The region of Darfur in Sudan is in definite turmoil. As most observers are aware, the division between more affluent Muslim Arabs in the north, and poor non-Arab black African Muslims and Christians in the south has led to plundering, raping and murdering at random. The persecutors are alleged government-sponsored Arab horsemen deemed “janjaweed” by Africans (the aftermath of one of their attacks is pictured in the graphic to the left). This slaughter has resulted in over 300,000 deaths, and 2.5 million peoples displaced from their homes.
Meanwhile, the international community has mostly stood by and permitted these atrocities to persist. Due in part to Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir’s unwillingness to accept foreign intervention and Western indifference and indolence, the crisis has painfully dragged on from 2003 to present⎯but not without some progress. The African Union (AU), with al-Bashir’s approval, has since deployed 7,000 peacekeeping soldiers into the region in attempt to monitor a ceasefire. More recently, the United Nations (UN) and al-Bashir have come to the agreement of creating a “hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping force” deemed UNAMID (UN-AU Mission in Darfur). Currently, the debate is circling around the question of whether the new addition of the UN peacekeeping force will prove effective in bringing this genocide and terror to a close. Through research, it can be concluded that while the new hybrid force is more well-constructed and refined than the previous AU-only force, many matters still stand in the way of this being the final step in achieving peace in Darfur.
Africa, following the times of colonization, has fostered an attitude of “African solutions to solve African problems.” After years of oppression by Western countries, the last thing newly independent African countries wanted were more outsiders meddling in their domestic issues. Although much of this sentiment has faded over time, expressions advocating these ideas resurface occasionally, as with the case of President al-Bashir. He refused UN intervention with peacekeepers when it was first offered in 2004, maintaining that the AU was capable of doing the job and that “allowing a UN force would mean Western re-colonization” for Sudan. Therefore, he only permitted AU troops to be deployed.
Unfortunately, the AU peacekeeping force has proved to be inadequate. Although, according to the Brookings Institution-University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement, the presence of the AU has caused a deterrence in the rape of women, “reduced the recruitment of children into armed forces,” protected aid and humanitarian workers, “reduced the looting of animals belonging to Arab nomads,” and helped return displaced persons to their homes, the AU force is still lacking in many other areas. For one, its size does not permit it to cover what it needs to in terms of landmass. This has led to local people feeling “frustrated with the AU’s lack of protection,” and has left them still feeling consistently vulnerable to attacks. The AU is simply undersupplied, without advanced equipment or technology to utilize. Most importantly though, the AU has a very weak mandate, in the fact that they are not given the authority to disarm or remove janjaweed forces from refugee camps, and are confined to monitoring violence over actively preventing it.
Thus the question remains: will this new “hybrid” force be any more effective? So far, good advancements have been made in that direction. The new peacekeeping officers will come from a selective portion of highly “experienced” personnel. Having veteran officers on the job will get more achieved at a quicker pace. This force will also be much bigger than that of the previous AU, consisting of 26,000 strong. The bigger size in sheer numbers will allow them to cover more ground, and therefore presumably prevent more attacks. The fact that it has UN support also means a bigger budget, and more funding to become properly equipped. Perhaps most vitally, the mandate is much stronger this time around. UN Resolution 1769 grants troops the authority to take “necessary action” with regard to humanitarian worker, personnel, and citizen protection, from armed attacks⎯and if needed, to employ the “strongest use of force.” It also appeases President al-Bashir’s worries of a foreign takeover by requiring the operation be comprised of peacekeepers of “predominantly African character.”
Are Darfur’s prayers answered? Could we finally see an end to the bloodshed? Regrettably, I do not believe this to be so. The mandate still needs much work, and in October when some of the troops are expected to be stationed, it may prove inconsequential. First, although there is a higher number of troops to be deployed, even the 26,000 will be incapable of spanning the entire region, comparable to the size of Texas. This is due mostly to the lack of infrastructure in Sudan (roads, transportation, and power), as the graphic at above right clearly depicts with a bird's eye view of clusters of refugee camps with no roads leading to them nor anything more than shacks to live in. Second, due to the sharing of burden between the UN and the AU, many critics do not see a feasible way for joint oversight to occur effectively without one side always attempting to dominate the other.
Also, although these troops are better equipped than the AU, they are still severely lacking “specialized personnel” to aid in specific aspects of peacekeeping. Despite the fact that the mandate is stronger, it is still missing some key elements, and is already being subject to different interpretations by both Western diplomats and the Sudanese government. The essential points excluded are the ability to disarm militias, pursue and arrest suspected ICC (International Criminal Court) war criminals, and most significantly, the fact that there are no repercussions whatsoever if the Sudanese government decides to demand the exit of all 26,000 peacekeepers. Therefore, in accordance with his previous actions, it is entirely predictable that President al-Bashir will renounce his previous commitments and the situation will remain stagnant.
This leads to the final point that in order for the peacekeepers to be Darfur, “there must be a peace for them to keep,” because “without peace, what is the point of peacekeepers?” In essence, the rebels could just keep fighting, and the government could keep sending the janjaweed to kill and rape thousands more Darfurians. Only time will tell, but in October the answers will become increasingly clear. To give a vaguely dystopian outlook of the situation, I leave readers with one incomprehensible fact: the Sudanese government still insists that the death toll of the “conflict” is a mere 9,000 lives (see the graphic at left).