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Planless on Africa’s battlefields
© O'Reilly / Reuters
AU-Mission in Darfur
When it decided to send a military force to the Sudanese crisis region Darfur, the African Union (AU) took on a task for which it was not even supposed to be ready yet. In 2003, the AU member states had agreed to set up a standby force for missions in the continent’s crisis regions. According to the resolution, that force was not supposed to intervene in conflicts like Darfur until 2010 at the earliest.
Unsurprisingly, a recent assessment of AMIS, the African Union Mission in Sudan, paints a sobering picture. According to a report by the International Peace Academy (IPA), a policy research institute close to the UN, the mission was poorly planned, its civilian and military components act without coordination, political and operational leadership remain inadequate, and AU troops are so badly equipped that some units can barely ensure their own physical safety. The report summarises findings of a conference held in Accra, Ghana, with a view to learning from AMIS for the planned AU Standby Force. Security experts, military as well as police officers and representatives of aid agencies from African as well as donor-countries took part.
The Darfur mission “was never planned: it just happened”, one participant said, according to the IPA document. The original AMIS assignment was to monitor a ceasefire agreed in 2004 by the government in Khartoum and two Darfur rebel groups. According to the IPA paper, it was unclear from the outset how the task was to be shared between the military and the civilian police. The two sides had, at times, provided the mission commander with conflicting analyses of the situation. Nor was there any clear AMIS concept for cooperation with civilian agencies active in Darfur.
What is more, the IPA report bemoans that the military mission was never coordinated with political peace efforts in Darfur. This approach, it is said, at best, “wastes opportunities for synergies [...] and, at worst, it undermines the role of the peacekeepers”, even putting them physically at risk.
Future AU missions with similar assignments should only be undertaken on the basis of careful planning, in order to be accomplishable without resources becoming hopelessly overstretched. In the long run, the study recommends that individual AU member states specialise in particular tasks required for complex peace missions, and accordingly implement a division of labour. Moreover, the AU is advised not to take on peace-mission functions already performed by other actors, such as the UN.
The report finds the logistical support provided for AMIS totally inadequate. This shortcoming, it says, is partly due to poor planning, but also results from the AU’s lack of funds. Some member countries are said to have contributed virtually naked troops, because it remained unclear whether or to what extent there would be any compensation for equipment lost. The IPA does not consider more financial support from donor countries a solution in the long run, as heavy dependence on donors creates problems of its own. For one thing, help for AMIS is made available at irregular intervals, in accordance with donors’ finance management rather than what is needed on the ground. On top of that, Western influence makes it more difficult to deal with the government in Khartoum. Therefore, the report argues, there is no alternative to African governments shouldering more of the financial burden of AU missions in future: “No ‘African ownership’ will be possible without a degree of self-sustainment.” And that applies not only to logistical support but also to providing the AU with the analysis and advisory capacities needed for planning peace missions.
Establishing an AU standby peace force, the IPA paper concludes, is more than just a military project; above all, it is a political one. And as such it needs to be promoted in Africa at the highest political level. (ell)