NOTES ON NAIROBI
Darfur: A test case for Africa
There was a self-congratulatory atmosphere in Nairobi after the Sudanese Government signed a peace agreement with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to end years of internal conflict over southern Sudan.
Everybody sat back and waited to
coast to victory. But something sinister was already in the air, lurking like a
vulture. Darfur gatecrashed the party, and has assumed the level
of international notoriety that has been the preserve of Iraq over
the past few years.
Darfur is the story of an insurgency gone wrong. In April
last year, the Sudanese Government recruited Arab nomads to
help crush a rebellion from black tribes in Darfur that have
been griping about being neglected and demanding other
rights. The Arab recruits engaged these rebels, but quickly
found an even more engaging pursuit - attacking Darfur civilians.
Before long, the conflict turned into a pogrom in which these
Arab recruits, now known as the Janjaweed, started killing
residents of Darfur and driving them out of their homes.
The atrocities are well documented: the Janjaweed went on an
orgy of killing, raping and burning of homes.
The culpability of the Sudanese Government is also well
documented, including aerial support through bombardment
for Janjaweed attacks by government warplanes. At the latest
count, 50 000 people were dead and a million displaced. All
these events were obscured by the spotlight on conclusion of the
Nairobi peace talks.
What has been the reaction of the international community? It
can be distilled into two: rhetoric and high-profile visits. US secretary
of State Colin Powell, British Prime Minister Tony Blair
and United Nations (UN) secretary-general Kofi Annan have all
trooped to Sudan to see the atrocities in Darfur and discuss the
crises with the Sudanese Government.
All of this activity has produced no outcome at all for the people suffering in Darfur. Semantics have
gone into high gear to rationalize why the international community - principally the
US, Britain and the UN - have refused to move at all against the
Sudanese Government for its refusal to rein in militias it created
Iraqis must be rueing their luck, given the speed and determination
with which US and Britain cobbled together a so-called
“coalition of the willing” to fight a highly unpopular war internationally,
yet continue to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no
evil in Darfur.
One is even reminded of the fact that since Sudan became an
important oil producer, the US Government has substantially
softened its stand against that regime. One hopes Darfur is not a
victim of the US thirst for oil. As for the UN, weak-kneed resolutions
which have so far failed to get sanctions imposed against
Sudan continue to dominate its Darfur agenda.
Indeed, the latest move by the UN was to cobble together
another fact-finding mission to report back to it
on Darfur. The
report is expected in several months.
But even more embarrassing is the muted African response.
Nobody wants to tell the Sudanese Government to stop killing
its own people. Darfur will certainly be a test case for Africa
and its capacity to rein in intolerable behaviour among its own,
which underpins such issues like Africa seeking solutions to its
own problems, and being your brother’s keeper.
As for the Sudanese Government itself, it continues to purport
to be above the fray. It states that any international intervention
will only worsen the situation.
For crying out loud, how can a situation as terrible as exists
in Darfur be made worse by international intervention? The
arguments of the Sudanese Government are the same hollow,
self-serving ones that have been made by governments all over
the continent as they killed their own people and chased them
from their homes.
Col John Garang, the leader of the SPLA, is even
he does not want to do anything that would jeopardise
his hard-won peace agreement with the Sudanese Government.
In the meantime, people continue to be killed, raped, maimed,
and chased from their homes. A million Sudanese are now living
in complete destitution in refugee camps in Chad and other
areas where they have fled.
What level of outrage will get somebody to force the Sudanese
Government to protect its own people? African and world leaders
cannot continue as if Darfur does not matter. And neither
can you, because next time it might be happening in a village
near you. So as you whistlingly go about your business, spare a
thought for the wretched of Darfur.
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