Friday, August 12, 2005

There is lots of talk of more African Union soldiers coming to Darfur, and I have to admit that recent news of new airlifts and arrivals does leave me with a postive feeling. But it seems as if everywhere I go, the locals have a different opinion of these developments.

In many camps, people are very positive about the soldiers and express gratitude for the improved security (even if they do sometimes get a bit confused about the African Union's role as a military force).

In other places, people are most skeptical. At a staff meeting yesterday, I am treated to another typical collection of cynical comments from our local staff.

"They only come out and drive around in big cars when they are bored - when you need AU, they don't come out."

"They don't have any power. They are just here to advise, and to watch. But not to act."

"All those AU men do is play football with government soldiers. And eat. They eat a lot."

And even an outraged: "They eat SO much that the price of meat at the market has doubled since they got here."

While some of these observations are based more on rumours or resentment (AU soldiers often get to work in nice air-conditioned tents, while the rest of the us swelter in the heat of the Darfur sun), a lot of the comments seem painfully close to the views of Darfur analysts who bemoan the AU's weak and confused mandate.

You don't need a degree in international peacekeeping to understand that more soldiers alone will not prevent violence - particularly if these soldiers have no authority to intervene on behalf of the victims. And the victims are starting to get more vocal about this.

It may not be fashionable to criticise to African Union, and a random collection of off-hand comments may not be the most eloquent way of doing so. But today, as I watch the soldiers tear up the dust in another energetic football match, my thoughts do pause for a minute to consider how many of Darfur's problem these guys can really hope to solve.


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