Commentary / Africa 3 minutes

Action and Inaction for Africa

50,000 Africans are worth less than ten Westerners, according to the UN Security Council. That may seem a cynical view, but how else do you explain the tragic contrast between that body's reaction to the crisis in Darfur and the situation in Côte d’Ivoire?

The difference couldn't be plainer. After close to two years of state-sponsored genocide in Sudan, with some 50,000 people murdered and millions displaced in the Darfur region, the UN Security Council has yet to put an arms embargo on the Government of Sudan. In Côte d’Ivoire, however, it only took the Security Council about a week to slap an arms embargo on the government on 15 November and the rebels after nine Frenchmen and one American were killed in government air raids.

And the contrast is even more shocking in light of Amnesty International's 16 November report detailing how companies from four of the five permanent Security Council members, among other countries, have been actively engaged in arms sales to the genocidal regime in Khartoum. The Russians have sold them military planes that the Sudanese air force has used to bomb villages and to support ground attacks by the government's proxy militias, the Janjaweed. The French and Chinese have sold them small arms and light weapons, and British firms have helped broker various arms deals.

The double standard and the atrocities that continue to be perpetrated in Darfur does not mean the Security Council acted wrongly over Côte d’Ivoire. Indeed, this is a serious situation: since the Ivorian civil war reignited two weeks ago, 62 have been killed, over 1000 have been injured, and over 10,000 have fled to Liberia, itself not at all stable. Inter-communal tensions and the use of hate-speech to incite violence are creating an overall climate of xenophobia that in the prevailing atmosphere of impunity may lead to violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, possibly on a large scale.

The Security Council can be commended for its swift action in Côte d’Ivoire, resulting in the 15 November resolution calling for a 13-month arms embargo and threatening a 12-month asset freeze and travel ban for any party failing to live up to its peace commitments. The response has been both timely and appropriate.

But why then has it been so impossible to get such a resolution for Darfur, where the world has been witnessing mass violence and the most appalling human rights violations month after month after month, and where the numbers of raped, tortured and murdered are orders of magnitude higher than in Côte d’Ivoire? With the 19 November meeting of the UN Security Council in Nairobi, there have now been three resolutions from that body that address the crisis in Darfur, but none of them have placed any significant pressure on the regime in Khartoum, which sponsors and militarily supports the predominantly Arab Janjaweed in their ethnic cleansing campaign against African populations. Images of Darfur's dead and dying continue to fill the media, but the world is unable to act with so much as an arms embargo against the government. The UN has endorsed an African Union observer mission but that will take months to deploy and with only 3,300 troops can do little to stop the carnage.

There is also one other difference between the two cases that could help explain the international community's truly tragic delay over Darfur. While direct French pressure as a permanent member of the Security Council is the key reason for determined action in Côte d’Ivoire, the African Union's commitment to holding African leaders accountable there was an important element that also pushed the Security Council to do the right thing. To put it bluntly, African unity effectively silenced the Council members normally reluctant to intervene in "internal affairs", notably the Chinese and the Russians.

It should not take the death of the citizens of a permanent member of the Security Council for that body to take strong action in the face of violence. All members have a responsibility to do so. In addition, Africa, specifically the African Union, must speak with one voice and demand tough action from the UN Security Council. Why question what we want them to do? As we've seen in Côte d’Ivoire, it may also be the only thing that can knock down the obstacles to ending the killings in Darfur.


Former Project Director, West Africa
Former Vice President of Multilateral Affairs

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