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Published on June 14th, 2012 | by Ben Sayah
Image © [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="564" caption="© World Economic Forum"][/caption]

Two decades ago a terrible atrocity occurred in the Rural Sub-Saharan nation of Rwanda. Over the course of 100 days, approximately 800,000 people were killed in what has since been described as the most abhorrent scar on the face of Africa. Approximately 20% of the population were killed, 100% felt the affects; perhaps more than any other conflict previously dealt with, the United Nations committed themselves wholly to finding a peaceful solution to what was a intolerable crisis. The tragedy remained disastrous, and the international response a failure. The then General Secretary of the UN, Kofi Atta Annan, described the trauma as one “that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret." Fast Forward today, and the injury caused has certainly stuck with Kofi Annan as he now faces another bloody slaughter in Syria; once more matters seems to exhaust around Annan. Seemingly condemned to repeat his history, Annan’s diplomatic efforts in Syria are gradually being surrounded by a rising corpse count, many of them children under nine, which is inevitably causing problem for his drive towards peace.

Although unlike Rwanda Annan is not acting as General Secretary, he is instead preceding as mediator for the UN and Arab League; a role which effectively placed him in the forefront of the attempted peace process. Like Rwanda, however, Annan has unfortunately failed to convince both divided world powers and the leader, in this case Bashar Hafez al-Assad, to agree to a peace plan and end the continued bloodshed. Currently a continuation of the situation seems likely to persist, with some even suggesting that conditions in Syria will lead to a civil war between the government and rebel forces. Yet this argument of civil war seems to others hard to digest; instead it seems likely that the superiority of the Assad government, in terms of military arms and forces, will not produce a civil war but instead, a massacre. With forces mounting around him, sectarian violence rising, and his influence largely being ignored, It unfortunately seems the Rwandan Genocide may soon not be Annan’s only source for “regret”.

It would, however, be unfair and inaccurate to assume that the responsibility for change in Syria lies solely with Annan. Negotiations amongst the UN on Syria seem to also be a large source for concern when attempting to settle the conflict. As matters stand, both Russia and China refuse to back UN resolutions condemning the Assad Government and belligerently advocating their right to veto serious UN involvement in the affair. Evidently lack of UN involvement causes a greater problem for the Syrian peace process, even greater perhaps than anything Annan can do. However his personal placement as Mediator still signaled some hope for change, as it seemingly stood for a different method of engaging with the peace process, than outright UN intervention.

"[Annan] was born and bred in an environment of looking for compromise," said a childhood friend economist Kwame Pianim. His efforts in peacebuilding have ultimately been forged by his upbringing in ethnically divided Ghana, and experiences personally attending global conflicts around the globe. Although it seems that the conflict in Syria may amount to another failure for Annan, it is important to be reminded of his continued assiduous approach to the pursual for peace across the globe, and he seems to have learned from previous mistakes in Rwanda. “I believed at that time that I was doing my best," Annan said following Rwanda. "But I realised after the genocide that there was more that I could and should have done to sound the alarm and rally support." By remaining conscious of current problems and recognising previous failures, and even by maintaining outside of the difficult UN veto process, Annan seems best suited for the Syrian conflict than any other foreign mediator. Does he see a clear way out? I don’t think so. All we can hope is that the memory of Rwanda leads Annan to place greater pressure on Assad, and the rest of the world, than when he addressed issues back in the east African state.

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Rwanda and Syria: Kofi’s History Repeated

© World Economic Forum

Two decades ago a terrible atrocity occurred in the Rural Sub-Saharan nation of Rwanda. Over the course of 100 days, approximately 800,000 people were killed in what has since been described as the most abhorrent scar on the face of Africa. Approximately 20% of the population were killed, 100% felt the affects; perhaps more than any other conflict previously dealt with, the United Nations committed themselves wholly to finding a peaceful solution to what was a intolerable crisis. The tragedy remained disastrous, and the international response a failure. The then General Secretary of the UN, Kofi Atta Annan, described the trauma as one “that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret.” Fast Forward today, and the injury caused has certainly stuck with Kofi Annan as he now faces another bloody slaughter in Syria; once more matters seems to exhaust around Annan. Seemingly condemned to repeat his history, Annan’s diplomatic efforts in Syria are gradually being surrounded by a rising corpse count, many of them children under nine, which is inevitably causing problem for his drive towards peace.

Although unlike Rwanda Annan is not acting as General Secretary, he is instead preceding as mediator for the UN and Arab League; a role which effectively placed him in the forefront of the attempted peace process. Like Rwanda, however, Annan has unfortunately failed to convince both divided world powers and the leader, in this case Bashar Hafez al-Assad, to agree to a peace plan and end the continued bloodshed. Currently a continuation of the situation seems likely to persist, with some even suggesting that conditions in Syria will lead to a civil war between the government and rebel forces. Yet this argument of civil war seems to others hard to digest; instead it seems likely that the superiority of the Assad government, in terms of military arms and forces, will not produce a civil war but instead, a massacre. With forces mounting around him, sectarian violence rising, and his influence largely being ignored, It unfortunately seems the Rwandan Genocide may soon not be Annan’s only source for “regret”.

It would, however, be unfair and inaccurate to assume that the responsibility for change in Syria lies solely with Annan. Negotiations amongst the UN on Syria seem to also be a large source for concern when attempting to settle the conflict. As matters stand, both Russia and China refuse to back UN resolutions condemning the Assad Government and belligerently advocating their right to veto serious UN involvement in the affair. Evidently lack of UN involvement causes a greater problem for the Syrian peace process, even greater perhaps than anything Annan can do. However his personal placement as Mediator still signaled some hope for change, as it seemingly stood for a different method of engaging with the peace process, than outright UN intervention.

“[Annan] was born and bred in an environment of looking for compromise,” said a childhood friend economist Kwame Pianim. His efforts in peacebuilding have ultimately been forged by his upbringing in ethnically divided Ghana, and experiences personally attending global conflicts around the globe. Although it seems that the conflict in Syria may amount to another failure for Annan, it is important to be reminded of his continued assiduous approach to the pursual for peace across the globe, and he seems to have learned from previous mistakes in Rwanda. “I believed at that time that I was doing my best,” Annan said following Rwanda. “But I realised after the genocide that there was more that I could and should have done to sound the alarm and rally support.” By remaining conscious of current problems and recognising previous failures, and even by maintaining outside of the difficult UN veto process, Annan seems best suited for the Syrian conflict than any other foreign mediator. Does he see a clear way out? I don’t think so. All we can hope is that the memory of Rwanda leads Annan to place greater pressure on Assad, and the rest of the world, than when he addressed issues back in the east African state.

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