Sources say the peacekeepers are struggling with equipment problems, poor training of some contingents and the reluctance by some governments to send their soldiers into combat zones
When seven Tanzanian peacekeepers in Darfur, western Sudan, were killed and 17 seriously wounded in an ambush by gunmen, the incident sent shockwaves throughout the country. For the first time public was made aware that all was not well with their men and women deployed in the war-torn Sudan as part of the UN peacekeeping forces.
The deadly attack on 13 July this year occurred when the soldiers were in a convoy searching for their vehicles that were reportedly stolen by a rebel group. The Tanzanian soldiers sustained heavy fire from machine guns and possibly rocket-propelled grenades. Among the wounded were two female police officers. No group immediately claimed responsibility. But a UN report in February said that some armed opposition groups are angry about the presence of peacekeepers and have called the force 'a legitimate target.'
In the Tanzanian official circles scanty information was released, but some local journalists contacted the peace-keepers in Darfur. One of them said, on condition of anonymity, that a week ago unknown assailants attacked members of the army and disappeared with four vehicles. 'It is really traumatising here; I can tell you the rebels are fully armed with sophisticated weapons,' he lamented.
Immediately, questions were raised about the United Nations African Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) whose task is to maintain peace and protect civilians from insurgents. Some asked if there was any peace to maintain in the first place.
The Tanzanian contingent of 875 military and police personnel has been stationed in Darfur for some five years as part of the UNAMID, which has strength of 16,500 troops and military observers plus 5,000 international police. Yet the latest casualty was not an isolated encounter by the solders on peace mission in Darfur.
Peacekeepers have been targeted at various times since the international force began its work in the region in 2008. In April this year gunmen shot and killed a Nigerian peacekeeper. Prior to the July attack, 150 people associated with the UN mission in Darfur had been killed while on duty in the region, according to the force's website.
Following the latest attack, Tanzania is now seeking a stronger mandate for peacekeepers in the Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region, so as to 'deal with the current condition.' The demand is to equip the peacekeepers with heavy weapons such as APC, artillery and helicopters.
Army spokesman Colonel Mgawe said, 'We want our troops to have more capacity to defend themselves against insurgents'. He said currently their rules of engagement, under Chapter 6, forbid the use of 'excessive' force. Now they are going to negotiate with UN for Chapter 7 so as to give the troops more fire-power to defend themselves
That means use of heavy weapons as is the case with Tanzanian forces in DRC. In fact some Tanzanians have questioned why give them heavy weapons in DRC and not in Darfur. Whether, with such armaments, they have succeeded in wiping out M23 is another question.
The pertinent question for Darfur, however, is whether the peacekeepers there are now going to pursue the rebels and fight them on their turf or are they going to fight back when attacked. If it is the former then actually it means there is no peace to maintain and so stationing peace-keepers there is paradoxical.
It has been suggested that the better solution for stopping the attack on peacekeepers would be to cut off the supply line of heavy weaponry to the rebels, especially if the supply comes from outside the Sudan.
Meanwhile, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete has asked President Omar al-Bashir to investigate the latest incident and ensure that the perpetrators are apprehended and brought to justice.
The question is whether Bashir has the ability to take any action, since he himself has been under attack by the rebels. After having negotiated and signed peace treaty with them, not all have joined the cease-fire. And so his troops have been under attack from time to time. Hence he is hardly in control of the situation in Darfur, which has been described as a civil war.
Darfur has over 35 tribes and ethnic groups. Half the people are small subsistence farmers, the other half being nomadic herders. For centuries the nomadic people have been grazing their cattle and camels over sprawling grass lands, sharing water sources.
The crisis is reportedly rooted in intertribal feuds over increasingly scarce water and grazing grounds in the area hit hard by years of climate change, drought and growing famine, coupled with the encroaching Sahara Desert. Matter became worse when local tribes took up arms in 2003 against the government in Khartoum, which they accuse of marginalising them.
Meanwhile, more insurgencies were launched from Darfur. Factions allied with or against neighbouring countries operated from bases inside Darfur, which became a regular landing ground for foreign military transport planes. Thus, Chad's Idriss Deby launched a military bombardment from the neighbouring Darfur and overthrew President Hissan Habre.
French and U.S. forces were then involved in funding, training and equipping Deby, a military ruler, who supported the rebel groups in Darfur. At the same time there were reports of Israelis providing military training to Darfur rebels from bases in Eritrea, while strengthening ties with the regime in Chad, from where more weapons and troops penetrated Darfur.
Refugee camps were thus militarized. Darfur was further militarised when the regime of Ange-Félix Patassé collapsed in the Central African Republic and his soldiers fled to Darfur with their military hardware. The situation was not made better when, in August 1998, US President Bill Clinton ordered missile attack on the El Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. It was producing cheap medications for malaria and tuberculosis, supplying most of the medicine in Sudan.
The plant was completely smashed by 19 cruise missiles, for no logical reason. And so Darfur became the hub of international geopolitical scramble for Africa's resources. The region has the third largest copper and the fourth largest high quality uranium deposits in the world. It produces two-thirds of the world's best quality gum Arabic, which is major ingredient in cold drinks, pharmaceuticals and candies. Sudan exports 80% of the world's supply of this commodity.
The country, the largest in Africa in terms of area, is strategically located on the Red Sea, immediately south of Egypt, and borders on seven other African countries. It is situated opposite Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, among the main suppliers of oil. Sudan also has abundance of natural gas and oil, much of it in Darfur. The problem for the West is that it is the Chinese who are pumping the oil.
U.S. companies controlling the pipelines in Chad and Uganda are looking for the ways to displace China through the US military alliance with states such as Uganda, Chad and Ethiopia, which are not too friendly with Sudan. Darfur, a western region of Sudan, borders on Libya and Chad, with their own vast oil resources. So it is a likely pipeline route.
The West is thus pushing for 'peacekeeping' mission in Darfur in order to pursue its own agenda. That is why in the end the whole exercise may result into another Iraq or Afghanistan. This is because the United States and its allies look for conflicts, or even provoke conflicts, which they use as pretext to intervene in other countries, militarily or otherwise, directly or through proxies (including the UN).
The aim is to exploit and control these countries economically and politically through puppet governments. This way they facilitate, promote and protect the investments of their corporations. This is how the United States and other western powers are working towards political domination in Africa and elsewhere, in order to exploit their resources.
These are the sentiments that were possibly expressed by chairman of Tanzania's National League for Democracy (NLD), Dr. Emmanuel Makaidi, when he called upon the government to withdraw Tanzanian peace-keeping troops from Sudan as their presence there is 'not in the country's national interest'.
'It is not worth sacrificing our seven soldiers who lost their lives in an ambush laid by insurgents,' he swiped, adding that Tanzania has an ill-advised foreign policy.
Nizar Visram is a Tanzanian freelance writer.