15 November 2007

As predicted in an earlier unforum, the Sirte Conference on Darfur got nowhere -- preparation through "telephone diplomacy" did not work in that phoneless hapless neighbourhood. The thought that Colonel Ghaddafi and the Chadian President could sort it out by a magic wand was the same as expecting two dinosaurs like Jan Eliasson and Salem Salem to accomplish an immediately workable arrangement.

Since January when Ban Ki-moon took over, we hailed his priority interest in that destitute part of Sudan, but cautioned that his list of advisors would be taken round in circles -- the same people that his predecessor employed. At least Mr. Ban himself managed a more impressive visit. Instead of building on it through personal involvement, he somehow was led to believe that a Libya preparing to join the Security Council would be more ready and able to deliver. The October meeting in Sirte was billed as a make or break event. Not only did the main political parties -- and senior players -- stay away but there was that farcical air of dressing up minor militant figures in three piece western suits -- they looked ridiculous. As did their hosts. But that did not faze Eliasson, who has never met a microphone he did not love to hug. Let us clarify that his sweat and toil in hot and humid Africa when he could have been enjoying the Swedish fjords is not all lost. It is appreciated to the degree it is useful. Beyond that it becomes counterproductive. Particularly that he is stuck with a partner like the long-winded, baggage-ridden Salem.

When President Bashir is not playing fair; when the Sudanese government delivery is seriously disappointing; Ban Ki-moon will have to keep all parties honest with a different set of rules and different kind of players. Keeping the old approach is not "continuity with change" but -- as we have repeated -- continuity with farce.

And the farce got more embarrassing when politicians, diplomats and media were assembled in a Darfur spot to watch a "historic" telephone call to U.N. headquarters by some obscure U.N. official from a desolate joint U.N./African office which is not even functional.

An obscure "Rudolphe Adada" declared to the Associated Press that "it is a great day for the United Nations and the Africa Union." The man also had a spokesman, an Ali Hamati who borrowed liberally from the first astronauts by stating that although it was a small step in Darfur, it was "a huge move towards the final assumption of full control"! Both admitted, however, that a joint mission "still faces lack of pledges for specialized units" but profusely thanked the Sudanese government for making the telephone call possible.

Just a reminder to everyone: over 200,000 people have been killed during the last four years. And a reminder to "Adada and Hamati": Even the U.N. Secretary General has been very careful in avoiding lavish praise on the Sudan government over Darfur.

Yet those "telephone diplomats" continue their farcical pursuits unabated. And while the nine differing rebel groups are gunning for everyone including one another, those failed megaphone mediators who had accomplished NOTHING thus far are seriously talking about bringing fighters together through workshops and seminars!

For people in the region to take you seriously, Get Serious.