Throughout this election, both John McCain and Barack Obama promised action in Darfur. On January 20, Barack Obama must be prepared to deliver on that promise.
Over the last few months -- in debates, stump speeches and interviews -- the presidential and vice-presidential candidates have spoken about America's responsibility to help end the genocide in Darfur. Their words were forceful. Sen. Obama said that genocide "diminishes us," and Sen. Biden said he does not "have the stomach for genocide when it comes to Darfur." Sen. McCain said "we have to say never again to a Holocaust and never again to Rwanda" and Gov. Palin said that "America is in a position to help."
It's no accident that the plight of 2.5 million displaced people in a place no one had heard of six years ago is now a top issue on the American campaign trail. Americans have done the unexpected: They started a mass movement to end the suffering of civilians half way around the world. When the people of Darfur were targeted in 2003 by the Sudanese government for elimination, the people of America spoke out.
Obama and McCain responded to this outcry back in May when they signed a rare joint presidential candidate statement. It promised "unstinting resolve" from the next president to end the genocide, no matter who is elected.
When thousands of citizens of conscience spoke with one voice, our leaders listened. Today, with the campaign over and President- elect Obama set to take over in less than three months, Americans who believe we can not stand idly by during genocide have a reminder for the future president: it's not enough to say that genocide is terrible. You have promised action in Darfur. Be ready to deliver.
In 2006, the Save Darfur Coalition launched the "Million Voices for Darfur" postcard campaign. In the dawn of our movement, a full one million people quickly signed and sent postcards to the White House demanding peace in Darfur. Since then, we've seen activists organize mass rallies, states adopt divestment policies at the behest of concerned citizens, and Olympic athletes call on China to use their leverage with the Sudanese government to end the violence in Darfur.
People in Darfur are alive today who otherwise would not be, because this growing constituency of conscience cried out. But still the suffering remains. Six-year-old children in Darfur have known nothing but conflict their whole lives.
The inauguration of the Obama presents a new opportunity to push for a lasting peace. He should invest heavily in diplomacy and work with allies to apply leverage on the parties, including further targeted sanctions for uncooperative key players. The U.S. must engage closely with the new U.N.-A.U. joint chief mediator Djibril Bassolé and other key nations, such as China, from the start of this fragile, vital process.
Civilian protection will help create an atmosphere that fosters a push for peace, but the hybrid U.N.-A.U. peacekeeping force is floundering. Earlier this month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon broke the bad news that by December - almost eighteen months after the force was authorized - perhaps only two thirds of the total force is expected to be deployed in Darfur. As is, the force lacks basic logistical support such as helicopters, aerial reconnaissance, transport trucks, engineers to build military installations, and logistical support units. And what's more, the Sudanese government has been given an unconscionable veto over the force's composition and operations. An American president with commitment and leadership can provide the necessary support and pressure, making the peacekeeping force in Darfur operational and saving lives.
President-elect Obama will have to contend with many vital issues, not the least of which is the health of our economy. But let us not forget that one of these issues must also be stopping genocide in Sudan. The people of Darfur have waited six long years for protection and a chance at peace. The next president must be resolved to place this African region on top of his must-do list; he must be prepared to act for Darfur from day one.
Our movement has staying power. We ask for protection of civilians from violence, starvation and disease; sustainable peace for all Sudan; and justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators. Barack Obama must end this genocide instead of continuing to manage it. It's not too much to ask.
Jerry Fowler is president of the Save Darfur Coalition and is leading the "Be a Voice for Darfur" campaign to collect one million postcards for delivery to the next president urging him to make Darfur a top priority. To learn more and add your voice to the campaign visit AddYourVoice.org.
Follow Jerry Fowler on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SaveDarfur