Reviewing the review: wishful thinking and the future of UNAMID

In late February, the United Nations secretariat published the special report of the Secretary-General on the review of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (S/2014/138), the UN mission more commonly known as UNAMID.

Skip to the end of the document:

 51. After one year, the Security Council would be faced with three scenarios:

(a) The political and security situation has not changed and the Mission has not improved its effectiveness, and a thorough assessment of the way forward requiring hard decisions on the future of UNAMID will be necessary;

(b) The political and security situation has not changed but the Mission has nevertheless measurably improved its effectiveness, and streamlining continues within the civilian and uniformed components based on effectiveness;

(c) The political and security situation has improved and the Mission has improved its effectiveness, in which case consideration should be given to strengthening, accordingly, the peacebuilding and support to early recovery mandate of the Mission.

One, obvious scenario is missing from the UN analysis: a worsening political and security situation in Darfur.  On the evidence of the renewed violence and displacement in the first four months of 2014 things are getting worse; the emergence of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) does not suggest things will get better.  Other authors at the UN seem to agree: the latest Secretary-General’s report (April 15, S/2014/279) states:

An upsurge in violence is currently destabilising Darfur at three interconnected levels. Firstly, the deteriorating economic situation has led to increasing conflict among tribes over land and resources. These conflicts have, in some areas, been manipulated (especially in North and South Darfur) by unresolved political rivalries among prominent political figures. Secondly, the deployment to the region of Government aligned militia – known as Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – has seriously undermined the security of civilians, their property and livelihoods, particularly in South Darfur and increasingly in North Darfur. Thirdly, the security situation continues to be aggravated by attacks by rebel groups against Government forces, and indiscriminate bombardments by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in areas of rebel control.

The problem of this omission in the UNAMID strategic review is not editorial: it questions whether UNAMID’s approach is realistic given the prospects for the broader environment.

Central to this is UNAMID’s connection with the Doha peace process.  The review identifies as the first of UNAMID’s strategic priorities: ‘mediation between the Government and non-signatory armed movements on the basis of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), while taking into account ongoing transformation at the national level.’

In content, there’s not much to argue is deficient in the Doha Document.  But since its formation, the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA) has done almost nothing.  (It’s needless to say what the Government of Sudan has contributed to the current situation in Darfur.)  The Darfur Development Strategy is a nice glossy book with many valuable ideas but might as well be sent to the recycling bin.  Having been unable to deliver much beyond a few jobs for his supporters, DRA chief Tijani al-Sissi’s legitimacy is seriously eroded.  The Doha peace process is effectively dead, but no one wants to schedule the funeral.  Despite this, the fiction that the process is viable, or, alternatively, can be resurrected, continues to be maintained by the United Nations and remains the basis for UNAMID’s political activities.  The review doesn’t alter the position of the DDPD, which remains part of the first benchmark to measure improvements in UNAMID’s effectiveness: ‘[an] inclusive peace process through mediation between the Government and non-signatory armed movements on the basis of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur.’

The problem for UNAMID is that attachment to, or advocacy on behalf of, the DDPD harms its credibility with the non-signatory movements, which are well aware of the state of the agreement’s implementation.  More importantly, it discredits UNAMID in the eyes of Darfurians, who, for the most part, would be hard pressed to identify the peace dividend Doha has brought.

UNAMID faces many challenges, many of which are directly attributable to the state authorities.  This obstruction ensures a degree of sympathy from those that fund, staff and support the mission – whatever its internal failings, the government’s failings are worse.  Further, the low bar set by his predecessors ensures that the leadership of UNAMID chief Mohamed ibn Chambas is only seen as a massive improvement – I feel this overstates the importance of an individual SRSG and obscures the institutional weaknesses, but time will tell if Chambas can succeed where others did not.  But these caveats aside, tying the mission to a failed peace process, and being unrealistic about the prospects for improvement in Darfur, doesn’t make UNAMID’s prospects any more favourable.


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