|CONTINUITY WITH FARCE (4): HURRY UP AND WAIT IN DARFUR
15 October 2007
If Darfur was such a priority, why does it have to wait two months for serious negotiations to start? If there
was little chance of handling it, why did the Secretary General repeatedly announce that it was his priority? If
there was a serious attempt to arrange an acceptable settlement, why designate clueless tired or retired
diplomats whose main task is to masquerade as envoys rather than remain on the spot to sort out the intricate options?
In early September Mr. Ban made a media-covered trip to Sudan, including Darfur. He met whoever was presented to
him as representative of whatever groupings. The regional governor, rebels, factional petitioners -- anyone with a plight
competed for his attention. Under the glare of world television, he promised those destitute people in that
desolate area that he will take action to alleviate their plight. Everyone applauded. At least, it was a better
outcome than his predecessor's tragic / comic media visit when he was left "to sort things out" under a forsaken
There were two more perceived improvements. Mr. Ban obtained the release of Suleiman Jamus, a local
notable in the hope that he will play a decisive role in peaceful negotiations; and the involvement of Sudan's
neighbours in the process. Unfortunately, Jamus proved to be isolated or at least not as well-connected as
originally perceived. When his group attacked and killed African peacekeepers in their tents, he was the last to know
(and the first to apologize)! Neighbours like Lybia and Tchad took their time, obviously seeking a bargain for their
helping hand. Governments are not humanitarian societies. Neither Ghaddafi nor Habre nor anyone else in that
down-to-earth bazaar will be getting seriously involved without a hint of a political reward.
The clueless "envoys" overlooked another nearby capital with influence -- Eritrea -- which felt left out. It always
suspected African envoy Salem Salem of being pro-Ethiopia, where the Tanzanian had lived for years as Secretary
General of OAU. They also suspect Jan Eliasson of being an extension of Kofi Annan, whom they also suspected of
tilting to Addis Ababa, host of his first U.N. job. Pissed off and capable of trouble, the Eritrean leadership wanted
to demonstrate who's the real player in that deadly theatre.
While Eliasson's persistent effort seems to have made some headway with all parties, including competitive rebel
groups, the real drawback lies with Salem Salem, who carries lots of African baggage. You either like him, or hate
him -- very much. Clearly, he has very few fans in that neighbourhood. Nigerian soldiers paid the price. It is certainly
not the fault of the U.N. or its diligent Secretary General. The problem is in lack of solid advice and practical
action. The problem is in taking the right steps but giving the wrong signals. When Ban Ki-moon went to Darfur,
everyone applauded. When he pressured the Sudan government, sought neighbouring parties' support, encouraged camp
dwellers to hold on -- everyone wished him a swift accomplishment. But then when he announced, while there, the
designation of the ineffective Ashref Qazi as Special Envoy in Sudan, it all looked like a cynical black joke. More
disturbing was the date set for starting the serious settlement talks -- end October. Where every day carries a new
surprise, two months is a long, long time.
By then, while the U.N. is trying to solve the problems of Darfur in Sudan's WEST, A NEW FRONT COULD OPEN in the
SOUTH. Just wait and see.