Leadership of the United Nations and African Union in Darfur, 2003–2006

How a simplified conflict narrative dominated the discourse around intervention 1

Authored by: Kathryn Crewe Kelly

Routledge Handbook of Conflict Response and Leadership in Africa

Print publication date:  September  2021
Online publication date:  September  2021

Print ISBN: 9780367332228
eBook ISBN: 9780429318603
Adobe ISBN:


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Case studies of international leadership in conflict resolution typically assume a certain level of intentionality and coordination with regard to chosen interventions. They suppose that third parties make rational cost/benefit calculations about all options on the table. Often absent from our understanding of how a particular course of action was determined by a third party in a given conflict are the less visible and less tangible influences on decision making, namely the social and institutional discourses that defined the menu of potential conflict interventions to begin with. In the following case, the chapter examines the claim that an overly simplistic advocacy narrative of events and prescriptions for international action in Darfur, Sudan, pointed the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) leadership down a path early in the conflict there, resulting in a heavy emphasis on peacekeeping rather than peacemaking as the tool of choice. The consequence of this emphasis, the chapter argues, was an avoidable prolongation of political contestation and violence, but how and why the narrative dominated decision making in the midst of many alternative information sources is less obvious. The definition of leadership relied upon here is closest to the theory of “adaptive leadership” proposed by Ronald Heifetz (1994) at the Harvard Kennedy School, which posits that true leaders move beyond applying a repertoire of known responses when confronted with harsh new realities by proposing new solutions to new problems.

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