Saturday, October 15, 2005

News that the United Nations is pulling all non-essential staff out of West Darfur sends my mother into hysterics again today. It takes me a while to understand what the faraway voice on the other side of the satellite phone is going on about, but finally I remember that I heard about this in one of the aid agency coordination meetings.

"Mother, I spoke to some friends in Geneina (the capital of West Darfur) yesterday. NO ONE has left - they've still got the same 15 or so people there that they always do. Yes, I'm fine, well, at least nothing has changed in the place where I'm working."

I don't add 'not yet', and of course I don't mention that the gunshots at nights have become alarmingly regular over the past few days.

While I still doubt that the UN agencies (most of whom are safely tucked away in the state capitals of Darfur, nowhere near the actual fighting) are in any danger of either being attacked or having to evacuate, I can't say that things are calming down either.

I have little time to catch up with the news these days, but I gather the Darfur peace talks in Abuja are grinding along more slowly than ever. And more and more groups seem to be shouting about not getting their seat at the negotiating table - including the two rebel splinter groups involved in last week's abductions of African Union troops in Tine.

And while the story of the kidnap itself still manages to amuse me with its sheer absurdity, the thought that these random rebel groups are now roaming through Darfur in their looted fleet of shiny new AU vehicles with oodles of ammunition, rocket launchers and other military kit is not exactly comforting - for either my mother or for me.

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At , Blogger Ingrid said...

The brief UPI report you point to in Science Daily Oct 14 states one-third of Darfur's displaced population is in West Darfur, which borders Chad. But it does not inform readers of the areas in Darfur where humanitarian operations are being suspended and staff withdrawn.

British aid agency Oxfam said Oct 13 it could not access any of its West Darfur camps by road and were concerned fuel for water pumps could run out, leaving tens of thousands of refugees without access to water.

The UN mission in Darfur reports Oct 12 that almost two-thirds of the humanitarian operations in South Darfur have been suspended for security reasons. Oct 13 UN withdraws some staff from West Darfur.

African Union Security Council issues statement Oct 11 on deteriorating security in Darfur. See Press Association report in Scotsman Oct 11.

Note 2.5m displaced Darfuris too frightened to go home - 3.5m in need of food.

Unlike other aid workers in Darfur I've come across, you are the only one who appears to treat everyone, including peacekeepers and aid workers, with contempt.

The aid workers in Darfur I have come across are guarded, careful, secretive, considerate and fearful of being caught communicating any information out of Darfur. They say their job is to build bridges and not pass judgement or make comment.

You started out blogging under the name of "Humanitarian Hijinks" and within a month or two of starting up, you went out of your way to become high profile, using using tags and leaving comments at blogs on the Sudan.

You say your blog is anonymous for fear of being thrown out of the country but that same fear does not extend to all the other aid workers in the Sudan and those most in need of aid.

You had the cheek to write that the world is turning its back on Darfur and now you have the audacity to undermine the pressure the international community (us bloggers included) are working hard at to bring to bear following the UN's call on the international community for pressure.

You spend so much time on getting clued up and connecting through blogging, it's a surprise any aid work gets done.

It is so difficult to tell whose side you are on, your humanitarian hijinks in the Sudan sound like propaganda.

Whose side are you on? And, since you are such a know it all, what solutions do you suggest?

Whichever side you are on, it makes me angry that you are so irresponsible on such deadly serious issues.

The Sudan is the size of Europe and yet you spew forth like you know better than those mentioned in above reports.

All you do is pull things and people apart, criticise and point fingers while acting like you are all dazed and confused, giggly and silly.

If you really are an international aid worker, I think you are doing everyone, including yourself, a disservice and ought to pack up and go home to your mother.

If you try to undermine the international community's effort to help Darfur again in this blog, I shall be on your case.

Sudan Watch

At , Blogger Ingrid said...

Please note, I have just received this comment at Sudan Watch:

thank you for your comment on "Sleepless in Sudan".
I believe you've spoken for many of us working here in Darfur.
Gog bless!
A fasting "peacekeeper" with AMIS

Posted by Anonymous to Sudan Watch at 10/16/2005 06:44:23 AM

At , Blogger sleepless in sudan said...

Dear Ingrid,

I'm glad to see my blog has managed to inspire some truly angry, frustrated passion there - and since you don't seem to have picked up on it (or on my attempts at humour, which doesn't seem to be your forte) yourself, let me just explain to you again that this is what I feel like most nights when I get home: angry, frustrated, but still passionate enough to blog at every chance I get.

