Can Africans truly save Syria?

Who knew that when President Bashar al-Assad started slitting the throats of children, gunning down entire families in their living quarters, littering villages and cities with corpses of brave young men and women–that somehow, the job of stopping this royal madness would fall on Africans?

Since this conflict began, the world, inadvertently, has repeatedly called on Africans to take a lead role in resolving a crisis that escalates with every waking hour. Though Africa has been the scene of some of the worst atrocities and conflicts known to man in recent memory, it is noteworthy that her sons are nonetheless being tasked as peacemakers.

The appointment of Mohamed al-Dabi as mission leader in December 2011 marked the first of this instance. President Assad, under pressure from the Arab League, had agreed to remove troops and tanks from Syrian neighborhoods, free political prisoners, and dialogue with dissidents. And in pursuant of this agreement, the League chose the Sudanese general to lead a monitoring team into Syria. Alas, the mission was doomed before it even started. Not because the African in charge had an alleged history of brutality against minorities in his own country, but because (as was predictable) President Assad had little interest in playing by anyone’s calendar.  With shells blazing, he dared incredulous monitors to come between his soldiers and thousands of hapless Syrian civilians. The Arab League in a matter of a few weeks was forced to declare the mission a failure and it recalled the African general and his team.

However, a world not ready to give up hope that Assad could some morning wake up with his senses returned to him, summoned up yet another African.  This time, with double the initial mandate—The United Nations and the Arab League jointly employed the services of Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian, as special envoy to a recalcitrant Syrian regime. Although I harbored grave reservations that the deaf leopard in Damascus could suddenly change its spots, I allowed myself some little room for hope with this latest deployment.

The former Secretary-General of the U.N. hastily got to work; hammering out a 6-point peace plan for a stable Syria. But as we now know, after almost six months of peddling his plan to his employers and the two parties in the conflict, Mr. Annan unexpectedly threw up his arms in resignation—citing nonnegotiable structures and entities that frustrated a peaceful resolution to the daily bloodshed. He no longer wished to be part of the mayhem—and who could blame him?

So, here we are, again, almost 18 months into this bloody chaos with no less than 18,000 dead Syrians, another African takes the place of the esteemed Mr. Annan. Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, a career diplomat from the largest country in Africa, Algeria, is the latest miracle worker to be called upon to try his magic on the dark hole that’s become Assad’s Syria.

Mr. Brahimi’s résumé is unassailable.  After all, he is part of the Elders (a small international group dedicated to conflict resolution with laureates like South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu among its founders).  He has earned a reputation as a strong-willed and independent negotiator from his work in hotspots like Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet, for all these, I hold a foreboding sentiment that Mr.  Brahimi shall surely meet the same fate that befell his predecessors.

As evidenced by the dramatic turn in events and escalation of hostilities, we have since passed the road to diplomatic solutions in Syria. Armed conflict it will be from now till the very end.  The same powers that frustrated the efforts of Mr. Annan, namely China and especially Russia, are unlikely to withdraw their support of the Syrian regime. But unknown to these obstructionists, their actions are rapidly sealing the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.  For as Winston Churchill wisely observed, “dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount.” Assad, it seems, is intent on going the route of either Ali Saleh of Yemen, who not until he survived serious wounds in a suicide bomb attack did he abdicate office; or that of Moammar Gaddafi, who ultimately met the unglamorous death his dogmatism and arrogance assured him.

Syria shall be saved. But not at the hands of Africans, the West, or even fellow Arabs (though we shall all be assistive in its salvation). The determined sons and daughters of Syria unto themselves shall be their own Messiah. And despite the challenges that are bound to be rampant in a post-Assad Syria, I am encouraged by developments such as “The Day After Project,” a proposal by a united Syrian opposition, which yet gives hope that Syria wouldn’t have to descend into Hades to find its soul once Bashar is gone.


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