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Charless Obiang

What has been sorely lacking so far is the African Union’s/AUs/ will to take up a clear position. It might seem a hard choice, but the AU can’t stay silent on an issue crucially important to international law and security. Given the specific context, anything that encourages military action should have been taken for reasons largely divorced from the interests of the Syrian people. The only thing that makes no sense, unfortunately, is the attempt to resolve the crisis through more bloodshed and violence.

The Syrian conflict has been raging on for two and half years claiming over hundred thousand civilian causalities. There is now a flurry of military and diplomatic developments which could decide the fate of the country and the international system at large. Meanwhile, Russia’s proposal to establish control over Syria’s chemical weapons has been positively met by the international community and individual countries which considered it as a real alternative to the impending US military plans. On September 10, a day after the Russian government gave support to a call to put Syria’s chemical weapons program under international supervision, President Obama said he would allow the UN Security Council a chance to pursue the idea before asking Congress to approve strikes; but he declared it was his “judgment as commander in chief” that the US should if necessary intervene militarily. However, Washington’s readiness to support Russian initiative doesn’t necessarily mean that the Obama Administration is abandoning the use of military force against Syria. This is not a new phenomenon in the United States, and this case will not reduce its objective power. But it does create a sense of uncertainty about what precisely the United States intends to do.

Many countries and international organisations are perplexed by what is happening in the contemporary international system and have voiced their concern with the tendency to militarily involve in the Syrian conflict. Interestingly the two eminent personalities entrusted to facilitate the resolution of the Syrian conflict; Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi are Africans. Egypt, Tunisia, South Africa and the Forum for Former African Heads of State and Government (or African Forum) have separately opposed U.S. President Barack Obama’s threat to use military force in Syria. What has been sorely lacking so far is the African Union’s/AUs/ will to take up a clear position. It might seem a hard choice, but the AU can’t stay silent on an issue crucially important to international law and security. The root causes of the Syrian conflict were and remain essentially political. Accordingly its solution could only be political, and not military. Against this background, Africa must held the position that the Syrian belligerents must urgently enter into inclusive negotiations to end the civil war through a peaceful process. To this effect the Geneva I and Geneva II processes need to be supported.

As for what to do with Syria’s alleged chemical weapons use, that is being managed diplomatically in such a way which should have attracted thumps up from the African Union. When Russia came up with the proposal Africa has every reason to be pleased. Meanwhile, the Russians were seeking to gain standing by proposing multilateral initiatives but the United States is going reckless and unilateral. This is not in the interest of Africa. The only thing that makes no sense, unfortunately, is the attempt to resolve the crisis through more bloodshed and violence. That is just not possible or desirable. Minor killings will lead to major killings and further killing spree. Militarily defeating the regime will take more years leading to more death and destruction. Moreover, all signs indicate that if the current opposition defeats the regime, its component militias would likely immediately begin killing one another in yet another internecine struggle for power.

Clearly, the upheaval has led to a new sectarian consciousness. Furthermore, the rebellion is increasingly dominated by Islamist extremists who might well massacre Alawis, Druze, Christian, and other minorities if they prevail. Among the many effects of the Syrian war, the collapse of one of the Arab world’s most diverse societies may be the most consequential. Allowing Syria to become another Lebanon (historically, they are one country) with multiple warlords -- or more precisely, acknowledging that this has already happened -- is the logical outcome of all of this. In so far as it impacts on the international system Africa must show a great deal of interest in the way the Syrian conflict is resolved. It has a stake in a peaceful resolution of the crisis based on international law rather than an arbitrary system of international relations, imposed on the world by those who exercise military and other might. Make no mistake the only correct response even to the use of chemical weapons is not to further  escalate the violent conflict, but to radically intensify and accelerate the efforts towards a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war. The prospect of a negotiated cease-fire, followed by the establishment of a transitional government or administration, has been suggested by some international officials, and if successful, might allow for the safe return of Syrians to at least some parts of the country. But many have, quite correctly, expressed doubts that the Syria they knew could ever be rebuilt.

Against this reality, anything that encourages military action should have been taken for reasons largely divorced from the interests of the Syrian people. It’s no longer about addressing the use of chemical weapons. To conclude, Africa’s position should be informed by the following:

·         The issue of chemical weapons should be depoliticised and put under international control. Sequestering Syria’s chemical weapons remains the priority.

·         Unilateral action should be discouraged and resolving the Syrian crisis requires multilateral mechanisms.

·         Any road map to resolve the Syrian conflict must be anchored in the crucial defence of the United Nations Charter and international law.

·         The only feasible way forward is a negotiated settlement; a political solution should top the agenda of the international community.

·         Reactivating the Geneva II process is the answer.

Africa needs to rise to the challenge, voice its concerns, and make useful suggestions on how the Syrian conflict needs to be resolved before it is too late. It should find its rightful place in the international debate surrounding the Syrian conflict.

 
Last Updated on Friday, 20 September 2013 17:55
 

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