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.

Sunday, May 6

Darfur roundup

There's been a whole lot of to-do over Darfur in the past week and a half.

PEACEKEEPING MISSION: US Darfur envoy Andrew Natsios said that “there’s enough international pressure now and enough support from allies” to encourage Sudan to accept a large peacekeeping force. However, the UN is still working on putting together the 3,000-strong support package for the AU mission, which is all Khartoum has agreed to so far. Egypt has offered 750 troops and 150 military supervisors for the operation. But the AU is getting anxious to see the international community deliver on pledges of support. Many troops haven't received their salaries for the past few months. Rwanda's Paul Kagame has threatened to pull his country’s troops out of Darfur if the international community does not step up assistance to the AU mission.

FIGHTING: An UNMIS spokesperson said that a ceasefire must be in place before the support package can be implemented. But the fighting goes on. SLA rebels have accused Khartoum of recruiting militia members from Niger. The SLA says it shot down a government helicopter in North Darfur. The helicopter was reportedly attacking the site of unity talks between rebel factions. Khartoum says the helicopter landed due to a technical failure and vowed to strike back at rebels for killing the officer piloting it.

PEACE PROSPECTS: The International Crisis Group has released a new report, entitled Darfur: Revitalizing the Peace Process. The report puts forth some sensible suggestions, though no silver bullets, and provides a helpful overview of the different players involved, from rebel groups to political parties to the international community. The report puts much emphasis on the need to unify the various rebel factions. The Council on Foreign Relations provides a collection of articles on the prospects for a peace deal, none of which are too optimistic. The Government of Southern Sudan is discussing hosting talks between Khartoum rebels, but preparations could take several months.

Africa Action has called on the US to use its presidency of the UN Security Council to pressure Sudan. The State Department did issue an official condemnation of Sudanese government attacks on villages in Darfur on April 19 and 21. The Sudan Tribune features an interview with an anonymous State Department official on Darfur. The Washington Post reminds us that US sanctions on Sudanese oil are likely to have little effect if other countries can pay for Sudan’s oil in other currencies.

The Darfur Day of Action saw an outpouring of hot air on the crisis, particularly in Britain. Activists gathered in London and Washington. Prime Minister Tony Blair again threatened Khartoum, as well as rebel groups, with tougher sanctions if they do not act to end the violence. Foreign Secretary Margaret Becket said Khartoum has “days not weeks” to take action, though some days have since passed. The opposition Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties have backed efforts to encourage divestment. Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said genocide is being ignored. Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called for the EU to get tough on Khartoum.

The wave of publicity surrounding the campaign to link China's lack of pressure on Darfur to the 2008 Beijing Olympics has died down. Though French Presidential candidate Segolene Royal was asked about the issue, saying she would not rule out a boycott of the games.

REGION: Libya held an international conference on Darfur. President Gaddafi urged the international community to stay out of the conflict if the warring parties don’t agree to a solution. President Bashir of Sudan and President Deby of Chad signed an agreement in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to stop supporting rebels in each others territory. The two countries have agreed to the same thing before, however, to little avail.

AID WORK: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Antonio Guterres, paid a visit to Darfur, where AU officers told him militias are still killing with impunity. Violence against aid workers in Darfur is rising. According to UN maps, about a quarter of the four million people living in areas affected by the conflict are inaccessible to aid workers. Guterres pledged to bolster the UN’s refugee programs in Darfur, if the government guarantees protection for workers. Guterres also suggested that not even 100,000 peacekeepers would be able to stop the violence in Darfur without a political solution.

MEDIA: The Council on Foreign Relations has produced a multimedia presentation on the conflict. The documentary“The Devil Came on Horseback” premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film features photos from Brian Steidle, a former U.S. Marine who served as an AU observer.