Yesterday’s UN appeal for an additional 19-point-seven million dollars to help protect displaced people in Sudan’s Darfur region underscores the volatile security situation that international and non-governmental organizations continue to face. Paul Williams is visiting Associate Professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. He explains that only when the warring sides reach a political understanding to end the ongoing violence can the money set aside for refugees and dislodged citizens be put to good use.
“Any use of aid that actually goes to the victims who are suffering as a result of being displaced in this conflict is useful. But I think we really need to make sure that that aid is going into an environment where there is a political agreement between the warring parties, which there just doesn’t seem to be at the moment,” he said.
In Professor Williams’ view, world attention on pressuring the Khartoum government to accept a strengthened international peacekeeping force in Darfur was diverted somewhat by December’s fall of the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia.
“I think at least in the media we receive here in Washington, a lot of the time, there’s only room for one particular crisis, and I think that the Ethiopian invasion in Somalia has definitely taken the news spotlight off Darfur to some extent,” he said. “I think the bigger problem, however, is that the African Union’s capabilities are really limited in its ability to set up the peace operations previously in Burundi and in Darfur, and now the idea that we can try and assemble through the African Union eight thousand or so troops for a peacekeeping force in Somalia, I think, is really quite unrealistic.”
To step up the pressure on Khartoum to accept an international oversight presence, Professor Williams argues, will require the African Union to assert coercive powers outlined in the AU Charter. He says that so far, African member states have been reluctant to make use of such demands.
“I think the African Union, like the rest of the international community, has been really loathe to apply coercive measures against the government in Khartoum, and it’s only under invoking Article 4-H that the Union is allowed to use interventionary measures in that regards. So without some form of coercion used against the government in Khartoum, it’s largely going to carry on with its plan,” he said.
At meetings this week in Addis Ababa, the African Union defeated a bid by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to serve as the organization’s new Chairman and selected President John Kufuor of Ghana. The AU vote followed a speech by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who said the cost of the Darfur crisis “remains unacceptable.” Professor Williams notes that the African Union delegates took a positive step by denying Sudan the AU Chairmanship for the second consecutive year.
“What it does is to send a powerful message, not just to African governments, but also to international society, that the Sudanese government wanted, again for symbolic and political reasons, to obtain the Chair of the African Union. And the fact that there’s now been a consensus vote within the African Union that Sudan wouldn’t be allowed to this position, then I think that’s an important symbol in itself,” he said.