Next step: pressuring U.S. on Sudan
September 4, 2006
BY LYNN SWEET SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST
N'DJAMENA, Chad -- Sen. Barack Obama departed this capital city Sunday morning on an Army military aircraft to Frankfort, Germany, to catch a commercial flight back to the United States.
He leaves with a "great urgency" to pressure the United States and other players to force Sudan to accept a United Nations peacekeeping force in the Darfur region. Obama's last stop was at a refugee camp near the Chad-Sudan border where a total of 15,333 people who fled Janjaweed violence live.
Of those he talked to, they told him almost to a person that they want to return -- but cannot unless there are U.N. troops there to guarantee their safety.
After this major Africa swing -- Obama left Washington on Aug. 18 -- he revs up a heavy political schedule in advance of the November elections, stumping in Iowa on Sept. 17, a stop in the early presidential caucus state that fuels speculation about whether the White House is in his future.
Obama launches a national tour to promote his second book Oct. 17 in Chicago.
He reflected on his trip at the back of a plane Saturday, talking above the roar of the engines to the three print reporters who have been covering his trip.
Obama's next big international journey will be in 2007 -- he's looking at China, India and Indonesia, "where ironically I actually have more of a childhood than I do in Kenya."
Some excerpts from Obama's interview:
On the Sudan situation
He says the African Union peacekeepers are hampered. "The instability in Sudan is greater than I realized. I think that the lack of a clear mandate for the African Union is more debilitating than I realized and that effectively they are not able to provide any type of security function in these areas."
Need for action
"It appears that there is a possible significant offensive by the Sudan forces against rebel forces once the rainy season [is] over and that is obviously a concern.... My overarching sense is the great urgency to get a United Nations protective force on the ground. We can't wait."
U.S. effort in Darfur
"Better, but better is not good enough. [A protective force] is not going to happen without special effort on our part."
Highlights and insights
"The visit to Kisumu [which included a stop at his father's homestead] and actually the response when we took that AIDS test was fairly remarkable [Obama and wife Michelle took it publicly to reduce the stigma of testing] ... a small gesture that could actually save some lives."
"Coming here and seeing how isolated people are and really getting a sense I think in this region how ungoverned entire segments of the continent are."
"Trying to figure out how we can create structures that provide people with basic security, basic protection ... a huge problem and one that we are going to have to continue to grapple with, I think, for many years because it has a direct impact on our own security back home."
2 Nobel Peace Prize winners
Obama met former Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai. "The fact that both appeared so cheerful and hopeful indicates there is something about when people serve; somehow it enriches them in all sorts of ways. They just seemed like happy, fulfilled people, even though they are not particularly wealthy."