I am very disturbed by the fact that you think I am trying to undermine the international community's efforts to help Darfur (ehhh...and WHY do you think I'm here?), or that I treat peacekeepers and aid workers with contempt. Having given up on the exaggerated dichotomy of 'good guys' and 'bad guys' a long time ago, I simply treat them as the inherently fallible human beings they are - and that means I applaud moves that I think are helpful (strong AU statements to condemn government or rebel attacks ), criticize the ones I think are not
(people trying to pretend Darfur is getting better when actually it is not ), and take the piss out of the ones that are simply absurd (the UN not knowing how to use their VHF radios during a security alert )

While you seem to think my agenda is propaganda, you don't seem to be able to decide whose side I am on (I take that as a compliment, intended or otherwise). The thing is, there's not really very many clear sides to choose from...

Darfur's a mess. Some people try to make it worse (usually the ones with the guns - and I'm not really keen on those). Some people try to make it better (usually the aid workers or other members of the international community) - and while I don't doubt their good intentions, even they only get it right sometimes. Occasionally, even they make it worse than it was before - and end up being nearly as cynical, self-critical, and opinionated as I am. Hey, they don't call it complex emergency for nothing.

Oh, and yes, when reports are simply wrong (such as UN staff being evacuated from Darfur- I have yet to hear from anyone in the Darfur state capitals that any UN people have left or are planning to leave) I do 'spew forth' like I know better - because every once in a while I actually do know better than the Geneva press corps who have never set foot in Darfur (no offence to them of course, I'm sure they're lovely people - the point is they're not here).

You see, the reason I blog (and the reason most people seem to like reading this) is that I actually am here and I write about what I see, whether it's violence, confusion, incompetence, idealism or simply office gossip.

I may not always be right or make sense (trust me, if I were they ought to be paying me more) - but even you seem to keep reading, so I suppose I must be doing something right.

Keep blogging,

PS and just because my girls and I are curious...are any of the careful, considerate aid workers you've come across in Darfur hot men? Where are they?

At , Blogger Ingrid said...

Dear dazed & confused aid worker in Darfur, Sudan

Your writings are not amusing, which is why I see no humour in them.

The only reason I've read your blog is to gauge whose side you are on.

Note you did not clarify whose side you are on and have no compunction in, once again, undermining UN efforts - see your comment above - while the ones you seldom criticise are the SLA.

It is difficult to understand what the Darfur rebel groups want or see why they think they are disciplined enough to govern.

The millions of defenceless women and children suffering at the hands of Sudanese men, while men around the world look on, is a crime against humanity.

I'd like to see more women at the negotiating table and in positions of power in the Sudan.


The aid workers I've come across in Darfur are real professionals.

At , Blogger sleepless in sudan said...

Great - we can agree on something then. More women at the negotiating table and in positions of power in Sudan would be a big step forward, but it will not be an easy or quick one to realise.

I have limited knowledge of the rest of Sudan, but in Darfur few women are currently able to make themselves heard in any political forum whatsoever.

Particularly those women affected by the conflict are often illiterate and bound by strong traditional rules governing their role in society. When I ask groups of women inside the camps how many of them went to school when they were children, I have never seen more than 3 or 4 raise their hands - even when you ask a large group of 40 or more people.

IDP women are rarely granted any formal voice in political decision-making, and even the aid agencies self-admittedly struggle to break away from the over-reliance on the male sheik systems for consultation with IDPs.

(Note that some of the more thoughtful African Union troops, particularly civilian police officers, that I have met in Darfur are just as keenly aware of this fact as the NGOs. Civpol officers - especially those who have no, or just 1 or 2, female staff - have a hugely difficult task communicating their role and their objectives to the women of the camp, and they know full well that the men do not automatically pass on some of the most vital information).

This issue has been flagged up for Abuja and other processes a number of times, and I have no doubts that the international community would keenly support ways of integrating more women into political processes. Many NGOs and individuals in Darfur (including those who I work with) are already doing very valuable work in this area

Do you have any specific suggestions that you feel are not being made on this, Ingrid?

Forgive me for still being amused about the 'whose side are you on' argument. As far as I can tell, there are no clear sides in Darfur at all.

You seem to suggest I might be on the 'side' of the SLA or other rebels, but - besides the fact that the suggestion seems absurd to me - I quite simply cannot comprehend how you can be 'on the side of the SLA'.

Here's why: while everyone knows about some of the major divisions (eg rifts between Minni Minawi's Zaghawa faction and Abdel Wahid's Fur faction) in rebel groups like the SLA, these are no more than huge simplifications of reality.

