Foreign policy is as crucial to the external life and image of a country as the economy is to the national life of a country. Those that have invested time and energy on the study of foreign relations would tell you that a well executed good foreign policy would earn a country tons of good fortunes. The antonym of this is that a bad foreign policy would spell doom for a country. If emphasis is needed, one can simply refer to the aggressive and egotistical American foreign policy and the deadly network of terror that it has needlessly attracted to itself. On the flip side, take it or leave it, Nigeria is rightly graded as the giant of Africa because of its afro-centric foreign policy. Nigeria takes and responds to African problems as its own problems. What is particularly edifying about this is that there has always been a meeting of pleasurable minds between the government and the citizenry on this.
This backdrop explains the energy and zest that President Olusegun Obasanjo had invested in the Darfur crisis. After Kenya’s impressive hosting of the tortuous peace talks between Al Omar Hassan Ahmed el-Bashir’s Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation (RCC-NS) and the late John Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement that culminated in the now sealed deal of Sunday January 9, 2005, it became a huge challenge for Nigeria to succeed with the talks between the RCC-NS and the rebel factions of Darfur. Although many of us believed that the peace deal between Khartoum and Southern Sudan would fast track the negotiations on Darfur, there was the reasonable fear that the barbaric ethnic elements in the Darfur crisis would turn out to be crooked spanners. That a more than half way peace has been reached within two years of suspicious talks is a testimony on the commitment of Abuja to the Darfur crisis.
Indeed, the story of Sudan and its perpetual woes is a familiar story that has been told over and over. It is a story of conflict. A story of poverty. A typical example of how a country can deliberately chose to follow the path of self destruction. It is the characteristic African story. If Sudan were a human being then it would have been a problem child born at a ghetto by estranged parents. Africa’s largest country with nine immediate neighbours is poor at heart and physically wretched. It has been a chronic victim of elite political wrangling. The destructive political struggle and fierce battle for the soul of Sudan started long before its independence. Just when the world thought that the country had exorcised the ghost of coups and settled for the necessary task of growth and development, the dare devil of religious arrogance emerged and imposed itself on that unfortunate country.
From the 1980s when the Muslim Arab led government in Khartoum attempted to foist Sharia on the whole of the country with a vast population of non-Muslims, Sudan has not known peace. First, it was the South under the auspices of the Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army that took up arms against Khartoum. That war lasted for 21 years and took the prize for the longest civil war on the continent. By February 2003, the Darfur region also sprung up its gladiators under the umbrella of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Although the war between Khartoum and the South lasted that long, it was the war over Darfur that gave a practical meaning to genocide.
It is the Darfur crisis that has made real the long suspicion that the action of Khartoum had racial undertones. Instead of accepting the action of the rebel groups as natural fallout of the long neglect of the area and a plea for an end to economic marginalization, Al Bashir took it as an affront on his despotic government. In an unrivalled act of barbarism, Al Bashir’s government armed and unleashed young Arab militia on the entire people of Darfur. The infamous militia called Janjaweed went out smoking after the innocent civilian population of Darfur taking no prisoners. The non -Arab population of Darfur was in no time near extermination. The world was jolted and it took a concerted global cry against the genocide before a skeletal ceasefire was reached in 2004.
This effort is not about the genocide itself. It is about the need to sustain the peace reached between the major Darfur rebel group and Khartoum. On Friday, May 5, the major arm of the Sudan Liberation Army led by Minni Arcua Minnawi signed the Abuja brokered peace deal. Although Abel Wahed Mohammed al-Nur’s breakaway faction of the SLA and the Justice and Equality Movement refused to sign the document, I want to align myself with those who believe that a concrete and positive step has already been accomplished. Among other things, the peace deal zeroed on the need for a complete disarmament of the Janjaweed, the integration of the rebel forces into the Sudanese armed forces and police, establishment of democratic structures and processes that would guarantee some autonomy for Darfur, the establishment of transitional Darfur regional authority to oversee the peace agreement and allocation of seats in the National Assembly in Khartoum.
I agree with those who say that we should not be overly optimistic about the peace deal. As President Olusegun Obasanjo noted, the peace deal would not be worth the paper it is written on without the commitment and will of the parties to it. The rebel groups that refused to sign do not believe that the government in Khartoum would disarm the Janjaweeds by October. That suspicion is real. In fact, other analysts have said that the speed with which Khartoum yielded to most of the demands of the rebels is indicative of the non seriousness it attaches to the entire process.
The call for the active involvement of the UN and the extension of the UN Peace keeping force that is already in Southern Sudan to Darfur makes sense. The about 7,200 African Union observer group cannot implement the peace deal. Even the indication that Rwanda is willing to send over a thousand more troops to Darfur should not brush aside the urgent need for a large UN contingent to augment the AU presence in the region. If peace is to be sustained in Darfur, then peace must be enforced by a force that Khartoum or the rebels cannot afford to toy with. Already, Al Qaeda is campaigning for recruits to fight imaginary enemies in Darfur.
At the bottom of the crisis in Darfur is famine and devastation. The sooner the region is placed on the path of sustained development, the sooner the parties would see the good in peace. Education, health and other human developmental sectors are in need of urgent attention in Darfur. The best and most potent sustainer of peace in Darfur, as in all crisis ridden areas of the continent, is food. The world is already doing something but much more work is needed. In the first place the region should be opened up for free flow of food and necessaries for the over one thousand refugee camps scattered across Darfur.
It is goods news for Darfur and Africa that George Bush is pushing for concerted humanitarian efforts for Darfur. He is already spearheading a fund raising campaign for Darfur. This in itself is good and commendable, but I pray it is not one of those stunts to steal the day from the AU that has been toiling over Darfur since 2003. We have seen this scripted acted in Liberia and we pray that the Washington is altruistic about Darfur.It may be easy for Bush to raise $225 million for Darfur but he would break more grounds if he earnestly works with other stakeholders on Darfur. The humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur is too real for anyone to grandstand on.
It is in this spirit that I salute President Obasanjo and the good people of Nigeria.
In Darfur, we see a dependable big brother in Nigeria. For the AU, it is right to say that in truth, African solutions are working for Darfur and if I must say so, Darfur is making another strong case for the African High Command.
A post script to this is the madness in Somalia. Horn of Africa has had its fair share of woes. Something urgent should be done to arrest the drift.