Decision on AU Presidency: credibility of the African Union at stake

(NAIROBI, 22 January 2007) As preparations for the African Union (AU) summit get underway in Addis Ababa this week, a coalition of African non-governmental organisations (NGOs), has issued an urgent appeal to African Heads of State to consider the dire situation of millions of war affected civilians in Darfur before making a decision on the Presidency of the AU.

Further to the postponement of its appointment as President of the AU last year, the Government of Sudan is believed to be once again pressing heavily for its accession to the Presidency of the 53 member body.

In letters sent to African Heads of State this weekend, the Darfur Consortium, a coalition of over 40 African and Africa-focused NGOs, expressed “deep concern with respect to plans agreed last year by the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government in Khartoum, Sudan, to confer the AU Presidency for 2007-2008 on the Government of Sudan”. Such a decision, the group stated, had the potential to “seriously undermine the AU’s credibility and compromise the authority of its institutions”.

“We urge that African Heads of State examine carefully the role and function of the AU Presidency – both with respect to the vital responsibilities with which the AU is tasked in Darfur but also in order to maintain the credibility and effectiveness of the AU institution as a whole as guardian of peace and security on the continent,” said Dismas Nkunda, a spokesperson for the Consortium.
The Consortium’s letter, sent Saturday, pointed out that the situation for civilians in Darfur had significantly worsened since last year, particularly since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA). Not only have attacks by Government forces on civilian areas increased, but credible reports also indicate that the Janjaweed militia are being rearmed rather than disbanded as required by numerous agreements. The splintering of the opposition and the proliferation of new armed groups has also contributed to an upsurge in violence.

In setting out the background to its opposition to the Sudanese Presidential bid, the Consortium drew attention to the vital role of the AU in stewarding the structures set up under the DPA and ensuring its fair implementation. The impartiality of the AU in monitoring the DPA would “be called into question should one of the parties to the conflict preside over the most important organ of the African Union,” the letter said. With revitalization of the faltering peace process essential to halting the conflict, any capacity for the AU to facilitate rapprochement “would be thrown in jeopardy should Khartoum assume the presidency of the African Union.” 

“The people of Darfur are suffering a crisis of confidence in the AU mission on the ground—what little trust remains will be destroyed if the very force charged with protecting them is seen to be directed from Khartoum”, said Dismas Nkunda today speaking from Nairobi. The neutral character of the AMIS mission must be preserved.

Nkunda also pointed out pointed out that the inter-state character of the Darfur conflict – with Chad, the Central African Republic and Sudan all alleging mutual aggression – made the independent mediation role of the AU even more critical. “Where the AU must arbitrate in inter-state conflict we believe that is imprudent for such States to be considered for the Presidency”, said Dismas Nkunda. “The AU President must be free to act vigorously and impartially faced with threats to African regional peace and security”.