Despite optimistic predictions, the expected deployment of the “hybrid” United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID) is in peril. It now seems there will be no peace to keep and no mandate capable of imposing it. Sudan is insisting that African troops comprise most of the 26,000 troops projected for UNAMID. The present peacekeeping force of 9,000 African Union troops (AMIS) is already unpopular in Darfur, condemned by civilians for failing to protect them, reviled by rebels for alleged cooperation with the Sudanese army and paid as little heed as possible by the government in Khartoum. For their part, the peacekeepers are poorly equipped, rarely paid and suffer from serious transportation and communications deficiencies. Will UNAMID succeed where AMIS has failed? There are many reasons to think not.
• Failure to start afresh: Integrating AMIS troops into UNAMID will prove to be a major mistake. In a perfect world, AMIS peacekeepers would provide the new troops with the benefit of their experience in Darfur. In reality they will quickly infect the newcomers with the “live-and-let-live” methods the demoralized AMIS soldiers use to survive their mission. Night patrols are nearly unheard of, and the troops are generally unwilling to do anything risky or provocative. The massacre of 10 AU peacekeepers at Haskanita on September 30 was a shocking warning to African Union (AU) troops to keep their noses out of the conflict.
• Bigger is not better: UNAMID appears to be little more than a bigger AMIS. Tripling the size of the existing force will only multiply existing logistical problems. There are no roads, water is in short supply in most areas and nearly all supplies will need to be flown in. Most of UNAMID’s energies will be spent supplying their own outposts. The U.S. company Pacific Architect Engineers Inc. (owned by the Lockheed-Martin Corp.) has been awarded a $250 million contract (without competitive bidding) to build five camps in Darfur and Kordofan for AU troops (AP, October 16).
• AU Mismanagement: As with the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia, AMIS funds seem to evaporate before they reach the troops in the field. The frequent disappearance of valuable fuel stocks from AMIS stores is no doubt related to the infrequency of pay. Senegal has threatened to withdraw its troops from AMIS over reports that the troops at Haskanita did not have enough ammunition to defend themselves (Daily Telegraph, October 2). Rwanda has also threatened to withdraw, citing the inaction of Nigerian commanders.
• Inadequate air-support: The wounded at Haskanita had to wait 18 hours for relief to arrive by road. UNAMID needs 24 transport and light tactical helicopters, but rejected the sole offer of six Cobra attack helicopters and four Huey transport craft from Jordan because the aircraft “did not meet UN requirements.” Sudan is demanding the right to approve the nationality of all UNAMID pilots, virtually ensuring there will be no further offers of helicopters. No Western nation will pledge their troops if air evacuation of wounded troops is unavailable. 60 major transport trucks are also needed—none has been pledged.
• “Hybrid” force not so hybrid: So far pledges of troops from non-African countries have been given the cold shoulder by Khartoum and the AU. Most of the African troops pledged so far do not meet minimal UN standards. A team of 400 Swedish and Norwegian engineers has been ready to deploy as early as this month, but are still waiting to hear back from the AU regarding their offer. Equipped with a dozen armored personnel carriers instead of the ubiquitous Land Cruisers, the force would be responsible for building roads and bases, an essential part of the mission. The Norwegians have one requirement which so far has not been met: the provision of enough helicopters to offer 24 hour evacuation of wounded troops. Unwelcome in UNAMID, European troops are joining a European Union peacekeeping mission that will deploy in neighboring Chad.
Khartoum has not raised any objections to Chinese participation in the mission. The People’s Liberation Army will supply a 315-man team of multi-purpose engineers (with a medical and “force protection” unit) to help build the needed infrastructure. A Chinese firm has also begun sinking wells in South Darfur to radically increase the amount of available water (Sudan Vision Daily, November 7; Xinhua, September 22). The Chinese contribution is part of a new effort to become involved in African peacekeeping missions; in the Western Sahara Major General Zhao Jingmin has become the first Chinese officer to take command of a UN peacekeeping mission (Xinhua, September 17). Chinese oil facilities in Kordofan have recently come under attack from Darfur rebels who demand China and other foreign countries abandon their operation there until a peace agreement has been signed. China may have something of a conflict of interest in their deployment; China remains the largest arms supplier for the Khartoum government (AP, May 8, 2007; July 5, 2007).
