Candid Comment

African people’s ‘long nightmare’
By Joram Nyathi


“THE implementation of the agreement, once concluded,” said United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, “would require that we immediately begin to strengthen the African

Union force on the ground so that they can begin implementation of the critical aspects of the agreement. We would also need to intensify our own humanitarian efforts, and we need the resources … to do this, and as you know we have so far received only 20% of the resources required.”

Annan was addressing reporters last Friday following the signing of a ceasefire agreement between the Sudanese government and the main rebel group in the Darfur conflict, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army/Movement in Abuja, Nigeria.

Annan’s statement is significant in two respects. It exposes our lack of negotiating skills or the contempt in which Africans hold each other. It took the intervention of the United States government to hammer out an agreement between the Sudanese government and the rebels of the south who have been fighting what they perceive as the marginalisation of their region.

Secondly, it reveals the shortage of resources to deal with conflicts on the continent without external assistance. That in itself has tended to weaken the hand of the African Union in dealing with numerous bloody conflicts. This factor is intimately linked to the first — in the absence of agreement between the warring factions, America might be forced to take unilateral action to force the Sudanese government to rein in its army and its seemingly unruly Arab militia, the Janjaweed.

The humanitarian crisis in Darfur is not new. What is relatively new is the urgency in Annan’s voice to have it resolved quickly. The conflict started way back in 2003 over the sharing of national resources. It has reportedly displaced over 2,3 million people and left over 300 000 dead. Millions are internally displaced and starving because the camel-riding Janjaweed militia, an extension of the government’s military, will not allow people to farm.

The African Union has deployed 7 000 peacekeepers in the region to provide a buffer zone. But this is not enough to stop the killings. The resources are limited both for the peacekeepers and to take care of the refugees.

I was saddened the other day watching a Moslem woman on television protesting against the involvement of the United Nations in Darfur. She was furious. She said something about sovereignty and the threat of US hegemony.

I was reminded of similar self-serving posturing in the state media by those not physically affected by the conflict — how they urge patience by everybody while resources and the right partners are being consulted to help solve the problem. Meanwhile the killings continue.

The UN needn’t replace nor diminish the role of the AU. It is a matter of reinforcements. What Darfur calls for is speed and massive aid. Each time such conflicts erupt African leaders gather in some safe capital to make expansive speeches that mean absolutely nothing beyond the sound. Looking at the latest dithering about Darfur, one would think the Rwandan genocide occurred five centuries ago and we have forgotten the 800 000 or so people who perished while the Organisation of African Unity looked the way.

One would also imagine that the atrocities committed by the likes of Charles Taylor in West Africa belonged to another planet. The same goes for the African Union’s passive response to the lawlessness in Somalia where warlords have taken over the capital Mogadishu and are engaged in internecine clashes. It’s as if all men of conscience died way back, for Rwanda and Darfur should have spurred such men to swift action “before it happens again”.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the unfolding tragedy in Darfur was “a long nightmare” not just for America but the entire humanity. It is a metaphor that African leaders can’t grasp. But it is one that the peoples of Africa live throughout their lives. They have over the decades of Independence watched helplessly but in disgust as liberation war heroes turn into “long nightmares” of brutality and poverty.

Asked why he thought this time the Sudanese government would respect the paper on which it appended its signature in Abuja, Annan said: “I hope all concerned know the implications of inaction.”

That is the key thing. There will be just as much action as there is the fear of punitive sanction. Which is where the force of the UN and the US becomes paramount. We could wait for a century for Africa to muster the will and the resources to end the carnage in Darfur.

It is one thing to talk about the sovereignty of the African people and quite another to be able to defend it. So far African leaders have failed their people in this respect. Even in clear instances of looming genocide, they have acted with unconscionable tardiness as if our lives don’t matter and are expendable at the slightest opportunity.

This explains the many incidents of human rights abuses and coups d’etat across the continent since the era of Independence in the 1960s. It all emanates from an anachronistic doctrine in the AU Charter that defines “internal affairs” to mean the caprices of the leader and nothing to do with the wishes of the people. In Darfur, Annan has a chance to set the right tone for his successors as he serves out his last term as UN secretary-general. Africa needs leaders who dream and see beyond their own club as the big men of the continent.