8 July 2012

South Sudan: UN in South Sudan - Hit or Miss?

The Dutch contribution to UNMISS is little more than a failed attempt to ease the Dutch government's conscience, say South Sudanese living in the Netherlands. "We're doing valuable work," claim Dutch police consultants who were deployed in southern Sudan, now known as the Republic of South Sudan.

"You can't build a new country when the base is flawed," says Dutch police advisor Bert van Assenderp. Deployed with the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) in 2008 and 2009, he trained hundreds of Southern Sudanese police officers. "It might seem like a drop in the bucket, but only when a society is getting along well can you focus on legislation and reconstruction."

The typical Dutch contribution to UNMIS consisted of 30 police trainers and military support at a time, for a period of six months. UNMIS was rounded up after South Sudan's independence and was followed by UNMISS - the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan. Six months are too short, admits Van Assenderp's colleague Henny Korswagen. "By the time you're getting somewhere, you have to leave again."

That raises the question of whether UNMISS can really achieve something. Ayuen Panchol, a South Sudanese blogger, says he can't see why UNMISS is there to start with. "The times that you need them, they don't intervene."

Suspicious bunch

The mandate of UNMIS police trainers Van Assenderp and Korswagen wasn't to intervene, but to train. They were based in Bor, where they had to start from scratch. Korswagen lays out the scene. "You see a group of young men in blue uniforms and they tell you that these are police recruits. They sure know how to handle a machine gun, but can't decipher a number plate."

"They're a suspicious bunch, because everybody knows that some months ago, they were wearing military gear and operated from the bush. However, we also saw how eager they were to learn new things and gain trust within the community."

Van Assenderp and Korswagen set out seemingly simple tasks. They organised trainings in traffic control and crowd monitoring. Then they prepared the recruits for more serious duties like VIP security and monitoring elections.

"Given the current position of South Sudan, where customary law and ethnic sensitivities are a substantial part of everyday life, we realize we can't force South Sudan into becoming a modern 21st century state. But even though it's a slow process that may seem trivial, you have to start somewhere," says Van Assenderp.

Conscience relief

Santo Deng, a South Sudanese radiologist living in the Netherlands since 1995, thinks the Dutch contribution to UNMISS is a way to ease the Dutch government's conscience. "What can you do with 30 people in a country as big as South Sudan? Compare that to the commitment the Dutch government shows towards Afghanistan or the anti-piracy missions along the coast of Somalia."

Lieutenant Colonel Bart van den Bosch is currently deployed with UNMISS in Juba. "Our intention is not to run the country, but to support the South Sudanese government in developing the country and its institutions. The Dutch armed forces have committed themselves for two years to South Sudan. After that, it's a political decision whether the Netherlands want to be involved any longer, although I can imagine that our commitment will be extended," he says.

PR strategy

If the Netherlands does decide to prolong its stay, Sudanese blogger Moez Ali suggests that UNMISS do something to get a better reputation among the Sudanese and Sound Sudanese people.

He says: "The presence of the UN gives you the feeling that you're poor, that you need help and that outside intervention is the only solution. At the same time, the UN has a very bad track record and operates on a system that is generally too bureaucratic to be of much help in development issues. Why does everybody focus on what South Sudan has achieved in its one year of independence, but does nobody question the real impact UNMISS has had in the past six years?"

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