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The African Union and Darfur

The idea of African solutions for African conflicts is an old one. Unfortunately, policymakers in the United States and other major powers have often used it as an excuse for their own inaction. In Darfur, the U.N. has sought to place most of the burden of carrying out the goals contained in Security Council resolutions 1556 and 1564 on the shoulders of the nascent African Union. Initially, the A.U. role was limited to providing a small force of military observers to monitor the April 2004 ceasefire agreement between the Sudanese government and two Darfurian rebel groups. In October, the A.U. agreed to expand its force to include more than 3,500 monitors, peacekeepers, and civilian police. Despite its limited mandate, much of the world is looking to the A.U. to provide the means to halt the human rights abuses in Darfur and restore security. 

The decision to rely on A.U. monitors, peacekeepers, and police had broad support.  Officials in the United States and Europe saw it as a way to avoid the risk that their military forces would become embroiled in another Mogadishu-like disaster, where U.S. forces acting under a U.N. mandate were drawn into a deadly conflict with local warlords. African leaders viewed it as an opportunity to establish the A.U.’s bona fides as the dominant political-military institution in Africa. And the Sudanese government apparently decided that the A.U. force was the best alternative to avoid the possibility of sanctions or U.S. or European intervention.

The ability of the A.U. force to help bring security and justice to Darfur will depend largely on the commitment of the United States and Europe to ensure that the A.U. force has the equipment, training, and logistical support necessary to carry out its mission. But it will also depend on the commitment of the A.U. Peace and Security Council. Most crucially, the A.U. needs a clear mandate to protect civilians from attacks. Without such a mandate, the A.U. force could be put in the position of watching helplessly while civilians are slaughtered.

The A.U. experiment in Darfur is a critical test of Africa’s ability to assume responsibility for regional crises. If it succeeds, it could substantially enhance the international community’s ability to halt future human rights catastrophes in Africa. If it fails, it could set the stage for a long series of bitter and divisive debates over the necessity for and legitimacy of international humanitarian intervention on the continent.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>January 2005