Actions and motivations in Darfur debate

Africa Union Chairperson Alpha Omar Konare, left, and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in Addis Ababa at the beginning of a special meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council dedicated to the Darfur crisis on Nov. 16, 2006.

BOB MOON: The African Union has been meeting today in the Republic of Congo. On the agenda: what to do about violence in the Darfur region of Sudan. An estimated 400,000 people have died. Two million people have been displaced. The United States has called the crisis "genocide," although the United Nations hasn't used the word. The African Union already runs a peacekeeping force in Darfur. But the U.S. and other Western countries say it's too weak to prevent atrocities. They want the United Nations to step in.

As Gretchen Wilson reports from Johannesburg, some observers wonder whether business interests are behind U.S. attention to Darfur.


GRETCHEN WILSON: On Monday, the U.S. pledged another $90 million in food aid to Sudan. It's the biggest funder of the World Food Program's efforts there.

But not everyone thinks U.S. interest in Darfur is strictly benevolent. The foreign editor of a leading Egyptian newspaper recently told the BBC that "It's Sudan's oil, like Iraq's oil, which fuels American interest" in the region.
ROSS HERBERT: I don't think, frankly, policymakers are deciding at all on the basis of oil revenues.

Ross Herbert is a fellow at the South African Institute of International Affairs. He says there's a lot of global distrust of U.S. interests in the wake of the Iraq war.

HERBERT: A central problem that U.S. foreign policy has to face is that there's a lot of suspicion about anything that it does and there's a lot of people second-guessing its motives.

Sudan does have oil. In the South, lots of it. It's Africa's third-biggest oil producer. U.S. sanctions in place since 1997 block U.S. companies from doing business there. Since then, China's secured most of the oil rights. Critics say the U.S. is stepping in primarily to try to wrest that control from China.

But advocates for a stronger international presence in Darfur say that region of the country, in the west, has no significant oil reserves. And they say profit-based arguments only distract from an escalating humanitarian crisis. Last week the African Union said Sudanese military and Sudanese-backed militias attacked civilians in Northern Darfur in what they called a flagrant violation of existing security agreements.

I'm Gretchen Wilson for Marketplace.

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