Staff editorial: South Africa’s Darfur proposal a sign of progress?Staff editorial: South Africa’s Darfur proposal a sign of progress
South Africa pledged on Wednesday to contribute personnel to the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force scheduled to launch at the end of December in Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region.
South Africa, which many analysts say has the best trained and equipped military in Africa, stands at the threshold of offering an extremely important helping hand in a time of monumental humanitarian need and uncertainty.
Greater international participation is exactly what is needed to stymie the violence in western Sudan and bring all parties to the table for peace talks.
As it stands, prospects are cloudy for the region’s future. In past years the conflict has claimed the lives of at least 200,000 civilians and left more than 2.5 million others homeless.
Refugees have swarmed across the porous Sudanese border into neighboring Chad, fomenting considerable levels of societal unease for Chadians and Sudanese alike.
South African President Thabo Mbeki offered the commitment following the behest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
While Bashir has been rightfully criticized for his tacit support of the Janjaweed, a Sudanese government-backed militia widely blamed for exacerbating the bloodshed, Mbeki is wise to consider the autocrat’s offer.
A lasting peace in Darfur will require input from all parties, including the Sudanese government and rebel factions.
Despite Bashir’s vague peace overtures, an escalation in internecine conflict among rebel groups has jeopardized the safety of aid workers and the current 7,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force.
Some rebel groups have also voiced reluctance in participating in peace talks. But as more nations express an interest in fostering a sustained peace in Darfur, one can hope that the rebel groups will be more inclined to listen.
The coming security force will provide refugees and aid workers the protection they require, and participation from more nations will add legitimacy to the effort. Without strong international leverage and support, a prevailing ceasefire in Darfur might not be feasible.
Fortunately, South Africa’s commitment is a welcome step in the right direction.