GAITHO: An impotent African Union watches as killings continue in South Sudan

Monday January 20 2014

Soldiers from South Sudan's army patrol the streets of Malakal in the Upper Nile State of South Sudan on December 31, 2013. PHOTO | AFP

Soldiers from South Sudan's army patrol the streets of Malakal in the Upper Nile State of South Sudan on December 31, 2013. PHOTO | AFP AFP

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I have waited in vain for the African Union to summon an Extraordinary Heads of State Summit to discuss the disasters unfolding in South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

If the leaders of continental body can spare so much time and energy canvassing on behalf of some of their own who want to be held above the law, then surely they can find a little time to discuss relief for millions of ordinary Africans facing real threat of death and displacement as violence tears those two nations apart.

But no, the African Union is not about African citizens and their travails; it is about the rights and privileges of those who belong to that exclusive club of potentates who claim divine right to rob, loot and pillage with immunity and impunity.

The ethnic and political bouts in South Sudan and Central African Republic not only threaten to descend into civil war in both countries, but are also taking on all the characteristics of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

One would expect the leaders of a reformed African Union, successor to the much-maligned Organisation of African Unity, to rise to the occasion and demonstrate that Africa will no longer be a playground for ethnic warlords and their primitive taste for blood.

An African leadership that proclaims fidelity to universal standards of human rights and justice, as enunciated in the New Partnership for African Development and the African Peer Review Mechanism, would surely not countenance leaders within its ranks resorting to savagery in which the losers are desperate Africans.

On South Sudan, for instance, the international community has sat back and let Africa take responsibility for its own destiny.

The regional Inter-Governmental Authority of Development, Igad, is on behalf of the African Union, convenor for the South Sudan peace talks supposed to be taking place in Addis Ababa, the seat of the AU.

The role of the Western nations often accused of meddling in African affairs has been limited to bankrolling the mediation. But what has been achieved in Addis so far? Zilch. Zero.

President Salva Kiir and his foe, former Vice-President Riek Machar, have sent to the peace talks minions who can’t make any decisions, while from different side of the divide they continue to send innocents to slaughter.

The Igad leaders, and by extension the AU leadership, have looked on impotently as the death toll rises and an increasing number of refugees stream out to Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and wherever else they can find safety.

An Igad Head of States Summit in the coming days will be followed by a gathering of AU leaders where South Sudan will be the only agenda item.

I can tell you for free that nothing concrete will come out of those talkfests. As long as African leaders refuse to wield the big stick, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar will never see sense.

And the two combatants both know that from their fellow African despots, there will be no threat of arrest and prosecution for genocide and war crimes.

The dictators’ club has already set a precedent with the Kenyan case by lobbying strongly for President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto to be excused from international justice mechanisms.

After floundering so badly on the mishandled Kenya case and generally under attack from the AU leadership, the International Criminal Court is unlikely to jump into the South Sudan and Central African Republic cauldrons.

So the world has forsaken the suffering citizens?

Not necessarily. In the face of African Union inaction, the United Nations must step in to establish special international tribunals, as it did with Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and other areas deserving special attention.

It is only through mechanisms that promise punishment for leaders who kill and plunder that the culture of impunity will be dealt a blow, and the citizens will enjoy justice.

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It seems like eons since Kenyans chanted “Moi must go”. Now, from far away at some football stadium called Old Trafford, an almost similar refrain is picking up. Not, Moi, but “Moyes must go”. Methinks David Moyes must be given a chance at Manchester United.

[email protected] Twitter: @MachariaGaitho