One of Africa's most important experiments--African troops providing security in African conflicts--looks slated for premature burial. The current African Union peacekeeping Mission in Sudan (AMIS), with close to 7,000 troops and operating expenses of more than US $17 million a month, cannot be sustained beyond March without further financial support, its leaders reported recently. The need for effective peacekeeping in Darfur is dire, with some 139 ceasefire violations committed since May 2005, by parties to the conflict. Five African peacekeepers and two civilian staff were killed by unknown gunmen in the last four months. Banditry and attacks against aid workers have also increased.
The Sudanese remain opposed to a UN takeover of the AU-led mission. On Saturday, Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol expressed reservation over a UN proposal to deploy peacekeeping forces in Darfur to take over from AU forces, who face a financial shortage of some 160 million U.S. dollars. Periodic rounds of peace negotiations in Abuja, also under AU aegis, are ongoing--and inconclusive.
The international community is taking the AU's current funding impasse as an opportunity to call for direct UN peacekeeping support to AU troops, a move opposed by the Sudanese government. Sudan rejected previous UN suggestions that US and European troops should be sent to Darfur and argues the international community should instead provide more cash to African forces already on the ground. The UN already has international peacekeeping presence on the ground in south Sudan, UNMIS, to support the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of January 2005, which ended two decades of civil war between north and south. Expanding the existing logistics and manpower of UNMIS to support the AU presence is an obvious possible solution. But what would it mean for the AU; for the mantra on everyone's lips: African solutions to African problems?
Formed from the ashes of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1999, the African Union did not initially diverge from its predecessor's tendency to genuflect before African demogoguery. Hesitantly, and under significant international pressure, it began in 2004 to voice opposition--delivering barks not bites--to Zimbabwe's President Mugabe. Under a pretext of 'African solidarity' and 'quiet diplomacy', direct condemnation was risky for the new institution, whose clout depended on securing the support and trust of African heads of state, regardless of their governance record. The result, a lapdog approach to African regimes good and bad, would eventually erode international confidence in its potential capacity to arbitrate complex crises, such as Darfur. To its credit, the AU has perceived and risen to this challenge.
By any measure, Darfur was not the easiest site to road-test AU peacekeeping prowess. (A shortlived peacekeeping mission in Burundi preceded events in Darfur. Composed entirely of South African troops and materiel, however, it was the AU's 'first mission' in name only). Since arriving in Darfur in mid-2004, AMIS has had some success in reducing insecurity for civilians through its limited presence and reporting. The viciousness and intractability of the conflict, however, has since exceeded AU capacity.
A rapid and dramatic increase in the number of peacekeepers on the ground in Darfur is urgent. The African Union is a new institution with few resources and no experience of peacekeeping or military operations of the scale required. With logistics support from NATO and financing from the European Union, AMIS was scheduled to scale up to 7500 by September 2005 and to 12,000 by March 2006. It failed to meet the September benchmark and with funding now exhausted, the 12,000 troop number is impossible. Even if sufficient finances were available, institutionally the AU cannot act fast enough to bring protection to Darfur civilians.
The current AU mandate is to “monitor and verify” ceasefire breaches and unlawful violence against civilians. Yet it is the duty of the Sudanese government to protect civilians, a responsibility it shows no capacity or will to fulfil. This disparity--a truant government and a paucity of peacekeeping--has led many Darfur observers to argue for a tougher, more trigger-happy mandate for peacekeepers in Darfur, in particular the International Crisis Group. This position is misguided for two reasons.
First, a tougher mandate--to use firepower to protect civilians under immediate threat--sends the wrong message that the onus is off the government to disarm militias and defend civilians. Armed engagement and active disarmament of peace spoilers (rebel and government forces) and militias by outside forces, whatever their mandate, will spark a new theatre of conflict, pitting peacekeepers against militias and their government backers. Longterm protection for civilians ultimately rests with political negotiations not in peace enforcement by outsiders.
Second, although the current peacekeeping presence is too insignificant to deter targeted attacks everywhere, where deployed they have provided an effective buffer for civilians. More, not meaner troops are needed. With UN support, thirty to fourty thousand troops by late 2006 will be necessary given the vastness of Darfur.
Jan Pronk, UN Special Envoy to Sudan, addressed the AU shortcomings last week: "The force necessary to provide such [safety] guarantees should be much bigger than the present one. It should not be on call, but in place, present wherever people may be attacked."
The US position, also long on bark and short on bite, supports UN backing for AU efforts, but reserved its most direct speech for Sudanese opposition to the move. "I think the Khartoum government should be cooperative," said Condoleezza Rice today from Monrovia. "They have a problem in Darfur. The international community expects them to contribute to solving it and also expects them to allow the international community to contribute to solving it," she added.
Sudan may be in line for taking over the rotating chair of the African Union at a Khartoum summit this month, a move that would create a serious conflict of interest given the AU’s role in Darfur.