Lt. Gen. Patrick Nyamvumba is the current overall Commander of the United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur, a peace keeping force overseeing a shaky ceasefire in the war torn Sudanese region.
He was recently in Kigali for a short holiday and The New Times Arthur Asiimwe caught up with him to discuss about his new job in one of the most troubled regions of the world.
In the interview, he talks about his plans, his hopes and expectations during his initial one year tour of duty. Below are the excerpts.
You have been in Darfur probably for the last 2 to 3 months if am right, what has been your experience so far?
To be precise, 73 days, before I came for leave it was 66 days. It’s a very interesting job in the sense that we have a considerable number of troop and police contributing countries. So there’s quite some diversity and a rich experience to pick from. The experience that comes with working in a multinational environment is always enriching.
Definitely, there are some difficulties but these are challenges that come along with such a job. I could say the challenges are manageable.
Speaking about diversity --- you are commanding troops that are coming from different nations with different backgrounds, different cultures and different levels of disciplines. It must be a challenge getting to harmonise all these differences to be able to run a smooth operation.
In terms of troop performance, when it comes to the military, by and large, there are certain basics that we share in common. We have almost similar standards of operations.
But rightly like you say, these troops come with their own cultures and experiences. That is why I was saying that experience of commanding such troops is quite enriching----you get to learn a lot.
We have people from Asia, South America, and Africa. Sometimes there is the challenge of languages or challenges of people adapting to the weather conditions---so meeting up all there harmonising our diversity is not something very simple. But it has certainly worked out.
And Darfur itself, this is a war that has lasted for quite some time, it is a conflict that has claimed so many lives and displaced millions. Do you ever see peace coming to that region?
The problem in Darfur is a political problem. This makes it possible to solve it because it needs a political solution.
You will hear all sorts of things on Darfur but basing on my own experience, the most outstanding thing is coming up with a political framework that takes into account interest of all the warring factions.
What do you mean by ‘a political problem?’
By and large, we are talking about governance issues, we see lots of gaps in services, people being marginalised and basically that’s what people fight for.
If you don’t give them the basics, they are bound to feel that they are neglected, that probably some of their rights are not observed. So that is what qualifies it as a political problem.
But the conflict is so complex, it involves so many forces--- so many groupings, external influences-- all these forces playing out there, do you ever see any tangible solution coming on the table?
Well, at the moment there are equally a number of initiatives going on to try and bring everybody to the same table.
Yes, groups of warring factions have become quite numerous. There are quite a number of them, the last time I heard they were in excess of 30 but the major ones are about 5. That is one, but there is also the region itself, they have got other players in the conflict.
You have the issue of Chad and Sudan that has been on-going for some time and certainly that doesn’t make the process much easier, if anything it contributes to the conflict.
But there are initiatives in place to address some of these issues. If you address issues between Chad and Sudan in terms of their relations and all that, then the Darfur issue itself will be solved by at least 40 percent.
Of course there are other interests that are at play especially from other countries further North, but again the solution to the problem will come from the Sudanese themselves.
Are you happy with the nature of the mandate of your troops?
Having a mandate is one thing but the reality of being able to achieve that mandate is another. For the mandate to be attained it has to be commensurate with the resources and the political will on the ground.
As I told you from the beginning, what makes this mission complicated is that first of all we lack a political process. We have got what you hear as the Darfur Peace Agreement which has got only 2 signatories, the Sudanese Government and one of the rebel groups. The other big players are out of this framework.
Second, is the issue of resources. As we speak we do not have the required force multipliers. We do not have the required force enablers. So whereas on one hand the mandate may sound clear, it has to be executed but with enabling resources.
Darfur is a very vast area---we are talking of 500,000 square kilometres. I need air resources if am to do any monitoring but I don’t have enough.
We need helicopters and lighter aircrafts. We need logistic units, hospitals, and engineering units.
Yes, some of these logistical needs are in place but again to be able to move and effectively employ a force of that size, you need a lot more than we have at the moment.
So is there a feeling of disappointment that the issue of limited resources is undermining your work?
By and large, African countries have done quite a lot by providing troops with their modest means. Certainly there are nations with more resources who should be able to provide some of these resources but they haven’t done so.
Let me put it this way; the international community can do much better than it is doing at the moment.
