General Martin Luther Agwai, the Nigerian military officer who is the outgoing commander of the United Nations – African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, made headlines this week with his comments about the war in Darfur – the one we called genocide – being over.
“Militarily, there is not much. What you have is security issues more now. Banditry, localized issues, people trying to resolve issues over water and land at a local level,” Agwai said. “But real war as such, I think we are over that.”
Apparently, others share this surprising view of the situation in Darfur. Ambassador Susan Rice, the American representative to the United Nations, felt compelled earlier this year to criticize the departing civilian head of UN peacekeeping forces, Rodolphe Adada, who referred to the Darfur situation as a “low-intensity conflict.” In the face of these assessments by departing officials, one must ask what situation they are looking at.
An estimated 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur and nearly three million remain displaced. Just this week, 137 Senegalese police arrived in Darfur as part of a formed police union (FPU) that joins two Nigerian FPUs in El Geneina in west Darfur. There are now 11 FPUs in Darfur, with plans to reach 19 FPUs and 26,000 total military and police personnel under the joint AU-UN command known as UNAMID. If the conflict is over, why are these forces being increased instead of diminished? Why are there no reports of people being relocated to their previous homes? Why are there areas of Darfur even peacekeepers dare not enter?
The optimistic assessment seems based on the disintegration of rebel forces. The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) apparently is the only cohesive rebel military remaining. The Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) was the other original rebel force that began a civil war with the Sudanese government in 2003, but it is splintered into several parts. New groups and coalitions have emerged, but besides JEM, no rebel movement has of late undertaken the grandiose operation staged by JEM in May 2008, when it launched a massive attack on Khartoum.
UN officials other than Adada and military officials other than Agwai have been less willing to issue “mission accomplished” statements. Hopefully, their less sweeping comments will carry the day. Otherwise, the commitment to safeguard Darfuris could wane, leaving millions at the mercy of Janjawid and other bandits. The war in Darfur is not over; it’s just taken on a new, but still deadly, shape. Even General Agwai would agree with that.