SLA on the ground, particularly over recent months, have become so splintered and incoherent that there are very few individuals who understand where the lines are drawn - I certainly don't.

The 'SLA' who kidnapped NGO staff near Salamanaga last month were obviously not reporting to their field commanders South of the Nyala railway line, just as the 'SLA' who are attacking migrating nomads or aid agency convoys in North are often not recognised by the SLA humanitarian coordinators (yes, they give them titles like that!) or field commanders that everyone had been dealing with for months. Who the 'SLA' alleged to be behind the vicious attack on last month's three-NGO convoy near Masteryi (West Darfur) are reporting to is anyone's guess. Probably no one.

Motives and interests are so blurred and localised in Darfur that few aid workers can see the wood for the trees.

I am not aware of any major motives that I share with the 'SLA' men that I have met (which range from 'greed' to 'power' to 'having a nice life in a hotel in Abuja while my people are dying' - there may be a few broader and less self-obsessed ones like 'helping my tribe' in between, but they are less immediately obvious I find). Some of my personal motives are selfless ('wanting to help people caught in conflict', 'addressing the underlying causes of the problem to make a long-term change in Darfur') but I readily admit I also have selfish ones to ('my career', 'the aid worker lifestyle that I do love despite all of its absurdities', and not least 'my salary')

So no, I don't consider myself on the SLA's 'side'. Or JEM's. Or NMRD's. Or the GoS's. Or even the international community's. As far as I'm concerned, it's a black and white concept that simply does not exist.

At , Blogger Ingrid said...

Thank you for conceding you are not on the side of the international community. I rest my case on proving that point.

Note you say you have limited knowledge of the rest of the Sudan but even I, here in England as a white English born woman, know there are millions of educated Sudanese. African and Arab women living in and near Africa, and around the rest of the world, who are able and willing to take seats at the negotiating table and sit in positions of power in the Sudan to represent the women and children of Sudan whose voices will never be heard.

Your narrow and old fashioned view of women of African or Arabic descent being illiterate further strengthens my first impressions that you are male and not of European or American descent.

How much longer can the world manage to help and feed Africa? All the Sudanese boys with their toys playing childish games in the Sudan need to have their heads knocked together by some smart African and Arabic women who really care about Mother Earth and its children. There is not a lot of time left to waste. Recently, the head of the African Union said in 27 years time, the population of Africa will have increased to such proportions it will become unmanageable for the rest of the world.

The future of Africa is in the hands of today's boys and girls. Education is key. There are quick and easy solutions. All it would take right now is for a handful of men in Khartoum and western, eastern and southern Sudan, to arrange for someone to pick up the phone and call one of the world's leading African female peacemakers and say: "here are 12 air tickets to Abuja, we need the help of you and eleven others like yourself, in representing the millions of displaced Sudanese women and children and the two million others who have perished through war whose voices will never be heard."

Even I would have no trouble in putting together a list of powerful and highly regarded African women who are connected to the best female peacebrokers in the world.

And a cursory glance through and its list of 1000 peacewomen connected to millions of women around the world who work day in day out to promote peace proves there is no shortage of females who could be called upon to help broker peace and unite Sudan to ensure that every boy and girl, from nursery age on up, receives an education, before it is too late to do anything.

This is my last comment here regarding any solution because it is the only one I have to offer and the only one that I truly believe would work.

At , Blogger Ingrid said...

P.S. As an afterthought to my comment here above, I have returned with some examples of incredible African women.

Like the remarkable Gertrude Mongella, the highest ranking elected woman in Africa who many refer to as Mama Mongella or Mama Beijing. Please read Gertrude Mongella - The first president of the Pan-African Parliament and be sure to click into the links with the post that lead to a dialogue with Ambassador Gertrude Mongella, President of the Pan African Parliament - A discussion hosted by SARPN and the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference - Chairperson: Mr Trevor Ncube - Pretoria, 14 September 2004.

And Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai - the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize 2004 who is quoted as saying "When our resources become scarce, we fight over them. In managing our resources and in sustainable development, we plant the seeds of peace."

Plus Winnie Byanyima who is working at the African Union.

These three women should be part of a group of 12 women at the negotiating table on the Darfur peace talks in Abuja - as soon as possible.

God bless.

At , Blogger Ingrid said...

For the record, note this news report from Khartoum 18 Oct 2005:

Sudan rejects laws on women rights which contradict Islam.


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