29 Jan 2007
Heads of states and political leaders attending the African Union meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia were spared the embarrassment of bickering over the issue of Sudan heading the organization when Sudan decided at the last minute to decline. “Sudan has voluntarily accepted to decline in favor of Ghana”. Said Sudan’s Foreign Minister Lam Akol. AU commission chairman Alpha Oumar Konare who had earlier in his opening speech told the Sudanese government to “stop the bombardments and massacres” of her citizens was certainly relieved when Sudan decided to throw in the towel. “The decision was accepted by everybody including Sudan”. He said.
Last year Sudan was supposed to assume the chairmanship of the AU but delegates and other observers thought it was inappropriate for her leader (al-Bashir) that has been accused of war crimes to lead the AU. Sudan was then promised the chairmanship of the AU this year, but it appears the human rights situation in the Darfur region has instead deteriorated. Since the crisis started in 2003, over 200, 000 people have been killed mostly by the pro-government Janjaweed Arab militia. A further 2.5 million have been displaced by the violence. This month alone, according to humanitarian sources, over 300 people have been killed and tens of thousands displaced. Aid agencies are pulling out of the region because of insecurity and issuing catastrophic warnings about the future of the people they leave behind. It was in the light of this deteriorating situation that the bid by Sudan’s president al-Bashir to become AU chairman became a divisive issue.
Chad’s president Idriss Deby (that accuses neighboring Sudan of supporting Chadian rebels) had threatened to walk out of the AU if al-Bashir was allowed to become AU chairman. The Sudanese Liberation Army SLA, one of the main rebel groups fighting the government had threatened that if Bashir became AU chairman, the rebel group will consider AU peacekeepers as enemies. Many humanitarian organizations also campaigned vigorously against Bashir becoming the AU chairman.
The dust raised by al-Bashir’s candidature almost threatened to overshadow important topics on the agenda like Climate change, the 2010 World cup in South Africa, the crisis in Somalia and of course that of Sudan’s Darfur region. Sudan has been dragging her feet on the proposal to send in UN peacekeepers to beef up the strength of the poorly equipped 7000 strong AU force in the Darfur. Before stepping down as UN secretary general, Koffi Anan employed all his negotiating skills to convince al-Bashir to accept the UN peacekeeping force but all he got from Bashir was noncommittal answers with qualifications.
The current UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon was in Ethiopia on Monday precisely to meet Bashir and talk on the same issue. After meeting with Bashir for 90 minutes, Ban Ki Moon, emerged to announce only that the talks were “useful” and “constructive”. I can only read from this to mean that Bashir was still playing his old game with the International community.
Had el-Bashir, succeeded to become AU chairman, the 53-member nation organization would have witnessed an unprecedented crisis. It was certainly comforting for all stakeholders that John Kufuor of Ghana was chosen to head the organization and thus avoid the crisis.
Njei Moses Timah