And this continues to be your biggest challenge?
Yes, but also the lack of a concrete peace agreement on the ground is equally an outstanding issue.
The logistical challenges you are understandable. But on the political part, do you ever see a political solution coming any time soon? Are there any initiatives to get these people to the same table and workout a political settlement?
Oh yes, recently you must have heard about the African Union high level panel led by the former South African President Thabo Mbeki that did present their findings in Abuja. That is a very positive development.
But secondly even prior to that, we have had the Qatar process that tries to bring together the government and these other rebel factions to have some form of cessation of hostilities or a ceasefire agreement.
My immediate concern though is to have a plan that will support the outcome of any peace agreement that will emerge. Part of our mandate is to help in implementing the original agreement, the DPA and subsequent agreements, therefore if we are to have an additional agreements to the DPA, I should be in a position to monitor it.
So I need to have a plan in place and that’s why we keep talking about the issue of resources because this requires setting up mobile monitoring teams in an area that has little or no infrastructure.
But do you think the leadership of Khartoum is in any way interested in embracing dialogue with the different factions in Darfur?
This is an issue of the Sudanese and the solution to this problem should come from Sudanese themselves. Everybody seems to want to talk peace because they have had these issues for quite some time and you see fatigue. You can imagine we have had forces there since 2004.
People are yearning for peace and I get the sense that there is need for working out a solution.
Do you have the right troop numbers?
Yes, in terms of numbers we can do with what we have. I think we have about 14,700 forces. The mandated strength is 19,505, and we are not yet there but we can certainly use what we have to see the implementation of the mandate.
Gen. Nyamvumba, how do you want to be remembered in Darfur when the time for you to leave comes?
First of all, I would like to be remembered in the bigger context of Rwanda’s contribution towards bringing peace and security to Darfur. Much as I’m there as Gen. Nyamvumba, am also cautious that I represent the interests of my country. As a sister people, Rwandans would want to see Darfurians enjoy peace and stability. So whatever I do has to be seen in that context.
Together with the international community we will ensure the return of peace and stability in Darfur and precisely anybody in the right mind would want at least to contribute to that, and that is what I will work towards.
I will work towards contributing to a final settlement. Whether it happens in my period of work or not, that’s something I can’t tell now. But what am sure of is that I will try, to the best of my ability, to see that I make that modest contribution as is expected of me.
How are you doing things differently from your predecessors?
The people I took over from did a tremendous job. The difference we see on the ground is because of them. I will continue from where my predecessors stopped.
I will try to work around a consensus both within the mission and from all other stakeholders in the conflict and also a little bit of trying to engage everybody as much as one can.
B and large, we will try to make sure we stick to our mandate, stick to the basic principles of impartiality.
If any peace agreement comes along, we will try and see that all sides abide by it.
We will continue to give Darfurians at least a sense of security. The more they see you, the more they think that there is additional protection.
In September President Obama made very good remarks on Rwandan troops in Darfur. He praised you on the discipline and commitment in executing your duties. Much as there is this good praise that is for the RDF, are you trying to spread the good principles that define the RDF to the other troops from different countries under your command?
First of all I think what President Obama said is very true. I think RDF troops in Darfur have exhibited a high degree of discipline and commitment to whatever they were deployed to do. I guess this is because of our values as a people and as a nation and certainly that’s a very big drive if one was to succeed.
Anybody would want to be in charge of troops that can deliver--- troops that are credible. Nobody would want to be in charge of troops that shake up and run away when an enemy strikes. You would want to be in charge of troops that are fired-up.
I can’t say that am complaining at the moment. Most of the troops I have are doing well. Again in an environment like that you, would get setbacks here and there but it’s all manageable.
And you did introduce the Communal work (Umuganda) to Darfur...
By the way it’s not me who introduced it. It was there before, our troops had been doing it much long before I was there. The only thing we are trying to do now is to make it bigger and more regular.
It’s actually not about cleaning the streets and towns, it involves providing those things that are important to the communities. In some areas we plant trees while in others we provide water for households, animals, communities—of course where resources allow.
And the process to acquire this job, how many people were you competing with?
I know of three candidates, Rwanda, Nigeria and Ethiopia.
Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel with the Darfur crisis?
I think the process is on. The right ingredients are in place although challenges remain, but peace is achievable.