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.
Tags: Sudan, Darfur, aid worker, insecurity, African Union