostly Anglo-American isolation campaign against it. Unfortunately the credibility of the west in general and successive US administrations in particular but more so Bush’s 8 years of unilateralism, have created willing ears and sympathy for Khartoum among other African states. Thus the AU has become a shield for Khartoum and it uses it very well. Its strategy is very simple but it continues to hoodwink African states most effectively. On every issue it will initially insist on no intervention at all proclaiming its sovereign rights. After so much controversies and prolonged inane negotiations it agrees to some form of African intervention especially to prevent Western or UN intervention.
But it had no intention of cooperating to end the suffering of its people. Several years down the line after so much haggling and zig zags it agreed to a hybrid of AU and UN. Thanks to the dithering of the powerful countries in the UN and the humanitarian-driven approach to Sudan with a not so hidden agenda for regime change even the hybrid force cannot take off immediately. African states have shown their readiness to deploy more troops but UN Security Council politics is delaying things all to the benefit of Khartoum and its killer allies in Darfur.
It cannot be right that a country and a government that kills its own people is allowed to be spokesperson for Africa. Khartoum should be disallowed from assuming the chair of the Union. If this means that Egypt takes the seat so be it but the best option should have been to have another state . Were Nyerere alive he would have had no hesitation in coming to the rescue. Even at this late hour one hopes that Tanzania and President Kikwete will come forward to save the Union from being chaired by an indifferent Egypt or a cynical Sudan.
*Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem writes this syndicated column as a concerned Pan Africanist
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