Darfur has stepped back from the abyss, just for the time being. A three-month extension of the African Union's peacekeeping mission in Sudan means that hundreds of thousand of refugees are no longer at the mercy of Sudanese militias until a UN-sponsored force arrives early next year. In a bout of brinkmanship and political foot-dragging shameful even by the United Nations' own standards, funding - a mere sixty-nine million dollars - was eventually secured mere days before the withdrawal of the AU force in Darfur. This works out at approximately the same cost as prosecuting a war in Iraq for six hours.
Usually, at the Friday Thing, we try to put a humorous spin on world events, but three years of slaughter aided and abetted by a Sudanese government who would prefer the world looked the other way Rwanda-style, we find that this is impossible. And if we were to compare this kind of 11th hour politicking with Big Brother-style mindfuckery, you'd quite rightly call us all a bunch of sick bastards. So we won't.
These frantic negotiations have, at least, seen the scandal of Darfur rise almost-but-not-quite to the top of the international agenda, with the developed world shamed by their inaction into doing something that might, for once, save lives. There is a three month window before the 20,000-strong armed-to-the-teeth UN force replaces the demoralised, poorly equipped AU forces, something the Sudanese government is 'very pleased with'. Three months, presumably, of hoping the Janjaweed militia behave themselves. Fingers crossed.
It turns out that everybody is suddenly interested in saving face. No President or Prime Minister wants genocide on his watch, especially if it is within his power to prevent it. This is particularly so if you are exporting half of Sudan's oil wealth (China) or have huge business interests tied up with the Khartoum government (USA). The Sudanese government, clamping down on internal dissent and moving anybody who might become a witness out of the region, wants to maintain strength, whilst not wanting to appear a gang of butchers.
As Britain's Foreign Minister for Africa, Lord Triesman commented: 'We are beyond the point where we should be very concerned with saving face. We should be concerned with saving lives'. In other, more surprising, news, Britain has a Foreign Minister for Africa.
The cynical amongst you might be of the opinion that following years of disastrous foreign policy, which has involved the dropping of large quantities of explosives and spiky things over important parts of the Middle East, we might be embarking on a series of random acts of kindness to raise approval ratings both at home and abroad. We can't say we blame you either. With mid-term elections fast approaching across the Atlantic, a victory in a far-off land would play well to the gallery. Surely, though, super-power politics isn't that shallow, is it? Iranian President Mahmoud Admadinejad seems to think so, and told the UN General Assembly so this week. Barking mad he may be, and with a bit of a vested interest in the whole world governance thing, but the point is made, and not without substance.
Over 200,000 people have died since the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan started in 2003 with Bagarra tribes, other ethnic groups and the Darfur Liberation Front (the kind of name that, quite frankly, is going to have any government down on you like a ton of bricks) rising against what they saw as an unjust and oppressive Arab-dominated government. This number is nothing but an estimate, the death toll may be anything up to 400,000. Tragic, bloody and horrific as it is, the death toll in the Iraq war over approximately the same timescale is something around 50,000. In this time, Darfur has briefly flitted in and out of the headlines, with sticking plaster solutions that fail to solve the basic issues.
With control of Sudan's central oilfields added to the equation, the reasons behind the continuation of this conflict can be reduced to its basest level. The war has gone beyond the conflict with the DLF, with government backed Janjaweed militia groups on punitive operations against Darfuris, resulting in the destruction of villages, migration of populations into refugee camps and the slaughter of tens of thousands.
How can the best part of quarter of a million people fall off the radar? That's more or less the population of Newcastle. Imagine that lot disappearing for good. Actually, no, you've got a point there.
There's outrage enough for George Clooney to rail against the Darfur situation, with his country's own UN Ambassador, the walrus-like John Bolton, nodding sagely on the sidelines, but this is little use when the government promises so much and gives so little. Any future UN Force, Clooney argues, may do little more than bury bodies.
Certain governments may wish to reflect on the bargain basement cost of the vital, if flawed, AU mission, especially those which block legislation that would ban publicly-owned entities from doing business with Khartoum. Ironic, then, that America's should be among the first governments to use the word 'genocide' in relation to Darfur, yet this is still over-ridden by the Washington big-business lobby. To save Georgie-boy's face, you might want to send us any cash you might have kicking around, and we'll forward it to the right people as soon as we get back from our holiday in Phuket. Call it your 'gift of love', if you must.
That is, of course, if Sudan actually lets the UN in. By rights, they should have little choice in the matter, but when you hear rhetoric such as 'Any United Nations force entering Sudan will be seen as an invasion', we wonder if our former Sudanese allies in The War on Terror will bear witness to the opening of a third front in the Arab-speaking world. That'll play well in the Middle East. The whole thing might just crash and burn, like poor Richard Hammond in a rocket car.