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Sudan Tribune

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The ‘challenges’ of Darfur

By Eric Reeves, The Mail&Guardian

Feb 28, 2006 –How serious is South Africa about halting massive, ethnically targeted human destruction in Darfur in western Sudan? Is President Thabo Mbeki prepared to support the robust, international force required to protect millions of vulnerable people and the increasingly tenuous humanitarian lifeline upon which they depend? At the moment of truth for Darfur, the answers are not encouraging.

This is troubling since South African leadership will be crucial at the March meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council that will determine whether the Darfur mission will be handed to the United Nations, something the AU has declared itself willing to do only “in principle”. Without such a hand over, the current AU force will continue to prove inadequate to the tasks of civilian protection for humanitarian operations. The AU is certainly incapable of disarming the combatants, especially the murderous, Khartoum-backed Janjaweed militia. And without such security, more than two million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees languishing in camps cannot return to their lands and resume agriculturally productive lives.

Currently, the AU force has only 5 000 troops — and only 7 000 personnel altogether for a region the size of France. This is well short of the AU set target, partly because South Africa has for months reneged on its commitment to a contingent, approximately 500, of civilian police. Recent assessments of the AU force highlight the lack of civilian police as one reason extreme insecurity persists in IDP camps. Most of these camps remain the site of rapes, killings, arbitrary arrests and torture. Indeed, Khartoum’s Janjaweed allies are increasingly attacking camps themselves, assaults the AU is unable to halt or deter.

Despite these terrible realities, Mbeki and other African leaders have retreated into the mantra of “African solutions for African problems”.

Mbeki’s view is highlighted in a recent study of the AU force in Darfur: “We have not asked for anybody outside of the African continent to deploy troops in Darfur. It is an African responsibility, and we can do it.” The ghastly facts on the ground in Darfur reveal the hollowness of these words, and the question becomes whether Mbeki’s passionate African “continentalism” will triumph over the need to move swiftly to save the more than 3,5-million people estimated to be “conflict-affected”. Most within this vast population have lost everything in fleeing to IDP camps and into eastern Chad. There are no remaining foodstocks, and agricultural production has largely collapsed. Violence has produced intolerable levels of insecurity, forcing an increasing number of humanitarian evacuations, leaving hundreds of thousands without food or assistance of any kind.

To be sure, Mbeki has plenty of company insisting that the AU is up to the task in Darfur, including Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt as well as Libyan leader Moammar Ghadaffi. The same insistence comes from officials within the AU, even if this stubborn pride comes at the expense of the innocent women and children who make up a large majority of acutely vulnerable camp populations.

Mbeki had a chance to confront the architects of the current genocide in Darfur a year ago, when he addressed the Parliament in Khartoum. Instead, in remarks widely reported, he devoted his time to excoriating Winston Churchill and British policies in Africa of a century ago. And although Mbeki visited Darfur, he made only the obligatory stops that Khartoum had sanitised for visiting dignitaries. Afterwards, he spoke not of genocide or conspicuous crimes against humanity, but of “challenges” in the region.

Mbeki has unrivalled power as an African leader, and has used that power wisely in several arenas. But failure to lead the way in halting ethnically targeted destruction of defenseless populations in Darfur ensures his leadership will be compromised by the failure to help stop genocidal destruction that may eventually exceed that of Rwanda in 1994.

Eric Reeves teaches at Smith College, Massachusetts, US, and has published extensively on Sudan

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