The African Union- United Nations Hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID) has made tremendous progress, according to the mission’s force commander - Lt. Gen. Patrick Nyamvumba. James Karuhanga of The New Times recently talked to Gen. Nyamvumba during his recent visit to Kigali where he revealed that UNAMID’s biggest component – the military, now stands at more than 17, 200 troops, and is growing.
General, what is the picture, in terms of an update on UNAMID’s work in Darfur?
UNAMID has drastically improved the situation on ground in terms of security. I must also say that we still have pockets of challenges, here and there.
For instance, around March, you are certainly aware of the rapprochement between Chad and Sudan. This particular event brought some good things for us, in UNAMID, because we thought that by the two countries coming to an agreement, it would improve on security in Darfur.
And it had some short term results because one of the armed factions was forced out of Chad, and in the months of May and June, we saw heightened belligerence activity within Darfur. But that said, and done, the preceding months have been calm.
The biggest challenge we now have, in Darfur, would be tribal clashes, particularly in south Darfur.
UNAMID has made tremendous progress.
The military which is the biggest component now stands at about 17, 200 plus. We expect by the end of the year to be probably at 18, 000 if one additional infantry battalion from Senegal deploys and, probably, by end next year, we will have all the mandated infantry battalions on the ground, which will give us, of course, enhanced capacity and capability.
Right now, in terms of mandate implementation, we are not able to fully dominate the entire area of the population, but to a large extent, at least we are able to send out in excess of 80 patrols – that is the military and police.
That gives us a bigger foot print on the ground. Then, we get to know the issues affecting the people, and that’s positive in a sense that, as UNAMID, we are the ones on the ground and know what is happening.
There must be other challenges apart from tribal clashes.
Yes, we still have challenges and one of the biggest challenges we have as a mission, is the lack of a peace agreement. You see, we are a peacekeeping mission, and unlike other peacekeeping missions, it is presumed that we are there to, you know, to keep peace!
At the moment, the truth of the matter is that there is no peace to keep but we also have an additional responsibility to look for that peace. And that’s why we have the Doha process going on.
Although it is under the auspices of the joint chief mediator but UNAMID directly contributes to that process. It is UNAMID that is going to implement what will come out of the Doha process.
The other challenge, of course … the core of our mandate is protection of civilians. Civilian protection is not a military affair alone. We work with other colleagues from other sections like human rights, civil affairs, police … but, and I keep saying this over and over again, for us to be able to protect civilians, it presupposes that we have the means to even detect the threats against the civilians.
Don’t you have these means?
Look, here we are talking about more of intelligence capability and the way the UN operates; yes we are supposed to have prior information so that we are able to prevent, at least some of the nasty incidents that happen, but we do not have such dedicated assets.
It is difficult in the absence of prior information to be able to deter every other occurrence. That’s another big challenge.
Then, of course, you have the other normal issues – the area is so vast.
What about things or challenges like logistics? How well equipped are you?
In terms of mobility, we still need our own dedicated resources like helicopters. But, I mean, this is something that has been on, even before I deployed and the mission was established.
I think we have come to terms – that we might never get these resources because nobody in the international community seems to be willing to offer them. So we have to figure out how to do with what we have.
We consulted widely about helicopters and it seems we have to come to terms that we may never get them when we need them. So, as I said earlier, we have to operate with what we have.
Let’s look at the issue of the referendum in Sudan. Are you going to help in any way?
The referendum has more to do with our sister mission, the UNMIS. But you know, as much as I do, that we are in Sudan, and, of course, what affects our sister mission also affects us.
Secondly, south Sudan borders south Darfur, in Western Bahr el Ghazal, to be precise. So, depending on how the referendum goes, certainly it will have an impact on the way we operate and on the whole political landscape of the Sudan. That would have implications for UNAMID.
So, the referendum is not a UNAMID business, but we have to be prepared to address the results of the referendum. We are monitoring what is happening at the moment, both the events preceding the referendum and after the referendum, with keen interest.
Given your experience in Darfur, what level or lack of optimism do you have about resolving the Darfur conflict, or keeping the peace?
We can only support the Sudanese to attain this peace, but the ultimate resolution of the conflict, I think, lies with the Sudanese themselves. The international community is there at their invitation.
What I see on the ground is that people really want peace. We have people who have been displaced from their homes, now into the seventh year, and I don’t think anybody would like to continue this kind of life.
At the moment, yes, we don’t have a peace agreement yet, but we have to work hard to support the Sudanese.
And, again, from the look of things, yes we have an ongoing process from Doha but the main actors still remain outside the framework.
Is this not a stumbling block to the process?
You would not say it is a stumbling block, but it is not very encouraging because you would want everybody to be on the same page because the people of Darfur have suffered quite a lot.
The mission leadership and everybody who cares about Darfur have been encouraging these other factions to join the peace process. We still have a long way to go but we still resolve to support the Sudanese to come to a peaceful resolution of this conflict.
What could we say is the morale of the Rwandan peacekeeping troops?
It’s quite good and high. I mean, they are very committed and dedicated to do what they came to do. They have what it takes and their morale is fine.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE OF UNAMID FORCE COMMANDER LIEUTENANT GENERAL PATRICK NYAMVUMBA (RWANDA)
In a letter dated 21 July 2009 to the President of the Security Council, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon conveyed the agreement of the Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission and the Secretary-General of the United Nations to appoint Lieutenant General Patrick Nyamvumba of Rwanda as the Force Commander of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) with effect from 1 September 2009.
General Nyamvumba succeeded General Martin Luther Agwai, who served as UNAMID’s Force Commander since the establishment of the Mission.
General Nyamvumba brings to UNAMID extensive leadership and operational experience. Unitil his appointment, Gen.Nyamvuma was the Chief of Logistics of the Rwanda Defence Forces(RDF).
He has previously held various senior command positions in the RDF. He was the Commander of an infantry battalion, mechanized infantry regiment and infantry brigade in 1995, 1996 and 1997, respectively.
Between 1998 and 1999, he served as Chief of Operations, Plans and Training. In 1999, he assumed the position of Joint Task Force Commander until his appointment as Commandant of the Military Academy in 2003.
Gen.Nyamvuma has also served as the Commandant of the Force Preparation Centre between 2004 and 2007. In 2007, General Nyamvumba was appointed to serve as President of the Military High Court.
Born on 11 June 1967, General Nyamvumba is a graduate of the South African National Defense College.
UNAMID official website