Rebuild Africa by funding the African Union Mission in Darfur

Daily News Egypt
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Last April, in the delegate’s lounge of the United Nations’ headquarters in New York, this columnist met with the Organization of Islamic Conference’s (OIC) permanent observer to the UN, Ambassador Abdul Wahab, to discuss ways in which Arab, Islamic, or African nation-states might assist in ending the genocide in Darfur. At that time, Qatar, Tanzania, Congo and Ghana retained seats on the Security Council, yet their commitment to the crisis was nominal. Moreover, the OIC and the Arab League exhibited little public interest in western Sudan. The sole Arab, Islamic, or African institution concentrating on Darfur was the African Union (AU). During the meeting with the ambassador it became clear that the AU was the critical agent capable of ending the genocide. Seven months later, the same remains true.

According to Ambassador Wahab, two reasons justified an AU-oriented solution. Bolstering AU troops ensured the enduring political viability of this newly created organization, while UN troop replacement, conversely, implied the AU was incapable of handling the continent’s security threats. Secondly, AU troops were positioned as unique cultural liaisons in a Sudanese war between the Arab-Islamic north and the black Afro-Islamic west, while UN troops would invariably fail to understand language, race, culture and religion and further complicate the peace process.

Seven months later, the argument remains: Will AU or UN troops save Darfur? Sudan President Omar Al-Bashir has made his preference known, emphasizing his disdain for the international body by evicting UN envoy representative Jan Pronk. Al-Bashir’s position is contrasted by overwhelming world opinion in favor of UN peacekeeping troops, with the occasional obfuscating remark by China or Russia because of oil-related alliances in the region. What is deeply embarrassing and morally unjustifiable, however, is that seven months later nothing has changed for the people of Darfur. And, as in April, the AU remains demoralized and logistically malnourished, staffing a meager 7,000 ill-funded and ill-equipped troops, while the world continues to deliberate over whether or not President Al-Bashir will accept UN intervention.

President Al-Bashir permits the presence of AU troops in Darfur and welcomes a beefed up force, so why has the world refused this opportunity? Why do the US and UK continue to insist on UN peacekeeping troops? More pointedly, why is the world so resistant to enhancing AU capacity with additional troops, better financing, better equipment, and better training? Perhaps powerful nations prefer that Africa never develop the means to ensure adequate regional security much like the US prevented the European Union (EU) from fully manifesting a robust Eurocorps, insisting instead that US-friendly NATO provide security for regional conflicts. From the perspective of the powerful, it is best if the fledgling rivalries never gain sufficient momentum.

In the case of Darfur, a UN-led usurping of AU authority would do much to marginalize the fledgling organization. Additionally, a weak, incapable AU Mission reinforces the idea that Africa is replete with incompetent leadership, a myth that permeates the Western world. The US, for example, perpetually propagates and reinforces this notion of inept leadership through the media. Films like “Hotel Rwanda, “The Interpreter, “Black Hawk Down and most recently “The Last King of Scotland have been mainstream America’s brief and unfortunate portal into Africa. All four films present the image of a corrupt, violent and bungled African leadership. While two of the four films, “Hotel Rwanda and “Last King of Scotland specifically, were significant educational and therapeutic achievements (particularly “Hotel Rwanda ), these films exacerbate the stereotype that Africa is incapable of good governance.

Undoubtedly, this stereotype contributed to the EU’s recent decision to provide aid primarily to democratic or trade-savvy African countries, leaving the remaining stragglers to presumably fight for the scraps. Now, this same bias is impacting how nations decide to save Darfur. Rather than investing in a healthy and robust regional security force for Africa, enhancing the AU’s structural capacity, bolstering its human and financial resources, providing modern equipment, assisting in logistics and coordination, and offering critical political support to this fledging start-up, the majority of the UN Security Council is circumventing this process by pushing for UN intervention. The irony, of course, in the argument for UN peacekeeping – an argument made on the grounds that it was/is a more expeditious way of stopping genocide – is that the last seven months were not effectively utilized to enhance AU credibility and capacity. As a result, Darfur has seen neither UN forces nor a bolstered AU.

Fortunately a few leaders see that the AU is the answer. In Washington last month, this columnist met with Jean-Marie Guéhenno, under secretary general of peacekeeping, to discuss peacekeeping possibilities in western Sudan. Guéhenno acknowledged that the most politically viable option was to buttress AU troops, first and foremost. This perspective is echoed by US allies neighboring Sudan; Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit, in conversation with Andrew Natsios, the US envoy to Sudan, reiterated his plea for the AU to be the primary path towards peace in Darfur.

The world must come to the rescue of the AU Mission immediately. That will also be how Darfur is rescued. Save the AU and you save Darfur. It is time to commit to Africa’s future, not in a patronizing or paternalistic way that assumes the continent’s inability to safeguard its populaces, but in a collaborative way where the structural and institutional capacity for a robust and secure Africa is built.

Michael Shank is a PhD student at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.

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