TCS Daily

The UN Security Council Does Africa

By Damon B. Ansell - November 24, 2004 12:00 AM

NAIROBI, Kenya -- In Nairobi, rain clouds are gathering, forecasting showers for the weekend after the United Nations Security Council leaves town. A rare meeting of the Council outside of New York exposed many contradictions this week, just as the predicted rainfall here contrasts sharply with the unusually dry conditions in Darfur, Sudan, the troubled region that is one of the reasons for the Security Council's visit to Africa.

As a result of the Security Council's November 18-19 meeting, Sudan's Vice President, Ali Uthman Muhammed Taha and the Southern rebel leader, John Garang of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army, pledged for the second time over the last year to stop the 21-year civil war between the northern Islamic government and the Christian and animist south. Perhaps stopping the civil war will pave the way for peace in Darfur as well. That's the good news to emerge this week.

But there are also several reasons for doubt.

The Security Council entices the warring factions in Sudan with debt relief, reconstruction dollars, and humanitarian aid. But economic sanctions -- the only recourse with teeth if Khartoum fails to act on its promises -- are opposed by Council members Russia, China, Pakistan, and Algeria. So why should Khartoum take the Security Council seriously?

Furthermore, why should the Security Council have any faith in Khartoum? After two UN Security Council resolutions, the killing has not stopped in Darfur. Six preliminary peace accords have been signed between the north and south on sharing power, after two years of talks. The Khartoum government last week stormed a camp for displaced persons, killing a mother and her two children, used tear gas to drive people out and bulldozed their homes. The Jangaweed militias are quite clearly Khartoum's first line of defense against rebel groups in Darfur, but Khartoum continues to deny collaboration.

While the widely-repeated phrase "the world's worst humanitarian crisis" is batted around concerning Darfur and the Security Council dribbles on about the definition of genocide, it is worth considering Sudan's strategic importance to the U.S. After all, it was U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Danforth, president of the Security Council for the month of November, who lit a fire under the Council and organized its first meeting outside of New York in 14 years, only the fourth such occurrence since 1945.

By dangling the carrot of diplomatic aid and debt relief, providing 70% of food distributed to those in need, and dedicating $300 million in relief resources, the U.S. has made a significant contribution to real relief on the ground. But the U.S. has more than just heartfelt pity for starving Sudanese. Security is not Sudan's strong point, and the threat of instability makes it a potential breeding ground for terrorism.

The Sudan of the moment is a sobering prospect, however. Two million Sudanese have died in the civil war and four million are displaced or living in exile. Estimates for the Darfur region vary, but perhaps 70,000 or more have died and one million are living in refugee camps in Chad. Militias continue to attack refugee camps on the border, and only 500 African Union peacekeepers of the 3,500 promised are on the ground, primarily guarding the camps. Perhaps 40,000 or more are needed to keep the peace in Darfur. Oxfam must airlift supplies by helicopter to five towns because road ambushes are so frequent.

Darfur victims cannot readily identify their attackers, and so cannot begin a formal complaint process with the government's law enforcement and inadequate judicial systems. And launching internationally-sponsored investigations and prosecuting criminals in the International Criminal Court will do nothing to strengthen the Sudanese judicial system.

But all hope is not lost yet. The African Union can put pressure on its neighbor and encourage peace. And the agreement this week in the presence of the Security Council to end the civil war by January is a good sign. Perhaps international pressure to end the human rights abuses will succeed -- and perhaps also it will rain in Darfur, where water is needed almost as much as peace.

Damon Ansell is a co-founder of the Uhuru Policy Group, an organization dedicated to free markets and free minds in Africa.


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