"Asking The Right Questions About Darfur, Sudan" Part V, Exclusive Q & A With Dr. Kwame Akonor, Founder, African Development Institute
In the August 8, 2004 edition of The New York Times, a short letter to the editor was published challenging the African Union to live up to its mandate and the spirit of its creation by taking the leadership position regarding the crisis in Darfur. The letter was written by Mr. Kwame Akonor.
Dr. Kwame Akonor is the founder of the African Development Institute (ADI), a non-governmental "think-tank" based in New York, and devoted to critical analyses of - and solutions to - the problems of development in Africa. Kwame’s advocacy of self reliant and endogenous development policies for Africa has earned him audiences at the United Nations, several TV and Radio programs, and commentaries in newspaper publications.
Dr. Akonor has taught graduate and undergraduate courses at several City University of New York (CUNY) colleges and is currently Adjunct Professor of graduate studies in the department of political science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.
He holds a Master of Arts in International Relations from City College (CUNY) and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Graduate Center (CUNY).
Dr. Akonor was born and raised in Accra, Ghana.
As part of its continuing investigative series on Darfur, Sudan; BlackElectorate.com Publisher Cedric Muhammad conducted a brief interview of Dr. Akonor about his view of the crisis and his emphasis on the role the African Union should play regarding it.
Cedric Muhammad:What is the African Development Institute, Inc.'s position on Darfur?
Dr. Kwame Akonor:ADI strongly condemns Khartoum’s genocidal destruction of the African peoples of Darfur, and calls for swift concerted international action, preferably under the direction of the African Union, to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.
Cedric Muhammad:In a recent letter to the New York Times, you expressed a focus on the role the African Union (AU) could play in this conflict. Could you elaborate on the points of your short letter?
Dr. Kwame Akonor:ADI emphasizes Pan-Africanist ideals as an alternative development paradigm for Africa’s future. Such a framework necessarily implies an African centered approach to problem solving involving African peoples. Specific to conflict resolution, and in this case the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan, it means the establishment, enforcement and consolidation of peace by Africans themselves. (pax africana as Dr. Ali Mazrui would call it).
Since the AU professes adherence, at least on paper, to these pan African ideals, we believe that this crisis presents a litmus test for the AU on what constitutes a legitimate intervention, and how it can manage an African peace. In an attempt to overcome the legacy of its predecessor body, the OAU, which so often ignored atrocities in member states, due to a doctrine of non-interference, the AU made provision for intervention in grave circumstances. While we believe that the AU’s declaration that the killings did not amount to genocide may complicate the rationale and mandate of its future deployments to that region, it is our hope that it succeeds in its mission to resolve the crisis, and gain legitimacy from world actors and ordinary Africans; legitimacy that it desperately needs if it is to do better than the OAU.
Cedric Muhammad: The mission of ADI is: "To help unleash the human and material potential of Africans through education, research and policy advocacy." What specifically are you advocating in the Sudan that will accomplish this?
Dr. Kwame Akonor:This crisis heightens the need for Africa to have a supranational African High Command, with the capacity to enforce peace and security. Unfortunately, African leaders have persistently resisted this proposal. The last time the single Africa army idea was rebuffed was at the AU’s extraordinary Summit in March 2004, when it was tabled by Libya’s Muammar Al Qathafi.
In the immediate future, we propose that AU disbar Sudan, which is expected to preside over the next African Union summit meeting and to head the organization next year, should it remain recalcitrant and uncooperative.
Cedric Muhammad: Are you satisfied with the way the events in Darfur have been depicted by the Western media? Do you think that this is an Arab vs. Black African conflict?
Dr. Kwame Akonor: Finding fault with the Western media’s depiction of the crisis is akin to blaming the messenger bearing bad news. While it is true that Western media coverage on Africa, in general, tends to be biased and ahistorical, we must not lose sight of the fact that it is they, the Western media, which brought international attention to the Darfur crisis. Moreover, the source and nature of the coverage should not be an issue so long as, competitive outlets, such as yours (blackelectorate.com) exists to offer counter perspectives and analysis.
Of course, it is quite simplistic to cast the crisis purely as an Arab/ black conflict. However there are undeniable elements in the struggles that point to this. First, the overwhelming majority of casualties in the Darfur crisis are African peoples primarily the Fur, the Zaghawa, and the Massaleit. It is also a fact that the Sudanese government espouses an Islamist platform, and calls itself Arabic.
Unfortunately, the international community refuses to call the crisis what it is: genocide. What we are witnessing is a military campaign, aided and abetted by the Sudanese government, that is “deliberately inflicting on [these African groups] conditions of life calculated to bring about [their] physical destruction” (Article 2, clause [c] of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide). So whether the language chosen is "ethnic cleansing" (UN, US State Department, Human Rights Watch), "crimes against humanity," "ethnic-based murder," the realities described clearly match the language centrally defining of the Genocide Convention.
We should also not forget that the context to this crisis is the unresolved 21year old civil war between the Arab North and predominantly black Christian / traditional religion practitioners of the South, further complicating the Arab/ black dichotomy, as the current causalities include Muslims.
Cedric Muhammad: What do you think of the role the UN has played so far in Darfur?
Dr. Kwame Akonor: Africa, has in the past, been too reliant on the international community in solving its problems. Unfortunately, the international community has taken a hands-off approach to African conflicts, except in cases where it served the immediate strategic interests of member countries. Recent events in the Congo, Angola, and now the accelerating genocide in Sudan bear this out.
It is rather ironic that in this case the immediate strategic interests of some veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council have lead to a lack of swift international action. It should come as no surprise that China, for example, opposes the threat of trade sanctions from the West to force the Sudanese government to take action when more than half (53.3%) of Sudanese exports went to China in 2002, and China also led the way for imports into Sudan, accounting for 20.1% in that same year.
This is the time for the AU to be on the center stage with one voice and to take the initiative for proposals to resolve this conflict.
Part I: Exclusive Q & A With Professor Sean O'Fahey
Part II : Exclusive Q & A With Joe Madison, President, Sudan Campaign
Part III: Exclusive Q & A With Karen Kwiatkowski, Lt. Col. United States Air Force (ret.)
Part IV: Exclusive Q & A With Salih Booker, Executive Director, Africa Action
Wednesday, August 18, 2004