It’s Not About Boots on the Ground

A UN-AU hybrid patrol sets off for Siliea in West Darfur. The helmets have been painted blue but no-one has got around to removing the old Amis logo

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 and George Clooney. 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.