Saving Sudan – and Africa

Annan heads to Ethiopia for conference to boost African Union efforts in Darfur

Everyone is heading for Addis Ababa in order to try to save Sudan.

Everyone? Well, the Secretary General of the United Nations, the High Representative of the European Union, the Secretary General of NATO and a couple of others. It’s a conference to pledge support to the African Union peacekeeping efforts in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Good and worthy and nice in itself. The African Union certainly needs the support it is given. And there is most certainly a need for the AU peacekeeping forces that are now in Darfur and that will, at least according to plans, increase to 12 000 towards the end of the year.

But in itself this will not solve the situation. Stabilize, perhaps. Solve, distinctly not. You can stabilize with a military mission of this sort, but in order to solve you need a political process.

At the moment, there is hardly anything worthy of the name in Darfur.

The different rebel movements seems, according to the UN representative there, to be more interested in travelling around the world than in attenting peace talks. And there are obvious strains between these people and those actually doing the fighting on the ground in Sudan.

As long as this remains the case, there will be no peace worthy of the name, and that irrespectively of what the government in Khartoum is doing or not doing. It take two to tango – or to test the seriousness of each of them to the dance.

At the end of the day, everything is linked to the process with the implementation of the peace agreement between the South and the North of Sudan. That’s the really big story for the coming years.

The UN has just started to deploy the beginning of a peace force that will build up to app 10 000 men and women in primarily the South of the country. It will in all probability be the biggest, most challenging and most important UN mission in the years ahead.

Also here, the political process is paramount.

In six years time there will be a referendum in Sudan on whether they want to stay together or split up with the South and the North going different ways. It’s a very short time to demonstrate that a common future might actually work.

A breakup of the biggest state in Africa will have far-reaching consequences in the region. There might well a serious aggrevation of the tendencies towards disintegration in the entire region immediately to the South of the Sahara – from Somalia to Sierra Leona. Large parts of the region will be hovering on the brink of genocide.

The future of Sudan is of immense importance for the future of Africa. It’s the biggest country of the continent – bordering on no less than ten other states. Its diversity in terms of cultures, traditions and languages is vast.

I hope that the discussions in Addis Ababa will not only the the usual beauty contest between international organisations on who can to the best to provide planning and logistical support to the efforts of the African Union. That’s certainly important – but no more than the beginning.

There needs to be a proper political process. In Darfur – that’s the most immediate challenge. In Sudan as a whole – really making certain that the peace agreement works over the years to come.

And a clear strategy from international actors on how to prevent the catastrophies that are likely to flow out of a gradual disintegration of important parts of Africa.

It might be there – in which case it remains a deep secret. An even deeper secret would be to absence of such a strategy.

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