The African Union's peacekeeping experience in Darfur, Sudan

Written by Roba Sharamo

The Darfur crisis immensely tested the African Union's determination to keep peace and stop the excruciating destruction of human life on the continent. This paper argues that the AU has performed fairly well in Darfur, but the AU member states and donor community need a serious dialogue among themselves. It is argued that peacekeeping is a global responsibility and the lessons from the AU's experience in Darfur have significant implications for the future of peacekeeping in Africa.

Nature of African Conflicts

Africa's conflicts, as elsewhere, are expansive and devastating. According to the April 2005 peace and conflict ledger authored by Gurr and Marshall (2005), the African continent still remains in a precarious security situation. The continent has 17 'red-flagged' African nations facing the danger of state failure, while another 19 were 'yellow-flagged' and are in a serious state of fragility. (1)

Theoretically, the AU was to be the magic bullet for promoting human security and managing African conflicts if the member states failed to do so. Recognising continental security challenges and international insensitivity to the security needs of African nations as experienced in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the formation of the AU was seen as a dramatic step by the continent to take charge of its own affairs. In addition to this horrendous genocide, other serious war crimes were committed by various African regimes, while the AU's predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), did not intervene.

From OAU to AU

On July 9, 2002, the AU was launched in Durban, South Africa, ushering in a time of deep reflections on the past, and a hopeful outlook to the future of a viable, democratic and peaceful Africa. The Constitutive Act (2) adopted in Lomé in 2000 established and mandated the AU as the continental guardian of peace and stability in Africa. As stipulated in Article 3 of the AU Constitutive Act, maintaining continental peace and security is the principal role of the AU. Importantly, Article 4 lists various principles of the AU, notably the principle of "non-interference". Although the AU retained the principle of non-interference in any member state's internal affairs, Article 4 (h) makes a dramatic departure from the OAU's approach to dealing with internal affairs of the member states asserting "the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity". (3)

Additionally, Article 5 mentions the key organs of the AU, notably the Peace and Security Council (PSC), the AU's principal decision-making organ for conflict prevention, management and resolution, which was established by the PSC Protocol in 2002 and officially inaugurated in May 2005. Article 7 empowers the PSC's Commissioner to recommend to the AU Assembly necessary AU interventions and the deployment of peacekeeping missions in member states when acts of genocide and other crimes against humanity are committed.

Furthermore, Article 5 (2) identifies five key bodies to assist the PSC: the African Standby Force (ASF); Continental Early Warning System (CEWS), with planning elements in each of the five African regions; the Panel of the Wise (POW); a Common Africa Defence and Security Policy (CADSP); and the Military Staff Committee (MSC) to formulate integrated continental security and defence policies.

Overview of the Darfur Crisis

To effectively discuss the AU's lessons in Darfur, an understanding of the Darfur conflict is in order. The Darfur region has a history of resource-based interethnic rivarlies between nomadic Arab groups and the farming black African communities of Fur, Massaleet and Zagawa. Emerging in early 2003, the Darfur rebellion led by the two major rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), grew out of linked multiple causes within the Sudanese polity. The launch of the conflict was timed to coincide with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the government of Sudan and the south Sudan-based Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) led the late John Garang. Since 2003, 200 000 people have been killed, 200 000 are refugees and 3 million are internally displaced.

Some human rights organisations in the United States have termed the conflict genocide. But the United Nations (UN) and the AU have differed from this label, though they have asserted that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed against black populations by the government forces and the Janjaweed militia. In April 2006, the UN Security Council imposed sanction against four individuals for committing war crimes in Darfur. These include a former Chief of the Sudanese Air Force, a leader of the Janjaweed militia and two armed opposition leaders.


(1) Ted, R. Gurr, and Marshall, G. Monty (2005) Peace and Conflict 2005. Third Report on the Peace and Conflict Series, The Center for International Development and Conflict Management of the University of Maryland, p. 2. Available at <http://www.cidcm.umd. edu/papers.asp>. Accessed on 17 July 2005.

(2) African Union (2002) The Constitutive Act of the African Union. Available at: <http://www.>. Accessed on 13 June 2005.

(3) Ibid., p. 5.

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