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Why The African Union Is Quick To Suspend Sudan

Addis Ababa (National Times)-Following the suspension of Sudan from the African Union (AU), many, especially Cameroonians and those informed about the war in the North West and South West have been asking questions why the continental body would take such a decision for a relatively low-level conflict against a ravaging war down South.

However, this can only be understood by looking at the geopolitical nature of both countries including the AU as well as the stakes involved in the conflict in Cameroon and the Sudanese case.

TMC’s support from Arab states

In its protracted war with South Sudan, mainland Sudan has always been supported by Arab states especially Saudi Arabia for the preservation of Sharia law. Likewise, the current Transitional Military Council (TMC) of Sudan is also backed by these Arabian countries. During the last weekend of  the month of May, the TMC leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan visited Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for support.

Both countries including Saudi Arabia assured the TMC of their support. Saudi Arabia and UAE also pledged the sum of $3 billion to boost the country’s economy under the TMC. Similar support has also come from Russia which has asked the United States and European countries to allow Sudan to manage its “internal affairs.”

China’s silence and AU’s powers

Unlike other conflicts in the world which China would easily jump in to preserve its economic interest, it has not really been out rightly vocal in the Sudanese case despite its involvement in the country’s economy.

China extracts oil from Sudan and also supplies the country with arms despite a 2005 United Nations arms embargo on the country. However, China is also heavily involved in the extraction of oil in conflict-hit South Sudan. And because of the rivalry and tension existing between the two Sudans, China wants to preserve its petroleum interest in the South Sudan under the leadership of the China National Petroleum Corporation as well as its security and economic interest in mainland Sudan.

With the tension between the two Sudans, whatever is happening in one part is closely watched by the other. This has made China to consider its statements in the light of the conflict.

Apart from the Sudans, China is one of the major sponsors of the AU. It recently constructed an ultramodern headquarters for the institution in Addis Ababa. This has made China one of the main sponsors of the body, even though putting it in a dilemma as well.

AU’s latitude To Sanction Sudan

With pressure coming from Western powers and the UN Security Council and in the absence of a powerful ally like China, it becomes possible for the AU to sanction Sudan. Moreover, the AU does not entertain a close amity with the Gulf States like China. And as concerns Sudan in particular, the OAU now AU, had a strained relationship with the Gulf States for their support to Sudan in the war with South Sudan.

A similar strained relationship was also entertained between the East African community and these Gulf States. While the former supported South Sudan, the latter backed mainland Sudan during the war which started in 1983 and ended in 2005. This explains why the Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed is going to Sudan to mediate between the different parties while the Gulf States have already taking their stance behind the TMC

AU and the Cameroon war

In the case of Cameroon, it would be difficult for the AU to act because its “hands are tied.” China has extensive economic interest in Cameroon and has openly voiced its support for the Biya regime and rejects every intervention. And with its financial support for the AU, it becomes difficult for the body to take an angle different from its main financier.

Moreover with the strong leverage of France over the Biya regime and its support for the military option of the conflict, it becomes difficult for the AU to challenge an influential European Union (EU) member and UN Security Council member.

Also, within the EU it is not a tradition for a state to challenge the other’s foreign policy which is why countries like Germany, Britain cannot act swiftly. And all these ramifications have handicapped the UNSC which is unable to trample on the Cameroon case.

Besides, the Central Africa sub regional grouping, CEMAC countries is a limping institution which is unable to handle issues concerning its members unlike the East African community which negotiated the Comprehensive Peace Accord between Sudan and South Sudan.

In its staggering nature, CEMAC is also unable to pressurize AU to take any meaningful action on Cameroon.

In the last Arria-formula Security Council meeting, China and Russia argued in favour of the Biya regime, urging other countries not to interfere in the “internal affairs” of Cameroon. Few days after Ambassadors of both countries resident in Yaoundé were rewarded by the Biya regime. With the Military Council being backed by Saudi Arabia which is not having a similar leverage on the AU like China, it becomes easy for the continental body to focus on a conflict with less effects than another conflict already creating one of the biggest humanitarian catastrophe in the continent.

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