Darfur: A test case for Africa

Published: 22-OCT-04

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 African 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 and supports.

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 quieter. Apparently, 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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