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Kofi Annan’s Lessons in Global Leadership
Kofi Annan’s Lessons in Global Leadership
Report 105 / Africa

To Save Darfur

The international strategy for dealing with the Darfur crisis primarily through the small (7,000 troops) African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) is at a dead end. AMIS credibility is at an all-time low, with the ceasefire it could never monitor properly in tatters.

Executive Summary

The international strategy for dealing with the Darfur crisis primarily through the small (7,000 troops) African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) is at a dead end. AMIS credibility is at an all-time low, with the ceasefire it could never monitor properly in tatters. In the face of this, the international community is backing away from meaningful action. The African Union (AU) yielded to Khartoum’s pressure on 10 March 2006 and did not ask the UN to put into Darfur the stronger international force that is needed. If the tragedy of the past three years is not to be compounded, the AU and its partners must address the growing regional crisis by getting more troops with greater mobility and firepower on the ground at once and rapidly transforming AMIS into a larger, stronger UN peacekeeping mission with a robust mandate focused on civilian protection.

The battlefield now extends into eastern Chad, and the escalating proxy war between Sudan and Chad threatens to produce a new humanitarian catastrophe on both sides of the border. Inside Darfur humanitarian access is at its lowest in two years, civilians continue to bear the brunt of the violence, and political talks are stalled. Fighting is most intense and civilians are at greatest risk in West Darfur along the Chad-Sudan border, where a major invasion by Chadian rebels appears imminent, and in southern Darfur in the Tawila-Graida corridor.

The Sudanese government bears primary responsibility for the deteriorating situation. It is still making little effort to stabilise matters, rein in militias or secure roads from bandits and rogue elements. In violation of numerous commitments, it still uses offensive air power, supports militias and stokes inter-communal violence as part of its counter-insurgency campaign. Security elements from Khartoum are supporting the well-armed Chadian rebels in Western Darfur, while President Deby in N’djamena scrambles to bolster his position by reaching out in turn to the Darfur rebels. A failed coup attempt against Deby on 15 March further underscored the fragility of the Chadian regime. Clashes in eastern Chad between Sudan-backed insurgents and Deby loyalists would not only have drastic consequences for civilians of both countries but could also lead to the complete breakdown of peace talks in Abuja and reignite all-out war in Darfur. But the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), the principal rebel group, has increased its ceasefire violations over the past six months, and some elements are more committed to the battlefield than to the Abuja talks. Insurgent dissension plays into Khartoum’s hands and contributes to growing lawlessness.

The AU failed earlier this month to take the timely and decisive action required to reverse these trends. Instead it extended the AMIS mandate to 30 September 2006, neglected to amend it for better protection of civilians and made no provision for either more African or UN troops to come into Darfur to stabilise the situation over the next half-year. While it repeated its previous acceptance in principle that AMIS would eventually have to be replaced by blue helmets, if only because donors’ willingness to subsidise it is running out, it appeared impressed by Khartoum’s complaint that anything other than an African mission would amount to colonialism and its threat that Darfur would become a “graveyard” for any multinational force sent without its agreement.

The AU did usefully commit to making a stronger diplomatic push to deliver an enhanced ceasefire and a peace agreement at the Abuja talks in the next six weeks. It will be important for the U.S., the European Union (EU) and the UN to follow up consultations held in Brussels in advance of that decision and lend their full weight to the effort. But it would be a mistake to delay strengthening international forces on the ground in the belief that such agreements – as desirable as they would be – would remove the need for them. Any agreements would be fragile, requiring proof of goodwill by the parties, vulnerable to multiple spoilers and unlikely to forestall the looming border conflict, which has its own dynamics.

The U.S., the EU and others need, therefore, to act without delay on three fronts to:

  • provide the necessary financial and technical assistance to the AU through at least September 2006, and to help AMIS implement the key recommendations for internal improvements outlined in the December 2005 Joint Assessment Mission report and affirmed by the AU on 10 March;
     
  • do the heavy diplomatic lifting to persuade the AU and the UN Security Council to authorise the immediate deployment of a stabilisation force, ideally some 5,000-strong, as part of a phased transition to a UN mission to be completed in October 2006, to focus on monitoring the Chad-Sudan border and deterring major cross-border attacks, and on bolstering AMIS’s ability to protect civilians in the Tawila-Graida corridor; and
     
  • persuade the Security Council to authorise immediate planning for a UN peacekeeping force of at least double the present size of AMIS, equipped to fulfil a more serious military mission, provided with an appropriately stronger mandate, and ready to take over full responsibility on 1 October 2006.

