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Panel Discussions - Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Complexities of Bringing Peace to Darfur

At a panel discussion on the African Union's 's peacemaking efforts in Darfur, panelist Seth Appiah-Mensah likened the actions taken by the AU to "a baby taking its first steps."

"If you look at a child when he starts the first steps, and the parent, they understand that this child is going to make mistakes," said Mr. Appiah-Mensah, former sector commander and military adviser to the head of mission, African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS). "But the parents do not just criticize or chastise—they encourage."

Mr. Appiah-Mensah also said that the AU deserves credit for having the courage to act in Darfur like "any landlord would do if your home was on fire... you do not wait for the fire brigade to come; you deal with the fire with whatever is at your disposal. And I feel that's what the AU did. Whether it was enough or not is another question, but they acted responsibly."

IPI’s panel discussion "Dilemmas of Regional Peacemaking: The African Union in Darfur" provided no shortage of accounts of mistakes. Mr. Appiah-Mensah recounted "the sad day of a commander" in which he watched helplessly from a helicopter as Janjaweed militia members killed abductees whose release he was trying to negotiate. Mr. Appiah-Mensah said that the killings were initiated by a Sudanese government employee who was present during a briefing meeting.

"It was announced at the morning briefing that a helicopter would be dispatched to Kabkabiya, that's to me, to go and do this negotiation,” said Mr. Appiah-Mensah. “So the government of Sudan guy who was there, he just took his phone and called in wherever we were going, that we are coming, and the abductees would be there with the SLA commander. And when we arrived, guess what happened? I was in the helicopter, watching live, the slaughtering of those guys."

"It was obvious that the government of Sudan preferred the AU because it was a more benign option due to political and other constraints,” said panelist A. Sarjoh Bah. “Politically, Khartoum calculated that the AU would be less assertive, as it ran the risk of alienating some its members if it was deemed to be too assertive."

"How the AU deals with the potential for its members and the international community to hide behind it, as is currently the case in Somalia, will determine the success of its peacemaking endeavors in the future," added Dr. Bah, who is a senior fellow at NYU’s Center for International Cooperation.

In response to a question from a representative from the Sudanese Mission to the UN about the role of the international community, Sam Ibok, a panelist and former leader of the AU mediation team on Darfur, said, "I think when you ask the question, what is the role of the international community, you should also ask the counter question: What is the role of the Sudanese government? What is the role of the Sudanese themselves? We cannot continuously blame others for the problems we have ourselves generated.”

The panel discussion was held on March 17, 2010 and was moderated by Ambassador John Hirsch, Senior Adviser at IPI.

Read transcript of panel discussion

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