Issue 1, May 2008
|The African Union (AU)|
African Solutions to African Problems
The African Union is an inter-governmental organization consisting of 53 African nations. It was born of the now defunct Organization of African Unity (OAU) and faced its first test in Darfur. Arriving on the ground long before the UN and originally numbering only 150 troops, the AU force (known as AMIS – African Mission in Sudan) was expected to play two roles in Darfur – mediation of the peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria, and “peacekeeping” of a cease-fire agreement signed by only some of the parties in 2004. The AU force grew to 6000 by 2006 and was expected to hold down the situation on the ground until the UN and others came around to participating. Historian Gerard Prunier writes, “For a continental organization wanting a new start, this was a dangerous gift. ‘African solutions to African problems’ had a way of saying ‘we do not really care.’” With its extraordinarily limited budget (and dependent upon non-African countries for most of the funds it does have), it has had little chance of success in Darfur.
The peacekeeping mission has been an oxymoron. Just as Romeo Daillaire and his UN blue helmets faced in Rwanda – it was a mission to “keep” a nonexistent peace. The mandate was weak, and did not afford them the flexibility to respond to crises as they developed. The troops were authorized only to “monitor” the situation and “verify” violations of the cease-fire. This often involved painfully watching and documenting as attacks were made on villages, camps, and even AMIS bases. Inadequately armed and under fire themselves while waiting for UN back-up, AMIS peacekeepers have even lost their lives.
It is generally agreed that the AU peacekeepers had no realistic chance of significantly affecting the larger situation on the ground. They were only officially charged with keeping order in the refugee camps and helping in the delivery of humanitarian aid. In addition to this weak mandate, they lack training, common languages, equipment, and sheer numbers. Gerard Prunier remarked that, to the Janjaweed, the AMIS soldiers were often seen as little more than “military tourists.” Moreover, many civilians in Darfur claim not to trust them, worrying about the potential for bribery and conflicting loyalties. Even the International Crisis Group has been critical of the AU’s susceptibility to pressure from Khartoum. In an article for the Sudan Tribune, Wasil Ali echoes this sentiment, and says of outgoing Chairman Konare, that it was his overriding goal to “align the interests of the AU with those of the Sudanese government… peace in Darfur was never a goal for Konare, no matter what he says…it is of no surprise that the Darfur refugees have demanded that the UN forces come to replace the AU.”
Africanist scholar Mahmood Mamdani argues that AU leaders suffered from tactical deficiencies in the way they handled information about the situation. This led to the public turning “reflexively to the UN at the first sign of bad news” instead of giving the AU more support immediately. Yet, overall, AMIS troops have been extraordinarily heroic in the face of unimaginable violence, and their presence has undoubtedly saved lives. As the AU’s Nigerian Force Commander Major General Collins pointed out in his comments to the BBC in 2006, “If someone hasn’t got wings and you say he has failed to fly – I don’t think you can call that failure.” See the HBO Documentary Sand and Sorrow for a more in-depth look at AMIS efforts, both at the peace table and on the ground in places such as Tawila, Darfur.
Peace-Making – The Abuja Process
Inter-Sudanese Peace Talks were held in Darfur from May 2001- December 2002. In 2003, they were internationalized and held in Chad, Ethiopia, and finally Abuja, Nigeria, up until the spring of 2006, when the parties faced a UN deadline. The hurdles faced by the AU sponsors in Abuja were enormous as Darfur’s rebel forces split into factions along tribal lines. In the end, despite much facilitation by the US and others, mediators were unable to convince the Fur tribe contingent to sign along with the Zaghwa tribe and the Government of Sudan (GOS). The accord that resulted, the incomplete Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), incited revolts among civilians against AMIS forces in the camps. Although several rebel factions have still not signed the treaty and its cease-fires have been violated, the hybrid AU/UN force that was authorized in 2007 has as its mission implementation of the DPA.
Upon a deeper probe into the difficulties faced by the AU in Abuja, experts have expressed concern about the potential in Darfur for splintering the AU organization between Arabs and black Africans. This continues to be a sticking point as the AU and UN worry about the delicate balance between existing Arab and non-Arab factions on the continent, and within their own organizations. Moreover, there is concern that efforts to resolve other conflicts in the region could be derailed by the racial tensions exacerbated by involvement in Darfur. Abakar Mohamed Abuelbasher, a spokesman for the rebel “movements,” documents many content, procedural, and tactical problems with the Abuja process (see his article “On the Failure of Darfur Peace Talks in Abuja” from the Sudan Tribune 8/25/06 for an in-depth analysis from the rebel standpoint).
In October of 2007, further talks were convened by the UN and AU in Libya. Many rebel factions boycotted the process over the venue alone, citing al Ghadafi’s meddling and pro-Khartoum foreign policies in general. Eventually, these negotiations collapsed and the talks failed. Writing in the Sudan Tribune on September 27, 2007, Eric Reeves, a prominent journalist on the Darfur issue, described the fallout from this failed attempt in terms of “the boost it gives to Khartoum, which appeared with a full delegation… and proceeded to indulge in fulsome talk about being prepared to make peace. Knowing full well that there would be no adequate or coherent rebel representation, the regime saw this as the perfect opportunity for a significant propaganda victory.”
In the fall of 2007, the AU had little choice but to wait and see how and when the UN would commit to implementing UNSC 1769 by providing badly needed help on the ground and at the negotiating table.