August 12, 2022

Key issues from my visit to Darfur

I’m still digesting my pages and pages of notes, and ordering my thoughts, so take this as a non-exhaustive list:

1. Collapse of GBV services following the expulsion of the humanitarians

If there was one issue I could get a spot on CNN to talk about, it would be this.

img_2761I had an inkling of it from people I had spoken to before I went, but once you are actually in Darfur, it hits you with neon lights. The world has been focusing on the so-called “life-saving” gaps after the expulsions. The fact there are no more services for rape survivors has been sidelined and everyone in Darfur is scared to talk about it. The IDPs because of the stigma, the aid workers because of fear of expulsion. (I have an op ed on this which I am holding off posting here until I can get a paper to publish it because it needs to reach more people than will get to it through this site)

2. Gen. Agwai’s comments re. The war is over

Two points on this. Firstly, it’s hard to distinguish ‘the war is over’ from ‘the war is in temporary respite because of rains/fractured rebels/focus on the elections’.  Secondly, even to the extent this is a permanent change, it’s still somewhat irrelevant from the perspective of the IDPs. The real issue is how insecurity (as a result of the war) has squeezed the humanitarian space.

Humanitarian ops have been progressively moved from “deep field” to “field” and are now almost entirely confined to the major towns because of insecurity. There are many humanitarians interested in moving to the kind of  ‘early recovery’ programs that this stagnation in the conflict might otherwise warrant, but it’s impossible to do so under the current conditions. So everyone remains in a limbo state of emergency provisions. Bottom line: I wouldn’t say Gen. Agwai’s comments are “wrong” but rather very much beside the point.

3. UNAMID capability

They probably will be close to 100% deployment by February next year (I was told that those in NY predicting 97% by December have not taken into account the logistical problems that come with the rainy season – if true, how this is possible six years into involvement with a region that has a predictable rainy season every year – – I don’t even want to think about). However this will only translate to (most optimistically) 60% capability. In part because of the quality of the troops (for instance many consider a “long-range patrol” to mean being out of the compound for 3-4 hrs, whereas to reach many areas they need to be able to undertake patrols of 3-4 days in length) and in part because of the continued failure of the world to come up with the attack helicopters they need to actually respond quickly to incidents.

4. Returns

In general, I would say the GOS just wants the camps to be gone. From their perspective they are an eyesore that stops the international community from “moving on” from Darfur. I heard of various attempts by the government to bus back “voluntary” returns, as well as the GOS escorting UNAMID staff to “witness” returns (that the staff I spoke with thought did not seem to be the people who were originally displaced from the area). Relatedly, IDPs are continuing to report occupation of their land by foreigners and rumors abound that these people have been given national IDs  (but verification of this is very difficult).

It is true that people are going back to plant, as they always do at this time of year. It is also true that people who go back are generally finding it more peaceful than last year. For those who want to stay, they should of course be supported in their decision. But there are many steps before these isolated examples can be translated into a “trend” of sustainable returns – –  those who are pointing to such a trend are, in my view, jumping the gun.

Moreover, we should be very wary not to generalize from one locality to another. Returns decisions are based on local circumstances. A sense that it is safe to return in one locality shouldn’t be used to argue that it is therefore safe to go back to anywhere in Darfur.


  1. Sean Brooks says:

    Thanks for your insightful posts about your trip.

    One issue that you did not address is the elections schedule for April 2010. What were the thoughts of Darfuris that you spoke to on the elections? Did what you hear generally match the concerns expressed in the UN Secretary General’s report from July, in which he wrote:

    38. Darfur, opposition parties and civil society actors have called on the
    Government to ensure the freedom of movement, assembly, association and speech
    required to ensure a free and fair process. Leaders of the internally displaced have
    expressed the view that peace, security, compensation, and the return of internally
    displaced persons should come before the holding of elections. They have also
    expressed the fear that voter registration of internally displaced persons in camps
    would be tantamount to relinquishing their lands.

    And do you think any of the Sudanese and international actors that you spoke to are moving forward on his recommendations (below)?

    67. The Government of National Unity and the Darfur movements must address
    the concerns of the internally displaced persons in Darfur. Concrete steps need to be taken towards a comprehensive peace agreement. These include a cessation of
    hostilities, and progress towards compensation, land rights and redressing
    marginalization issues. This would help to create an appropriate environment for the forthcoming elections. Should large segments of the population in Darfur be
    prevented from participating in elections by the refusal to agree to a cessation of
    hostilities, technical constraints related to registration, or voluntary or involuntary
    boycotts of the process, progress towards political stability would be impeded.
    Accordingly, I urge the Government of National Unity and the Darfur movements to openly discuss these issues and make concrete progress towards a comprehensive peace. The Darfur movements have an obligation to use the opportunity of national elections to pursue their political demands through the ballot box and lay down their arms.

  2. Bec Hamilton says:

    Hi Sean
    Yes – elections and the 2011 referendum are the big picture issues facing the whole of Sudan now. I’m developing a magazine feature on it, so will have my thoughts better organized as I work through that. But from the perspective of Darfuris who are living in Darfur, it is hard to get more than a dismissive wave of the hand from them on the elections. There are huge problems with the census results (and not just in Darfur). Not only are the camps not covered but the numbers don’t add up in areas outside the camps to a large extent either – especially in South Darfur. So with these problems, combined with the fact that for IDPs in Darfur there are much more immediate issues related to day to day survival, trying to even raise the elections with them is difficult. There is not one IDP I spoke with who thought the elections were anything other than a giant waste of time. This response however changes if you speak with Darfuris in Khartoum (they also are completely skeptical, but they have some attention to give to it)
    As to your specific question – What the UNSG wrote remains almost entirely aspirational


  1. […] my mate Rob Crilly has written a post I need to respond to regarding my remarks on General Agwai’s comments. Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m not sure we are […]

  2. […] Bec Hamilton, who is currently investigating the past 6 years of Darfur policy and citizen advocacy, just returned from Sudan and Darfur.  She writes on four key issues facing Darfuris today. […]

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