"Since May until today, what have we had on the ground? The only thing I see is banditry taking place now: carjackings, breaking into people's homes to look for electronics and mobile telephones… What you have is security issues more now: banditry, localized issues, people trying to resolve issues over water and land at a local level. But real war as such, I think we are over that." Agwai said.
The outgoing General’s term was not without success. It is certainly important to praise those aspects of the UNAMID peacekeeping operation; the world’s biggest, where warranted. Take for instance the reopening of women’s centers in the Abu Shouk camp by UNAMID’s Gender Advisory Unit. These efforts will allow women to learn job skills and participate in educational programs focused on literacy, reproductive health, as wealth as important education regarding sexual and gender-based violence, which unfortunately remains a part of everyday life in the region. The General himself hopes to rest his laurels on the reduced number of deaths in the region stating: ''I have achieved results. The main result is the end of massacres in Darfur.''
However, it is a mistake to suggest, as is implied the General’s comments, that the gravity of the conflict is best measured in numbers and the ability for violence to be dolled out through large, collective deployments. If anything the disorganized nature of the violence has further exacerbated the already tenuous foothold of peacekeeping operations and humanitarian assistance. Nevertheless, as the comments were made while still head of the hybrid peacekeeping mission, these personal opinions reportedly not shared by many within his staff, have received an unfortunate definitive perception.
It is in this light that General Agwai’s comments stand to do the most damage. As news organizations around the world picked up the story in the last week, headlines read “War in Darfur over, according to UN Peacekeeping Chief.” In a media world dominated by Headlines on RSS feed Titles this message risks undermining much of the work to bring the situation in Darfur to international attention. With the threat of aid fatigue always a danger, overgeneralization such as those made by the General are severely detrimental to any international effort. Agwai’s “mission accomplished” attitude is not only largely misplaced but consequently irresponsible.
The authorized strength of UNAMID is 19,555 personnel. Despite more than two years of authorization there are currently less than 14,000 troops according to its website. The mission remains severely under funded with limited financial and logistical support. Furthermore it’s mandate (available here) remains largely unfulfilled. Most notably lacking in its goals to:
·B (1)To promote the re-establishment of confidence, [and] deter violence
·(b) To contribute to the protection of civilian populations under imminent threat of physical violence and prevent attacks against civilians, within its capability and areas of deployment,
· C (v) To ensure an adequate human rights and gender presence capacity, and expertise in Darfur in order to contribute to efforts to protect and promote human rights in Darfur, with particular attention to vulnerable groups
· D (i) To facilitate the effective provision of humanitarian assistance and full access to people in need.
Largely underreported are the statements and opinions that serve to contextualize the comments for what they are: the opinions of one man seeking to bring a positive light to a difficult tenure over an arduous mission. Perhaps most telling is the lack of endorsement by other UNAMID or UN officials. Rather the response by UN assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, Edmond Mulet, takes a decidedly more cautious approach the situation in Darfur stating: 'whether it is characterized as a war or not, the reality is that threats against civilians do remain''.
Who has been the largest proponent of the now former commander? Sudanese president Omar al-Beshir. Beshir granted the outgoing head of the UN peacekeeping force in the Darfur region one of the country's top honors. Beshir’s Khartoum government estimates the total deaths in the Darfur region since the beginning of the conflict to be some 10,000 at least 290,000 less than UN estimates.
Surprisingly, the most poignant response has come from JEM spokes man Tahir el-Faki stating that, ‘‘the war is not over. The war is over when there is a comprehensive peace agreement. They [General Agwai and Mr Adada] have taken into consideration numerical data about the number of people who died directly from violence [but] they have not taken into consideration the [internally displaced people], the refugees, the people who want to go back home.''
The situation in Darfur is certainly complicated and at times confusing. Rebel groups in the region have fragment into an estimated 20 small groups further complicating the peace process. Government backed Janjaweed operate as a loose collective of militias throughout the region while a number of new skirmishes, 46 dead last week, have developed along the border with Southern Sudan further threatening the peace talks.
While the nature and scale of the violence in Darfur has changed over the years, violence still rages largely uncontested through the region. Days after the General’s statement, two foreign civilians working for the Darfur peacekeeping forces were kidnapped by armed men. It was the first time international staff members from UNAMID, had been abducted, according to a spokesman for the force. Aid workers and food convoys continue to be attacked while refugee camps continue to grow as “low-level” fighting produces a steady stream of refugees. Within camps and their surroundings violence against women remains high. The attitude of leaders such as General Agwai mistakenly suggests the lack of war as the presence of peace. At the moment peace has a much different definition for those victims of the violence above. UNAMID has failed to stem this violence, and as such has so far failed in its mandate.
To his previous comments Agwai added, "I think the real thing now is to speed up the political process. Militarily there is not much.” The General is certainly right about one thing: a lasting solution to the conflict not only in Darfur but in all of Sudan is to be found in an efficient and transparent political process. Even the full deployment of UNAMID’s authorized strength, only serves as a band-aid without the prospects of a fully implemented and Comprehensive Peace Agreement.