African aid agencies released a report today saying the joint African Union and United Nations mission to Darfur was failing to protect civilians. We’re at the six-month mark for the Unamid force and its mandate is due for renewal so we can expect a series of reports like this. Maybe I should have filed on this story, but I needed a day off and for me the report sort of misses the point.
The problem with Unamid is not so much that it is small and underfunded but that it is the wrong solution. Darfur was never a black and white war between rebels and government. It might have looked like that for a couple of months in 2003 when all the different players briefly lined up opposite one another. Today it is a conflict involving dozens of disparate groupings – rebel splinters, militias, bandits, tribal affiliates, freeloaders. What use is an intervention force when it is not clear how it should best intervene?
The problem is that this is the favoured solution of Save Darfur, Gordon Brown et al. Pretty much anyone who offered an opinion on Darfur and its failing AU force came to the same conclusion: send in the UN. So I suspect that we are unlikely now to see them change their tune and admit that the international coaition has been sent firmly up the garden path. Expect more reports saying that peace will arrive in Darfur with more peacekeepers. But don’t believe them. The answer has to be kickstarting failed peacetalks and engaging with the Sudanese government and its proxies.
Posted in Darfur, Sudan
My bed in Nyala, South Darfur, before it started raining
At the end of a long day standing in the blistering sun without water watching the Sudanese president addressing 10,000 people in El Fasher and then 20,000 people in Nyala, what you want is a bed. If it is a bed in the cool air of a Nyala courtyard so much the better. As you stretch out, a gentle breeze plays across your face easing you off to sleep.
Then, if you are a journalist on a press trip, Sudan TV sets up an editing suite next to your head. At approximately midnight someone shakes your leg offering you dinner. And at 2am the heavens open forcing you to drag your rapidly-becoming-less-comfortable bed into the kitchen. And all the while unknown insects are devouring your legs.
In short, not the best night I’ve ever had. (Although I managed about three hours sleep, The Financial Times - in the bed next to mine – had none so I shouldn’t complain.)
Posted in Darfur, Sudan
President Bashir arrives in El Geneina, West Darfur, on his mission of peace
Just back in Khartourm from a trip to Darfur with President Omar al-Bashir
, who is waiting to find out whether the International Criminal Court will issue a warrant for his arrest. The trip was astonishing and fascinating in many ways. It was a whistle-stop tour of El Fasher, Nyala and El Geneina with five-minute visits to schools and lengthy rallies in front of as many as 20,000 people.
The sight of someone accused of orchestrating genocide in Darfur doing a jig in front of thousands of cheering people rightly dominated much of the coverage.
At the same time, Bashir’s message of peace and development shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. He admitted injustices had happened in Darfur and appealed to all parties to join talks. He also promised electricity, schools and hospitals to a chronically under-developed region of Sudan.
Fine words. But much of it was pretty vague. Journalists were kept well out of his way (although I did manage to slip the cordon and fire in a quick question, which earned me nothing more than a withering look) so it is difficult to know how genuine he is. Bashir has after all broken his word many times before, on disarming the Janjaweed and bringing Ahmed Haroun to justice, for example.
The question now is what difference the looming ICC indictments make and whether they will pressure him to make a real difference. So far he has hardly put a foot wrong, keeping the rhetoric under control and trying to built a diplomatic coalition at the United Nations. As a western diplomatic source put it:
“The rhetoric has been managed and the demonstrations haven’t got out of hand while the political manoeuvring is under way. You have to say, he’s played a blinder.”
Now President Bashir must match his fine words with action to help end the suffering in Darfur.
Posted in Darfur, Sudan
Tagged Bashir, ICC
I really must get around to reading Michael Asher’s Khartoum. Every time I stay at Meskel Square’s house I flick through his copy (I note a corner is still turned down at page 164) and think what a good read it looks. At every turn of this Arab-African city you get a sense of history, whether it’s the old Union Flag layout of the city centre, the confluence of the mighty Nile which shapes so much of Africa, or the Republican Palace where Gordon finally met his death.
Maybe it’s my western, colonial outlook but this is something I don’t feel in other African cities. Nairobi for example is a sterile, ugly place disconnected from the countryside where so much of Kenya’s history and traditions were born and live on.
I’ve always been lucky enough to work for newspapers whose stories are intertwined with the country they reflect. The Press and Journal claims to be the oldest paper in Scotland, begun on the hills of Culloden. And The Herald, with a masthead that still features a horny handed son of toil who made Glasgow the second city of The British Empire.
The Times too crops up over and over again through Asher’s book which uses chunks of writing by the paper’s then Khartoum correspondent Frank Power. He led the sort of life that I suspect all foreign correspondents dream of (up to a point). All you need to read is his entry in the index:
Power, Frank (war correspondent): dysentery attack xxiv; predicts disaster xxiv; proved correct xxv; hears Muslim bell 7-8; feels strain 9-10; hears of massacre 11; records exodus 12; appointed British Consul 17; more sanguine 17; sees Gordon arrive 134; impressed by Gordon 136; refuses to leave 137; reconnoitres White Nile 144; guesses all is not well 162; leaves by steamer 174, 175; killed 181
At the end of my career I’d love to have a footnote saying “guesses all is not well, leaves by steamer” but would probably settle for “dysentery attack” in the preface.
So it’s almost a week now since the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court revealed his evidence against President Omar al-Bashir. And it’s still pretty difficult to work out where things are going. The consensus among aid workers and UN staff here is that things will stay quiet while Khartoum goes down the diplomatic road, looking to the UN Security Counucil to head things off. If arrest warrants are issued and if Khartoum’s allies fail to have them suspended then we may see a ratcheting up of the usual restrictions on foreign aid workers.
There have been demonstrations – including one where a mob of about 50 people took exception to my presence, something that hasn’t happened since the last demonstration I attended in Khartoum. They have been limited in size and clearly orchestrated. My favourite was the one led by a man in a suit that materialised alongside the Ministry of the Council of Ministers, where by strange coincidence about 100 journalists were waiting for a statement from Ali Osman Taha.
There has been plenty of angry rhetoric, government officials promising to turn Darfur into a graveyard or to fight any foreigner who sets foot in the region. Some of the quotes are spectacularly similar – “foreigners ask us for protection in Darfur, but how can we protect them when our statehood is undermined by the ICC” – suggesting that some government line has been agreed. But for now it seems that the top figures in government are being totally reasonable.
Alex de Waal sums it up:
To date, the application by Moreno Ocampo for an arrest warrant for President Omar al Bashir has not led to disaster in Sudan. The CPA is intact, the UN operations are continuing, there have been no clashes between government supporters and enemies. In fact, the country appears calmer than last week.
Where are we going? There’s plenty of scope for things to get worse. The anti-Western backlash could still happen. But at the end of the day Bashir is interested in one thing only: Survival. And for now that means keeping his head down and working the diplomatic channels. We’ll get a better feeling for whether the ICC move has harmed the chances of peace in Darfur if and when arrest warrants are issued.
Posted in Darfur, Sudan
Tagged Bashir, ICC, Taha
Yes carrot cake for breakfast. I’ll be bringing you an update on the impact of Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s evidence against President Bashir as soon as I have the faintest idea what’s going on. It’s fair to say that reaction here is mixed.
Posted in Darfur
Tagged cake, ICC, ocampo, Ozone