Sudan claims that criticism of UNAMID’s African composition is intended to “send a message that Africans are not capable.” UNAMID’s commander, Nigerian General Martin Agwai disagrees: “I’m an African … but the reality is not many African countries can provide troops that can self-sustain themselves for six months.” The leader of the SLA, one of the largest rebel groups, simply calls the idea of an all-African force “racist.” According to rebel leader ‘Abd al-Wahid al-Nur, “it seems to be that the international community wants to compromise the life of our people in order to please the Khartoum regime” (Reuters, September 22). Some of the African officers bring their own political baggage—the Rwandan Deputy Commander of UNAMID, Major General Karenzi Karake, has been accused of war crimes by Rwandan exiles (New Times, September 16). 3,000 experienced Egyptian soldiers are also expected to join the force, but Egyptians are best remembered in the area for their slave raiding and ruthless taxation measures during the period of Egyptian rule in the 19th century.
• No mandate for resettlement: The rebels want a force that will restore their lands. UNAMID’s mandate only allows the force to “encourage” resettlement. If the displaced have no expectation of resettlement they will continue to supply fighters to the rebellion. Khartoum has its own interpretation of the modified agreement on the Chapter 7 mandate from the United Nations. According to the Sudanese government, no action can be taken for the physical protection of refugees without the permission of Khartoum.
• The Janjaweed wild card: The Sudan government is losing control of some parts of the Janjaweed. Many are dissatisfied with what they see as broken promises from Khartoum, some going so far as to cross over to the rebels. 800 heavily armed Janjaweed recently massed outside the government-held town of Nyala to press demands for unpaid wages (Sudan Tribune, October 9).
• Collapse of the Government of National Unity (GNU): Sudan’s southern rebel party, the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM), pulled out of the coalition government in October because of the government’s failure to implement the terms of the SPLM peace agreement with Khartoum. The Darfur rebels had expected to find a sympathetic hearing from southern politicians in negotiations with the coalition government, but must now negotiate with the ruling Arabist/Islamist party in Khartoum. One major rebel faction pulled out of the October 27 peace talks in Sirté (Libya) because of this. Tensions are running high between the former GNU partners; an adviser to Sudanese President al-Bashir accused the SPLM of trying to “torpedo the Sirté negotiations” (AFP, October 25). With the danger increasing of renewed north-south violence, commanders from Darfur’s rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) have been meeting with southern military officials to create a united front against Khartoum.
• No connection to the ICC: The UN says the peacekeeping mission “is distinct” from the enforcement of International Criminal Court indictments of war criminals in Darfur. Individuals under indictment will continue to operate in Darfur as they please.
• National peace talks for an international conflict: The conflict has become multinational (following the traditional political geography of the region), drawing in Chad and the Central African Republic. There are nearly 200,000 displaced persons on the Chadian side of the border with Darfur, enmeshed in a web of violence fuelled by a seemingly inexhaustible supply of weapons. The success of peace talks limited to Darfur is unlikely.
UN projections now suggest UNAMID’s full deployment will not happen until mid-2008. Even this may be optimistic; in the AU’s ongoing peacekeeping mission in Somalia, many of the pledged units failed to appear, pleading lack of transport among other reasons. Only the Ugandans actually deployed, though they were forced to pay costs that should have been covered by the AU. Banditry (including attacks on humanitarian convoys) will continue even through a ceasefire. Any such attack could easily provide an excuse to resume hostilities. With 16 active rebel factions there is every chance of a ceasefire violation.
The Darfur conflict shows every sign of intensifying with little chance of an effective ceasefire any time soon. It is time for UNAMID’s planners to return to the drafting table and create a capable international force before it is too late.