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Africa’s step to be a continent of peace

Protecting the innocent

With its decision to intervene militarily in South Sudan’s conflict, the African Union shows it may yet live up to its goal of creating a continent of peace by 2020.

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African Union-backed soldiers patrol in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, July 17.

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For a continent with so many wars, Africa certainly has big ambitions about peace. Its one uniting body, the 54-nation African Union, has set a goal to end all conflicts by 2020. This week, the AU took a step toward ending one potentially explosive conflict by agreeing to send troops to South Sudan.

That new nation, created only in 2011, recently saw a flare-up of violence between forces of President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, who are archrivals but who have also often cooperated. At least 300 people were killed, including two Chinese soldiers serving in a United Nations peacekeeping unit.

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UN peacekeeping operations are not equipped to bring about peace in countries, only to keep the peace. The AU, on the other hand, has adopted a principle of “nonindifference” in those situations in Africa that might result in genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes.

Africans do not want a repeat of the kind of genocide that occurred in Rwanda in the mid-1990s. That slaughter has altered international diplomacy in favor of military intervention in countries where mass violence might occur, where there’s “a responsibility to protect.”

Nearly three-quarters of all UN peacekeepers, however, are now in Africa. The AU is struggling to improve its performance to take care of conflicts, especially before they escalate. A report this week by the World Peace Foundation about the AU peace missions recommended that the AU “ensure that it has the capacity and the will to discharge its responsibilities as that first and leading respondent” to a conflict.

The AU has a decent track record of its forces helping keep peace in Somalia and the Central African Republic. Now, if it can get cooperation from the UN and South Sudan leaders, Africa may become a continent of peace, not war.