Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I've been accused of blogging too much about the problems of Darfur and the mistakes that people are making - and not offering any bright solutions myself.

While it's a sad fact that there simply ARE lots of problems and very few successful solutions in Darfur, I am taking this criticism on board - and here is my solution for the day:

Send us those Canadian armoured personnel carriers.

There are currently 105 armoured personnel carriers stuck in a warehouse in Senegal - waiting to be transported to Darfur so that the African Union soldiers can use them in their patrols. Unfortunately, the Sudanese government - which has very little concern about the safety of people in Darfur - is refusing to let the shipment come into the country unless it gets a certain degree of control over their use. After much negotiation, it seems that 35 have now been granted permission to come here.

While I have not seen these big new trucks arrive here yet (or know much about the negotiations and lobbying that are taking place behind the scenes about this), I do know what sort of impression a fully-equipped military can have on the perceptions of people on the ground.

Over the past few months, I have repeatedly heard Darfurians - be they IDPs, SLA commanders or government officials - snicker at African Union cars or helicopters that have run out of fuel and make throwaway comments about the soldier's ability to fight back when threatened.

Especially in the volatile areas affected by recent clashes, every kid in town knows that the armed groups that the AU are trying to deter quite simply outnumber and outgun the peacekeepers - and I can't say it's making anyone feel particularly safe.

Equally, I have seen the impact that a few new trucks and guns, or a newly deployed group of enthusiastic and professional African Union soldiers can have in a previously unpatrolled area - women feel more protected, thugs become more wary of showing their faces and the townspeople nod their heads approvingly. "Now they have real power, now they look professional. Maybe now they can protect us," a sheik recently told me after the AU deployed a full battalion of troops to his town, which had previously seen little more than a few sorry-looking tents and a dozen glum, confused men.

The African Union troops in Darfur have struggled to have an impact - some argue that they have failed miserably in their mission to protect civilians (though others, of course, would argue that this was not their role in the first place and they are only there to monitor and report breaches of ceasefire...but more about that another day).

Personally, I believe there's still a lot of hope for the African Union Mission in Sudan, and they have done more good than many people will give them credit for. But in those instances where they have failed to do their job or acted incompetently, much of the blame deserves to be spread to those who have refused to equip and prepare them properly for their mission (AMIS is still suffering from a funding shortfall of more than $150 million - a fact some international donors continue to blissfully ignore), and those who try to undermine them in other ways (like the GoS refusal to let them have their equipment).

The Canadians have been kind enough to provide the troops with some important gear at this crucial moment - and if the international community could now push just a little bit more to make sure these trucks actually arrive in the place where they're meant to have an impact, that - for me - would be a small solution in today's minefield of problems.

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At , Blogger Micah said...

I totally understand. I was a relief worker in South Sudan during that crisis in 1999 and 2000. Please keep posting the details of your experience.

If nothing else, it is a good out let for you, maybe it will help you handle the day-to-day challenges.

The Roads in Africa

At , Blogger Been there - got the T-Shirt... said...

Let me say something in regards to the armored vehicles we're about to receive. There are actually not many people with us who are waiting for the Canadian trucks to arrive and this for a simple reason: The likely response on us driving around in armored vehicles – will be that landmines will be used. Where will that lead to and is that what we want!?!… Yes, AMIS / AUCFC is NOT a peace force, but if we’re getting a new mandate, and to create peace by force, then there will be of course a need for relevant military equipment like armored trucks etc. We are all curious to see if that will be the case, but for the moment and without a different mandate there is simply no point in having all sorts of sophisticated weapons A bit more military equipment will not scare anyone – and as “they” know quite well that we cannot use it with the current mandate anyway... I think what AMIS in its current role really needs, is simply the ability to get everywhere - and at any time. Means more soldiers/monitors and better air transport/surveillance capabilities. I wish -any- government would have sent us 100 helicopters, crews and fuel…

At , Blogger sleepless in sudan said...

Hi there - thanks for this response, it's an important point and one that I readily admit a military man/woman would know more about than an opinionated aid worker (though I will repeat that I have heard from plenty of people here, including AMIS/CFC staff that they are very keen on the APCs).

What I find more interesting about your response though is the mandate issue. Are you saying that people within AMIS are pushing for a stronger mandate, and do you feel there is widespread agreement on this, at least within your area of operations?

And why do you not feel that you can push your current mandate, particularly the part about contributing to a secure environment (including "protecting civilians whom it encounters under imminent threat and in the immediate vicinity, within resources and capability")? In meetings with NGOs, the AMIS staff have sometimes blamed the "resources" part and told NGOs that they would push the mandate further if only they had the necessary equipment. Would you agree with that statement?

At , Blogger keith said...

Dear Sleepless,
I'm working with my congregation in Newton MA on a Stop the Genocide in Darfur campaign. I have been reading all sorts of articles, particularly Nick Kristof's stuff in the nytimes and Samantha Power's stuff, as well as working with the American Jewish World Service to gain an idea as to where money can be sent/things done on the ground here in the US. Any thoughts on what you want us to do on this end of the world? Do you need stuff that we could send you? If you want to email me some thoughts privately, I'd be very happy to help. therebbe@gmail.com

At , Blogger John1975 said...


I've read your entire blog and I've bot to admit I salute you!

I can understand your frustration, for my time spent in Bosnia furstrated me to no ends at times.

To be honest with you I've never understood the UN and it's "PeaceKeeping" missions. I personally believe you can't keep the peice in countries like Darfur without force.

A lesson I learned years ago; "These rebels only respond to and respect one thing - Brute fucking force!"

I honestly wish I was a peacekeeper in Darfur to be honest.

Although, that being said, I'd proabably wouldn't last too long. I have a tendency to take too many risks and break the "rules" when children are involved. I would proabably be kicked out of the country.

Be careful! If you need a good, secure email address for secure communication try; www.hushmail.com

It's free! I used it in Bosnia with no problems.

Of course make sure the "second-party" has a "hushmail" account as well. If you have an "IT" friend you might want to discuss it with him.

To be honest with you I wish I could do something to help the civilians in that area. If there is anyway I can help let me know!

Oh, and don't read too much into this but; I'm one lonely "MFR" also!

God's speed!


At , Blogger sleepless in sudan said...

Dear Keith,

Nicholas Kristof from the New York Times has already posted a very good reply to questions like this on his own blog, so I won't attempt to create a list of my own (which would undoubtedly be more biased towards certain NGOs). Visit http://forums.nytimes.com/top/opinion/readersopinions/forums/editorialsoped/kristofresponds/index.html?offset=815&fid=.f3beae7/815.

There are a lot of fantastic aid agencies in Darfur (Kristof mentions several already), and also some ideas for how to become politically active on Darfur.

Hope this helps,

At , Blogger TMBeef said...

Actually what was happened there was a conflics of ethics among people they call Sudanese. I feel so sad because they are not living harmoniusly and peacefully in their own country.

Life goes on.

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At , Blogger MrRed2020 said...

The new documentary Darfur Now is now playing, and will expand to additional select cities this Friday, November 16th!
It’s a story of hope in the midst of one of humanity’s darkest hours – a call to action for people everywhere to end the catastrophe unfolding in Darfur, Sudan. In this documentary, the struggles and achievements of six different individuals from inside Darfur and around the world bring to light the tragedy in Sudan and show how the actions of one person can make a difference to millions. For more info, visit: http://myspace.com/darfurnow

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