Prague, 26 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- In the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, they're billing today's conference as "make or break." The African Union says that if the international community does not increase its financing for the badly under-equipped AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur, the operation will be doomed to failure.
It's a view backed by the head of UN peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, who is in Addis Ababa for the conference.
"If the troops don't have the right equipment, that could jeopardize the mission and that's why it's so vital that, in Addis, the countries that have the capability to provide that equipment make the right decision and make sure that the African Union, as it deploys, will have the right equipment," Guehenno said.
"The African Union is being asked to do too much with too few resources."
The war in Darfur, which began in February 2003, has taken some 180,000 lives and driven more than 2 million people from their homes. Rebel forces say the Sudanese government is oppressing black Africans in favor of Arabs and accuse it of genocide. A UN investigation last year sharply criticized the Sudanese authorities and said war crimes had been committed.
But the international community has done little to stop the fighting. The onus has fallen on the African Union, whose performance in policing the shaky cease-fire in Darfur is seen by many as a test of its peacekeeping abilities. In other words, can Africa, in cooperation with its international partners, assume responsibility for peacekeeping on the continent? Adrian MacIntyre of Oxfam International has just returned from the region.
"The African Union certainly is under scrutiny. It's a relatively fledgling organization. This is its first ever peacekeeping operation and it is essential that it gets it right. The key question though is how rapidly they will be able to scale up. Hopefully, with the additional resources that they'll be able to garner from NATO and the European Union and other major donors they'll be able to scale up the size of their presence as soon as possible. that's the crucial thing -- getting the number of personnel on the ground to be able to make a difference and protect the civilians from violent attack," MacIntyre said.
At the African Union forces camp at El Fasher in northern Darfur, force commander Major-General Festus Okonwo addresses a parade to mark Africa Day. Despite the frustrations, he still manages to put a brave face on things.
"You have succeeded in a such a short time to considerably improve the security situation in Darfur, thus enabling more effective delivery of humanitarian assistance.... We must succeed in our mission. Africa, in partnership and cooperation with our partners, must succeed," Okonwo said.
The reality though is that the African Union is being asked to do too much with too few resources. Its 2,200 AU peacekeepers are spread thinly across a territory the size of France. The European Union and NATO have promised they will provide logistical support for the mission, but the AU says it needs far more than that -- at the very least, an extra $460 million, which would allow it to triple the size of the force by September.
The signs are that the Addis Ababa conference, which is attended by senior NATO, EU, and U.S. officials, will agree to the funding.
But Said Djinnit, chairman of the organization's Peace and Security Council, said even this might not be enough. The AU would like to expand its force in Darfur to 12,300 men by early 2006, but that would require an additional $240 million.
In a sense, it's the international community more than the African Union that is being tested in Darfur. African troops have shown they're ready to do the policing, but is the international community ready to pay the cost?