This is not ideal. Crisis Group has long contended that because AMIS has reached the outer limits of its competence, and a UN mission authorised today would not be fully ready to take over from it for some six months, a distinct and separate multinational force should be sent to Darfur to bridge that gap and help stabilise the immediate situation. We have argued, and continue to believe, that NATO would be best from a practical military point of view. Unfortunately, political opposition to this in Khartoum, within the AU and even perhaps within the Atlantic Alliance itself, means it is not achievable at this time.

What we now propose, therefore, is a compromise driven by the urgent need for a more robust force in Darfur. A militarily capable UN member state – France seems most promising since it already has troops and aircraft in the area – should offer to the Security Council to go now to Darfur, wearing blue helmets, as the lead nation in the first phase of the incoming UN mission. It could be joined from the outset by forces from one or two other militarily capable UN members (and would probably need to be if the desirable target of around 5,000 personnel for this force is to be achieved). This stabilisation force would be a self-contained, separately commanded UN mission with identified functional or geographic divisions of responsibility that would work beside AMIS and through a liaison unit at its headquarters until arrangements were in place for a 1 October transition to the full UN mission. That full mission would need to be recruited from the best AMIS elements as well as a wider circle of Asian and other member states – no easy task at a time when several large UN peacekeeping missions in Africa and elsewhere have exhausted the capabilities of many contribution candidates.

The U.S. and other NATO states should respond generously and quickly to requests from it or AMIS to provide logistical help as well as regular access to satellite imagery, air mobility and close air support, especially to deter or react to egregious movements of men or heavy weapons in the border area.

The accord signed on 10 February 2006 in Tripoli by the presidents of Chad and Sudan accepted the need for a border monitoring force. The AU and the Security Council should build on this by passing the necessary resolutions. Simultaneously, planning should begin for the handover from AMIS to a Chapter VII UN peace-support operation and money be identified to guarantee that AMIS can remain in place until this happens. At the same time, the AU should continue to play a lead role at Abuja, while the wider international community pursues accountability by enforcing the UN sanctions regime and facilitating the work of human rights monitoring mechanisms and the International Criminal Court (ICC). A lasting solution to the Darfur conflict can only come with a three-part strategy to produce physical security, an inclusive political agreement and an end to impunity.

The consequences if these steps are not taken are all too easy to foresee: tens of thousands more lives lost, spill-over of the conflict into Chad and proxy wars that destabilise a wide swathe of Africa.

Nairobi/Brussels, 17 March 2006

Kofi Annan’s Lessons in Global Leadership

Originally published in Project Syndicate

Sadly, principled statesmen and women who can forge bold, morally consistent responses to today's global problems are in short supply. We must therefore safeguard and promote the virtues that the former UN secretary-general embodied.

The world is facing a set of acute crises without recent parallel: a war in Europe that could escalate into a nuclear conflict, skyrocketing food prices that are hitting the poor the hardest, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the climate emergency. We need principled statesmen and women to forge bold, morally consistent responses to these and other global problems. Sadly, such leaders are in short supply.

Many politicians prefer to advocate polarizing policies, avoid hard choices, and deny the scale of the threats at hand. Others have tried to address these issues honestly. But those who favor cooperation and solidarity in dealing with global threats are on the defensive, as last year’s underwhelming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow and grossly unequal global access to COVID-19 vaccines clearly illustrate.

In times like these, we should recognize and honor those leaders who do try to tackle global challenges responsibly and constructively. Twenty-five years ago, one such figure, Kofi Annan, became UN secretary-general at another moment of global disorder, amid the political uncertainty and regional conflicts that followed the end of the Cold War. Although he could not have known it then, the UN system would soon face the traumas of 9/11 and the Iraq War.

