Blue-Hatting Darfur

Mahmood Mamdani writes about the dangers of the UN’s new role

Significant changes are currently taking place on the ground in Darfur. The peacekeeping forces of the African Union (AU) are being replaced by a hybrid AU-UN force under overall UN control. The assumption is that the change will be for the better, but this is questionable. The balance between the military and political dimensions of peacekeeping is crucial. Once it had overcome its teething problems – and before it ran into major funding difficulties – the AU got this relationship right: it privileged the politics, where the UN has tended to privilege the military dimension, which is why the UN-controlled hybrid force runs the risk of becoming an occupation force.

The AU’s involvement in Darfur began a year after the start of the insurgency, when in April 2004 it brokered the N’djamena Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement between the Sudanese government and the rebel movements. The result was the setting up of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), which started with a group of 60 observers in June 2004, and expanded to 3605 by the end of the year: 450 observers, 2341 soldiers and 814 police officers. The troops came from six countries – Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Senegal, Gambia and Kenya – and the police from Ghana. There were also military observers from Egypt and Libya, among others. A Joint Assessment Mission, led by the AU with participants from the UN, the EU and Canada, followed in March 2005. It called for an increase in the numbers of soldiers and police to a total of roughly eight thousand, and for civilians to be brought in as humanitarian officers.

One member of the assessment team was Major General Henry Anyidoho from Ghana, who was UN deputy force commander in Rwanda at the time of the genocide. I met him in Khartoum in May this year, and asked what he thought of AMIS. ‘I got to Darfur in January 2005,’ he said. ‘I found out they were doing an incredibly good job. First, the rebel movements were still intact, so it was easy to deal with the government and the two rebel movements. Second, the Janjawiid were pretty well under control. Third, the ceasefire agreement was being observed.’ This positive view was shared by Refugees International, which reported in November 2005 that

earlier in the year, AMIS had been able to provide some security and deterrence. Displaced persons were congregating near AMIS bases, the UN World Food Programme started parking its vehicles at AMIS sites, AMIS escorted humanitarian convoys, and helped victims of attacks get to hospitals. The round-the-clock presence of civilian police in some IDP [Internally Displaced Person] camps has provided a greater sense of security to a population that is distrustful of the Sudanese police. AMIS forces have helped to restore order and provide security during the very difficult IDP re-registration process.[*]

By the time the Refugees International report appeared, however, it was clear that the rebel movements were beginning to split. AMIS had succeeded – and this was a major political achievement – in negotiating a Declaration of Principles and getting all the insurgent factions and the government of Sudan to sign it on 5 July 2005 in Abuja. That declaration remains the only political basis for peace in Darfur. But only three months later, when the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) held its conference in Darfur, Abdel Wahid, its leader, anticipated problems and did not attend. His suspicions proved justified when Minni Minawi, the commander of the movement’s field forces, was elected to replace him. The AU decided to invite both men to peace talks in Abuja, where Minawi signed the Darfur Peace Agreement in May 2006. But the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the other original rebel movement, refused to sign, as did 19 representatives of the SLM, who defected to follow Abdel Wahid.[†] The so-called Group of 19 wielded a lot of influence among the fighters, who soon began to degenerate into tribal groupings. The difficulty for the AU now was how to get all these groups together, but it remained committed to a political solution, knowing that only a renegotiated ceasefire would provide protection for civilians in Darfur.

Another unfortunate development was that support for AMIS from Western donor countries began to weaken just as the going got rough. The N’djamena Ceasefire Agreement had involved a formal collaboration between the AU, the UN and leading Western powers. According to Anyidoho, ‘Canada was to provide aircraft and maintenance, the UK vehicles, the US camps, and the EU soldiers and police.’ Donors eager to be seen to pledge money early in 2005 were reluctant to release it once the mission ran into difficulties. The US had promised $50 million to support AMIS at the donors’ conference in May 2005, but didn’t deliver. By November the following year, Congress had removed the funds from the 2006 Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill. Around the same time, the EU announced that salary payments would be made only on a quarterly basis and demanded proper financial accountability before releasing funds for the next quarter. When the paperwork didn’t arrive, the EU suspended the provision of funds.

The full text of this essay is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in

[*] No Power to Protect: The African Union Mission in Sudan by Sally Chin and Jonathan Morgenstein (Refugees International, November 2005).

[†] Alex de Waal wrote about this in the LRB of 30 November 2006.