Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 3 July 2006

Anti-UN sentiment in Darfur lighting rod for African nationalism


By William Church*

July 3, 2006 — The battle over United Nations troops replacing African Union troops in Darfur has scratched the long festering wound of outside influences controlling the destiny of Africa. Darfur is a lighting rod of anti-United Nations sentiment because it contains the seeds of African hope, frustration, lack and desires.

Anyone who thinks the solution to Darfur’s humanitarian crisis is as simple as UN troops replacing African Union (AU) peacekeepers has failed to understand that the battle is not about peacekeeping in Darfur-or even Africa. Darfur is about Africans finding an African solution and the end of outside, political interference in Africa.

There maybe a good reason why the government of Sudan does not trust the United Nations, despite the AU official position on the transfer of peacekeepers to the UN. The story of Darfur is similar to the story of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. A permanent member of the UN Security Council aided a situation that developed into genocide in one case and in the second example it may be complicit although not directly involved. In essence, Sudan is asking the question if the Security Council can be an honest peace broker if one of its members is political involved in the situation. This question also holds true with the situation in Somalia, where there are allegations of United States involvement in the current struggle.

The following examples are not meant to indict or criticize any one member of the Security Council. Instead, they are meant to demonstrate that the government of Sudan may have valid concerns about United Nations involvement.

It is a matter of public record that French paratroopers trained and supported the military of the genocidal government of Rwanda’s President Habyarimana. Later that same Rwandan military executed, along with the Interahamwe, the devastating 1994 Rwandan genocide. In addition, French-paratroopers, in the eyes of the current Rwandan government, played a dubious role at the end of the 1994 genocide when they blocked the pursuit of the genocidal forces. This event and others have long colored the relationship between Rwanda and the United Nations and is a lesson, well-remembered in Africa.

French involvement in Chad also raises similar concerns. International Crisis Group (ICG) and other organizations have reported that Chad’s French-backed army allegedly exploited the social and political instability in Darfur when it supported factions of the Sudan Liberation Army in their rebellion against the Khartoum government. The suspected or real Chadian involvement adds to the level of distrust and this week culminated in Khartoum expelling Chadian peacekeepers with the AU force in Darfur.

Sudan also understands there are questions about the lack of due process in examining the evidence reported by the UN Panel of Experts. These Expert Panels are used to shape Security Council policy and develop the basis for sanctions against governments and individuals, and rightly, the government of Sudan is concerned about the Security Council’s abuse of these Expert Panels.

In 2005, a consultant to a UN Expert Panel called for a public review of the evidence in a DRC arms embargo report. He charged that the Experts did not conduct a complete investigation, violated their own standards of evidence, and intentionally misrepresented their evidence in their official report to the Security Council.

The ex-UN Expert Panel consultant was joined by the governments of South Africa, Rwanda, and Uganda, which also disputed the methodology of the Experts and their evidence. These governments, like the ex-consultant, called for a public review of the evidence. The Security Council responded by conducting a vicious slander campaign against the ex-consultant, and then refused calls for a public review and conducted a closed door, non-transparent review of the evidence. In the end, they issued a press release stating they fully supported the Experts, ignoring calls from African states for a public hearing. This case, like the others, adds to Sudan’s concern if the Security Council can be an honest broker of peace and if sanctions will be used against it as a form of regime change.

However, there is a much larger principle at stake. Darfur is a lighting rod for African Nationalism because it hits to the heart of two key African issues: capacity building and sustainability.

Sudan is suspicious of the Security Council’s motives since the UN has never articulated the reason why properly equipped and mandated AU peacekeepers are less effective that properly equipped and mandated UN peacekeepers. Sudan’s doubt increases especially when it knows that there are 26,000 well-equipped African UN peacekeepers already serving in Africa that could just as easily serve the AU if properly supported and mandated. In addition, there are over 7,000 AU peacekeepers in Darfur that are more than capable if properly supported and mandated.

There is a lingering suspicion that the overarching UN view is that Africans can not manage their own affairs unless there is a foreign overseer. This is supported by the everyday experience of African leaders and Africans.

International donors talk about capacity building and sustainability and then push contrary policies. African leaders ask themselves why they can not decide themselves how wide their roads must be or whether it is tarmac or another surface. Instead those decisions are made thousands of miles away at international donor headquarters.

Africans are asking about the gap between rhetoric of sustainability and capacity building and the reality of international donor policy. African leaders are asking if the goal is African capacity building and sustainability then why is it that the international donors require contracts for their funds to be dispense to companies owned by foreign nationals, which represent the international donor community, and not Africans.

For some members of the international community, aid to Africa is either a jobs program for their own citizens or disguised subsidies for their national industries. African leaders in Rwanda and Uganda have been widely criticized for exercising their sovereign right to control the international National Government Organizations (NGOs) in their countries.

African leaders are asking why international donors place more weight on foreign think-tank reports about corruption or human rights than reports from African human rights organizations which may directly contradict an organization like US-based Freedom House, which admits that it has never visited some of the countries it evaluates. The same questions are being asked about the NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) Peer Review process. African leaders are asking why foreign governments and organizations give more weight to assessments by international organizations and not the NEPAD findings.

It is important to note that this question echoes the current situation assessment in Darfur. The government of Sudan maintains a view that the problems are being resolved with the current force and with the current peace agreement. The United Nations disagrees with that assessment. Once again, it raises the question of who is better able to assess and develop a solution to an African problem. What is implied in the automatic assumption that the United Nations’ view is correct?

The answer to this question demonstrates a general African suspicion about the international community and a growing rebellion against foreign intervention. Uganda’s President Museveni has been quoted recently as saying that he will no longer allow foreigners to tell him how to run his government. Rwanda President Kagame has consistently fought for Rwanda’s right to manage and define itself, and in a telling manner, this has been greeted with hostile response by some members of the international community.

Sudan’s President al-Bashir is echoing those same African concerns when he stresses his belief that this is an African problem and it must have an African solution. If the international community truly wants to have a new partnership with Africa then it should listen to these concerns. This does not mean that the world should ignore the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. It means the quickest solution to the humanitarian crisis is to work with the government of Sudan to find an African solution that builds long-term capacity and allows Africans to demonstrate their leadership skills.

* William Church is the Director of the London based Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies. He can be reached at wchurch@glcss.org

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