In Defense of the African Union
An article by Abdul Mohammed posted in today’s Sudan Tribune defends the AU against those who have criticized or demeaned the AU. For more than two years, we have heard a chorus of complaints that the AU is inadequate, incompetent, or biased, both in its peacekeeping mission and its diplomatic efforts. The criticisms need to be taken seriously. But the AU and its role need to be assessed objectively–and there is much to defend.
Abdul Mohammed’s argument is that the AU stepped into Darfur at a time when no-one else–including the UN–was ready to do so. In taking on the mission of monitoring the Ndjamena Humanitarian Ceasefire it was accepting “mission impossible” because the agreement was incomplete in vital respects. In taking on the mediation effort it was accepting an impossible challenge, because neither the government nor the rebels were ready to negotiate in good faith, and western governments conducted their own parallel negotiations with Khartoum and the armed movements, undermining the autonomy and credibility of the AU.
Most importantly, the whole international debate about bringing the UN to Darfur was conducted at the expense of the AU. It was a slow but devastating drip, drip of condescension.
Did the armed groups that attacked the AU military group site in Haskanita feel that no-one would stand up in defense of the AU, and therefore they had complete impunity?
In addition, I would like to add my own brief commentary.
I am deeply shocked by the attack at Haskanita. It is a criminal act. It is inexcusable.
The assault was one of very few instances in history in which there has been a clearly-planned and premeditated attack on international peacekeepers. Most instances in which peacekeepers are killed occur in the context of coercive operations, such as the Pakistanis who tried to disarm General Mohamed Farah Aidid’s militia in Mogadishu, or are the outcome of error and miscalculation by either peacekeepers or belligerent parties, or both, in the heat of the moment. The murderous attack at Haskanita puts the attackers in the same select category as the Rwandese soldiers who slaughtered 13 Belgian peacekeepers in cold blood in Kigali in April 1994, in one of the first acts of the Rwanda genocide. That observation speaks for itself.
From the outset, the principal culprits have been clearly identified as members of the Darfur armed movements. There is not yet complete clarity on which individuals and groups were involved in the two attacks on Saturday night and Sunday morning, but enough is known to be able to point the finger with certainty at the rebels. This is an immense moral comedown.
Darfur’s moral and political landscape is changed in the aftermath of this crime. It will have repercussions on the prospects for peace and for peacekeeping. The leadership of the armed movements faces a huge challenge in restoring its credibility. The government, meanwhile, is happy with the confusion that has overtaken both the rebels and their foreign sympathisers.
I will write more on this topic soon.
Several people have challenged me following the posting of the comments above. Is the AU not ineffective and biased towards the Sudan government? How dare I compare the Darfur rebels to the Rwandese killers? Let me respond.
The African Mission in Sudan has become ineffective, partly through its own internal failings and partly for no fault of its own–because of lack of resources provided by international donors. The most egregious error was the expulsion of the non-signatories from the Ceasefire Commission in August 2006 (an act that I strenuously opposed). As time has gone by and AMIS forces have become less mobile and more confined to their posts and less able to venture out and interact with the general population and the armed movements, the perception has also arisen that they are closer to the government. Even if true, however, this cannot justify any attack on them.
It is not only wrong but extremely foolish. It will deter troop contributing countries from playing a role in UNAMID and when they do so, it will place more focus on force protection and less on working with the civilian populace and protecting them.
As for the comparison with the killing of the Belgians in Kigali in 1994, this comparison is intended to shock. A premeditated attack on peacekeepers is a rare event, and the Darfurian armed movements should be aware that this kind of act has repercussions well beyond what they might anticipate. They do not want to belong to this club, but very soon the onus will be on them to demonstrate it. The world’s loyalties are fickle. The solidarity of the grassroots movements for Darfur in the U.S. and elsewhere are with the people of Darfur, and while the rebels have gained advantages from that, they should not take these benefits for granted. They must organize to represent their people politically as quickly as they can and banish the stain of the Haskanita attack before it drags them all down.