Articles and Analysies
Why the African Union has Failed Darfur by Abdellatife Ismail,
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Nov 12, 2008 - 4:25:24 PM

Why the African Union has Failed Darfur



With the current deterioration of security in Darfur, it is now more important than ever to review the role of the African Union in Darfur. Over recent years the AU has been the organization of choice in solving problems on the continent since it is supposed to provide “African solutions to African problems”. However more than four years after its initial deployment in 2004, the AU - even in tandem with its partners the UN -   has failed to deliver any meaningful security on the ground in Darfur. The time has come to ask why?


Initial complaints about the deployment of troops on the ground centered on the fact that the African Union’s mandate was weak allowing only for observation rather than active intervention. This, together with complaints about under-resourcing, allowed the AU to remain detached from the security needs of local people pointing instead to an inadequate framework for intervention. However, following UN Security Council Resolution 1769 (July 31, 2007), the picture should have changed. This resolution - which gave the mission a stronger mandate authorizing them under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter to take the "necessary action" to prevent armed attacks, ensure the security of humanitarian workers and to protect civilians - should have provided the basis for resolution of security issues. Over one year on however, it is clear that the UNAMID force has been woefully inadequate in achieving any of its objectives.


In part, one can argue that implementation problems were already writ large across the Resolution 1769 even before it even left the UN Security Council. In trying to provide maximum flexibility for the peace keeping operation, it also left the door open to the Government of Sudan’s obstructionism and belligerence. For example, the lack of a clear and finite timescale for implementation was a major problem from the outset. Add to this the fact that command and control structures of UNAMID were not set up until months after the resolution; the fact that UNAMID control was not established until the end of 2007 and that full operating capacity was never timetabled except to say “thereafter” made it clear that UNAMID was hardly a workable entity from the start.


This being said it is not enough to simply blame implementation problems for the failure of security. The African Union (with or without its UN partners) has singularly failed in a number of key areas. Most notably these are: lack of moral leadership, mistaking interference for mediation, failing to take the movements and the people of Darfur as serious partners to peace and failing, in a wider sense, to learn from lessons of the past.

Where moral leadership is concerned, the African Union has failed to step up to the plate leaving Darfurians to fend for themselves. It has failed to use the strength of the African continent to defend the African continent. First, instead of protecting African citizens from wholesale abuse and murder, it has put its own needs first, preferring a softly–softly approach and its own business interests to taking action against the Government of Sudan. This has resulted in justice taking a backseat to expediency. In July 2008 for example, it took the form of stressing the need for a political settlement rather than resorting to the accountability process put in place by the ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. Yet in doing so, it has reinforced the fact that “political settlement” is simply a byword for doing nothing, since there has been no coherent political process after the breakdown of the Abuja talks.

Further, although the African Union is quick to point out the limits of its mandate when it suits, it has no problem whatsoever in overstepping its mandate in other areas. This can clearly be seen in its role as mediator. Not satisfied in acting as peacekeeper in the region, it prefers to interfere in the ICC process asking for a delay to the indictment of Al-Bashir. This is not the first time that the AU has demonstrated an acute lack of sensitivity to its role and potential conflicts of interest either. The 2006 AU summit held in Khartoum showed the absolute indifference the AU had to the conflict in Darfur. Cozying down with the NCP in Khartoum, it was clear that the AU was quite happy to allow Al-Bashir to pronounce on the solutions to problems that he himself was creating, rather than taking the role of mediator of peace seriously.

All of these actions underscore the fact that the AU has no interest in taking either the movements in Darfur or the local people as serious partners to peace. Their actions show a complete disregard for security in the region and a callous disregard for the lives of innocent people. The idea has been forgotten that that responsibility to protect should first entail the responsibility of sovereign states to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophe, but then, in the second instance a responsibility of the broader community to help. Instead of defending the rights of fellow Africans, the African Union has been leading the charge in reducing their rights.

It is now high time for the international community to stop using the African Union as a way to absolve or limit themselves from substantive taking action on Darfur. It is clear that the African Union has its own agenda: one that does not serve the people of Darfur well. It is also high time that the Government of Sudan is prevented from picking and choosing among those who can be involved in the peacekeeping arena.  Humanitarian assistance is a very far second from establishing the conditions by which the crisis can be resolved and the people of Darfur can live their lives on peace. If the African Union wants to help the people of Darfur it needs to step aside and allow any and all available resources into the region. Security must first be the number one priority before any other measures can be put in place.


Abdellatife Ismail, Secretary, for media and information Sudan Liberation Army/Movement

[email protected]                      Tel: +44 7850380180

Date: 12-11-2008


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