Kofi led the UN with humanity and strategic vision. He revolutionized international development programming by launching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the precursor of today’s Sustainable Development Goals. He built innovative partnerships such as the Global Fund – which brings together civil society, the private sector, and international agencies – to combat HIV/AIDS. He oversaw the dispatch of UN peacekeepers to stabilize and rebuild weak states, like Liberia, and help build new ones, like Timor-Leste. And he ushered in the idea of an international “responsibility to protect” the vulnerable from mass atrocities.

[Kofi Annan seeked] to make [the UN] more open, inclusive, and transparent.

As the UN’s administrator, Kofi cared deeply about the institution where he had spent most of his working life, seeking to make it more open, inclusive, and transparent. He was also the first secretary-general to develop a link between the UN and the private sector, and strongly supported civil society.

Moreover, he urged the major powers to reform the Security Council to reflect post-Cold War realities. He would not have been surprised by the Council’s current inaction over Ukraine, although it would not have deterred him from doing all he could to halt the conflict.

As a public figure, Kofi enjoyed a level of global recognition and respect that most national leaders he worked with could only envy. This was partly because he had a decency and instinctive respect for others that struck all those who met him. He brought out the best in his colleagues and could laugh with them – and at himself – even in moments of high pressure. He connected easily with young people, inspiring them and giving them hope. While UN officials respectfully referred to “Mr. Annan,” to many, including us, he was simply “Kofi.”

In addition to his personal qualities, Kofi grounded his leadership in certain basic principles. One of these was a deep respect for the rules and institutions of the post-war international order, reflected in the UN Charter, which he saw as undergirding peace and security.

This does not mean that he was always cautious. Although he could be pragmatic when necessary, he also took risks. In 1998, he traveled to Baghdad to meet with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in an effort to avert war in the Middle East, and he supported the establishment of the International Criminal Court, despite fierce opposition from successive US administrations.

[Kofi Annan] was dogged in his pursuit of peace, even where … the chances of success were slim.

To be sure, Kofi knew that not all of his diplomatic gambles would pay off. He was dogged in his pursuit of peace, even where – as with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – the chances of success were slim. After stepping down as secretary-general at the end of 2006, he continued to work as a peacemaker in countries ranging from Kenya and Syria to Myanmar. He was sometimes frustrated, but he continued the demanding work of building relationships with mistrustful political actors until his death, in 2018.

Kofi was driven by a fundamental concern for the dignity and welfare of all people, especially the most vulnerable. This informed his advocacy for not only the MDGs but also fair elections and democratic institutions. He cast himself as a global advocate for the common good, arguing that countries shared a “common destiny” and that “we can master it only if we face it together.”

It is easy to admire Kofi’s virtues in retrospect, but it is more difficult than ever for leaders to replicate them in the present. In an era of populism and division, those who champion solidarity and unity – within or between countries – are often drowned out in public discourse. It is therefore vital to speak up more loudly on their behalf.

For this reason, our organizations – the Kofi Annan Foundation, the International Crisis Group, the International Peace Institute, and the Open Society Foundations – have joined forces to launch a new initiative to celebrate leaders who reflect Kofi’s qualities. Later this year, and in each succeeding year, we will invite a national leader or inspiring international figure to give a lecture in New York on the values of international cooperation. We will select the speakers based on their commitment to human rights, international solidarity, and the defense of the international system that characterized Kofi’s life and work.

“I have always believed that on important issues, the leaders must lead,” Kofi said in 2014. “Where the leaders fail to lead, and people are really concerned about it, the people will take the lead and make the leaders follow.” Now more than ever, we must safeguard, celebrate, and promote the virtues he embodied.

For more information about the Kofi Annan Lecture series see here.

Contributors

Nane Annan
Wife of the late Kofi Annan, nutrition advocate, artist, and former lawyer
President & CEO
EroComfort
Susana Malcorra
Co-Chairs Crisis Group, former foreign minister of Argentina
Mark Malloch-Brown
Member of Crisis Group's Executive Committee, former deputy United Nations secretary-general, co-chair of the UN Foundation, and President of the Open Society Foundations
Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein
Former UN high commissioner for human rights, President of the International Peace Institute