Many areas in Darfur have never seen an African Union patrol, says Kenya’s Capt. Sankale Shamata, who served for more than a year in the war-torn region of western Sudan.
“The first thing you find is that they are not armed to really handle the rebels,” he says. “The best way is to equip (the African Union troops) so they can be in a better position to get control of the situation. It’s a tough experience.”
In 2004, the African Union formed its first-ever peacekeeping force and entered Darfur.
The move offered unprecedented potential to redefine the way Africa responds to humanitarian crises.
But the western donors bankrolling it allowed it to fail.
The African Union Mission in the Sudan, or AMIS, was Africa peacekeeping for Africa.
Africa responded faster than the outside world to its crises and gained access to countries with xenophobic governments — Sudan take a bow — that international organizations like the United Nations couldn’t.
But the mission, which costs an estimated $1 billion per year, has run out of money several times, starving soldiers of equipment, limiting patrols and stopping a planned increase from about 7,000 to 13,000 troops last year.
“We have personnel in the field who have not been paid for four months,” Darfur’s African Union representative Rodolphe Adada told Reuters in 2006. “This is very bad for the morale of the troops.”
The situation has become so bleak that as you read this, refugees are likely being attacked outside African Union bases.
But because of a lack of money, troops can’t properly respond.
The European Union, United Kingdom and the United States are the main cheque writers for the African Union Mission in the Sudan. While the six-year-old African Union is supported by 53 states, many of them rank as the world’s poorest.
The African Union simply can’t afford to fund it alone.
There’s the rub.
The African Union found the resolve to enter a conflict that has claimed more than 200,000 lives since 2003, forced 2.5 million to flee their homes and created international shame at our continued reticence to act. And the world couldn’t find the money.
It had to beg for $150 million from the Americans last year and $54 million from the European Union this year.
The lack of money is political and not based on supply.
A private security contractor working in Iraq can make $10,000 per month — an African Union police officer in Darfur makes $90 a month.
Private security contractors cost the US more than $4 billion each year — that’s the same as four years of African Union presence in Darfur.
In light of the rich rhetoric coming from the west — President George Bush has called it a “genocide” — the amount Darfur gets compared to Iraq looks like pennies beside dollar bills.
The biggest damage this ineptitude has likely caused is to Africa’s morale.
Africa contains the bulk of the world’s wars but it’s also home to a staggering majority of its peacekeepers.
In 2005, 50,0000 of the 65,000 men and women on UN peacekeeping missions were Africans. Since 1948, there have been 54 UN peacekeeping operations in Africa.
Troops from the continent have participated in all but 10, and African countries formed the majority of the forces in most of them.
The Americans have contributed troops to a handful of UN missions in Africa — Canada, only a few more.
The Middle East, save Jordan, participates when regionally important conflicts threaten economic interests.
Kuwait sent peacekeepers to Africa once — to Somalia in 1992.
On top of going into Darfur, the African Union has peacekeepers where the world doesn’t go, namely Somalia.
The African Union force there is expected to increase to 8,000 soldiers by 2008. The organization is also creating a 10,000-strong standing force for humanitarian crises by 2010, in addition to regional forces being formed.
Africa’s dedication to solving its own problems — with the world increasingly loathe to send its own to conflicts on the continent — should be supported.
But it hasn’t been.
Still, the African Union shares part of the blame for failures in Darfur.
Money from the West hits delays in Addis Ababa where the African Union is based.
But that’s due to a lack of experience administrating such a big mission and not fraud or graft, according to the European Union.
The mission’s mandate also doesn’t allow for proactive protection of civilians. But the presence of troops is still a deterrent. “When they come, we are safe. But when they are not here, we don’t know what we will do,” says one Darfur woman on Refugees International’s website.
As a result of the problems, and a softening of the diplomatic détente between the world and Khartoum, and after four years of allowing the African Union to do the dirty work in Darfur, the UN is coming in to save the day — increasing the force to 26,000 and assuming command in a hybrid mission by January.
While this may be the global dedication required to end the Darfur conflict, it is four years late.
And it comes in spite of a homegrown peacekeeping force that’s been there for three years — one that’s been paid lip service rather than dollars.
Former Yukon News reporter Tim Querengesser now lives in Kenya.