Thursday, February 28, 2008

Whither UNAMID?

Original caption: An AU soldier in El Fasher, securing the Joint AU/UN compound. UNMIS Photo/Fred Noy

It has been evident for quite some time that the West’s sanctimony regarding Darfur is purely posturing, as revealed with utmost clarity by the behavior of the loudest and most powerful nations. While Washington and its junior partners decried Khartoum's stonewalling of a UN deployment, they crippled the African Union deployment, AMIS. Though flawed, the African team was surely capable of greater effectiveness if better supported financially and logistically. Underfunding the AU mission, the only available force already on the ground, consigned Darfurians to a grim fate, amply fulfilled in the last several years of death and misery.

Khartoum's obstructionism was also the favored storyline of the commercial press. However, with the long sought deployment of UN forces finally a partial reality, a new public relations challenge has arisen. Thus far, it has been met with aplomb, made possible by an impressively disciplined media and a largely acquiescent activist movement. The inconvenient truth in this case is that the UNAMID deployment is being hamstrung by a lack of resources – precisely the difficulty that deep-sixed AMIS. The stinginess is naturally most glaring in the case of the wealthiest and best-equipped nations.

At present, only 2,000 peacekeepers have been added to the existing AMIS team, raising the total to 9,000 and leaving the force 17,000 personnel shy of the projected size. Much of the blame for the unimpressive launch of UNAMID has been placed on Khartoum which has hampered full implementation of UN force deployment through a myriad of devices designed to buy time - but its responsibility for the slow roll out appears to be matched by the absence of action from the nations capable of supplying basic military equipment.

For several months UNAMID has been waiting but thus far no UN member state has agreed to provide the much needed but very minimal transport needs (most notably two dozen helicopters) to the new UNAMID force. Ban Ki Moon has repeatedly called for capable member nations to supply the pittance.

To be more accurate, in early February two countries did step forward at long last: the fabulously wealthy nations of Bangladesh and Ethiopia. What has become of their offer is not yet clear; as recently as Feb. 20th U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon referenced "more helicopters, which peacekeepers urgently need in Darfur." There have been no indications of embarrassment in Western capitals at being upstaged in generosity by the 54th and 87th wealthiest countries, respectively, as ranked by GDP.

Nor has changing the name and official sponsor of the peacekeeping force resolved the desperate financial situation of the mission, which cannot obtain spare tires for its Armored Personnel Carriers and is still struggling with "unpaid soldiers and a lack of equipment."

The sight of Washington, the leader of the pack of nations braying about the horrors of Darfur, failing to provide a few helicopters that it could doubtless spare without even occasioning a blip in a Defense Department budget that routinely misplaces billions or trillions of dollars through shoddy accounting, casts into sharp relief the true value of Darfurian lives for the leaders of democracy and freedom.

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