Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Saturday, April 21

Darfur roundup

UN SUPPORT PACKAGE: Sudan has agreed to the deployment of a UN support package for the AU peacekeeping mission, including 3,000 personnel and attack helicopters. Although UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon says he's optimistic about the deal, many Western diplomats are treating it with caution. US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte called the deal "important", but urged Khartoum to accept a larger force of 17,000 to 20,000 troops. Similarly, Abdelwahid al-Nur, head of a faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement rebel group, urged the international community to view this latest agreement with caution, warning that progress on peace negotiations will not be possible until there is concrete progress on the ground. Eric Reeves provides a gloomy assessment of the deal.

So far Nigeria, Egypt, Bangladesh, Sweden, and Norway have pledged personnel for the mission, which the UN hopes will be fully deployed by September. The Economist warns that fielding enough personnel, especially African troops will be difficult (Nigeria, for example, may have other things to worry about), and may also detract from efforts to round up soldiers for an intervention in Somalia. The magazine also gives China a good deal of credit for getting Khartoum to agree to the deal and warns that the population of Darfur is growing dangerously dependent on international support.

SANCTIONS: Britain's Tony Blair reiterated his intention to impose new sanctions if Khartoum does not follow through on the deal. The US supports Britain on sanctions, saying it will give Khartoum until early May to implement the agreement. But China, Russia, and South Africa are all opposed, as is Egypt.

While the Western powers threaten, others are acting. In one of the tougher blows Khartoum has suffered, British luxury car-maker Rolls Royce announced that it is pulling out of Sudan. And Colorado is banning its public pension funds from investing in companies that do business with the Sudanese government.

UN REPORT: And no sooner was the deal announced, than the New York Times published a story on a leaked UN report accusing Khartoum of, among other things, ferrying arms into Darfur in aircraft designed to look like UN planes. Sudan criticized the leak, and the army denied it. Meanwhile, rebels charged that the government bombed the town of Jemmeiza this week.

REBEL GROUPS: One of the many obstacles to peace in Darfur is the difficulty in getting the disparate rebel groups to cooperate. Several rebel groups - both Arab and African - met in Eastern Chad last week to discuss cooperation. But similar meetings have been announced periodically in recent months, without much to show for it so far.

REGION: Eager to assert its regional influence, Libya, along with Eritrea, has deployed troops along the border with Sudan and Chad, in an effort to head off calls for a UN force. So far, the troops appear to have had little impact. Libya is also planning an international conference on Darfur for the end of this month. Gerard Prunier provides a sketch of the regional political dynamics driving conflicts in Darfur, Chad, and Central African Republic. He emphasizes that the conflicts are related, but distinct, though all three are driven in large part by the regional ambitions of Khartoum.

DIPLOMACY: Ban Ki-Moon met with AU Chairman Alpha Konare. John Negroponte visited Khartoum, delivering a press conference. Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi visited Khartoum, speaking out against imposing sanctions on the Sudanese government. Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister met with Sudan's President Bashir. The EU has appointed Torben Brylle, Denmark's ambassador to Egypt, as its new Special Envoy to Sudan.

COMMENTARY: John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group and the ENOUGH campaign testified on Darfur before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal both ran editorials urging the international community to stop delaying on pressuring Khartoum.