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UN in Africa Needs Further Oversight, Should Protect Trucks to Darfur, of Double-Standards

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press in Africa: News Analysis

IVORY COAST TO NEW YORK, June 10-11 -- During the UN Security Council's seven-nation African tour, what was learned? The UN's interlocutors on Somalia do not include the insurgents who are actually fighting the occupation by Ethiopian troops. While the UN has begged Sudan to allow a second extension of Lockheed Martin's no-bid contract for peacekeeping bases in Darfur, Sudan has said it will stop giving visas to Lockheed Martin in July. (At the June 11 noon briefing, at deadline for this round-up, Inner City Press formally asked the UN to confirm that Sudan granted a final three month extension for the no-bid Lockheed Martin contract that expires in July, video here.) 

  While the UN's World Food Program attributes its halving of food rations in Darfur to the hijacking of trucks from El Obeid to Darfur, the UN is not using the troops it has in El Fasher to go out and protect at least some trucks. Inner City Press interviewed numerous peacekeepers in the UNAMID base in El Fasher, Lockheed Martin's cash crop, who express frustration at the lack of action, at not being able to help more. The UN should arrange protection for at least some trucks, some routes. You have to start somewhere.

  Despite France's blind and desperate support of the Chadian regime of Idriss Deby Itno, he feels no need to meet with the Council delegation led by France's Jean-Maurice Ripert, and Ripert is willing to dissemble to the press to cover up this snub. Even  South Africa's Dumisani Kumalo, at trip's end, said Chad is "a lost cause."

  The Council as a whole likes to hear praise of the International Criminal Court from Congo's Joseph Kabila, even though an even-handed Court could indict Kabila and not only his opponents. But when challenged on this point, the Council claims to have no relation to the ICC, despite its insistence in Sudan on compliance with the Court. The troubling evidence that UN peacekeepers in Eastern Congo traded guns for gold with murderous militias does not appear to be subject to any substantive re-investigation, despite the UN's own lead investigator now stating that his findings were hidden and whitewashed.

The UN in Wali's world: UK's Sawer with Wali of N. Darfur, the grass is always greener on the Wali's side of the street

   UN Security carries loaded guns on planes, as evidence by the gunplay in Goma incident, and unlike UN propped-up governments like Congo's, Rwanda does not give favors, on visa, security checks or even air fuel. In the face of ransom demands, at least those involving their own convenience, most Council members dig into their pockets to pay. (One P-5 member, not at the Ambassadorial level, said it was outrageous and refused to pony up.) Ban Ki-moon's man in Abdijan, Choi Young -Jin, has not gotten the memo about taking a proactive position against sexual abuse and exploitation, but rather dodges questions on the topic. He is praised by Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo because unlike his predecessors he takes a hands-off approach, which Gbagbo believes will allow him to consolidate his power later this year.

    Overall, the UN Security Council allows itself to be dominated by former colonial powers. The Council's public performance, particularly out in the field, is further distorted by the ambitions and self-interests of the Ambassador, exemplified by but not limited to France's Ripert running around Mugungo I camp in Goma looking for the France 24 television crew, and trying to micro-manage coverage of the trip by the Press. The ten non-permanent members do not provide an effective counter-balance; even P-5 member Russia lets the U.S. and Europe do and say what they want in Africa, while China saw no need to be part of the trip in Congo, Rwanda or Ivory Coast, no even sending its Ambassador in Kinshasa -- where it has a $9 billion deal for natural resources -- or Abidjan to attend the Council's functions. China prefers to deal with African and economic issues bilaterally, not through the Council. Therefore despite the claims of many human rights groups, China hardly controls the Council's approach for example to Sudan. There, former colonial power the UK publicly takes a hard-line, while in private being pushed around by Al-Bashir. One example was, in their closed door meeting, the UK's John Sawers raising NGOs' complaints which al-Bashir cut off, saying the NGOs should be using the previous established complaint process rather than waiting to tattle to Council members. According to Inner City Press' sources in the meeting, Sawers did not contest his. But a day later, in the Chadian IDP camp near Goz Beida, he told an audience of people admitted from Chad that he and the Council are pressing hard on President al-Bashir." The following day France's Ripert waded into the crowd in Mugunga IDP camp outside Goma in the Congo and said he and the Council are doing everything possible "so you can go home." Does unqualified support for Joseph Kabila, and nodding dismissal of the country's legislature -- which questioned the politics and timing of the arrest of Kabila's main opponent Jean-Pierre Bemba -- qualify in this regard? Time will tell.

  On the other hand, the UN operationally is feeding and sheltering, sometimes in brutal conditions, destitute refugees and displaced people. In Mugunga, people live in huts of plastic sheeting, with floors of lava rock. Somehow 10,000 people are fed three meals a day. NGOs in Goz Beida run almost village-like camps of thatch-roofed huts. In Darfur's Zamzam camp outside El Fasher, there is a climate of fear, armed men everywhere, UN helicopters overhead.

   In two, maybe three, of countries visits, the UN operates nearly as a state within a state. In Sudan the UN has two separate missions. UNMIS in the South dominates and distorts the local economy, seeming akin to UNMIK in Kosovo. In El Fasher in Darfur, the UN's and NGOs' presence has led to house rents of $5000, the emergence of a pizzeria and sale of balsamic vinegar.  In the Congo, MONUC has an air force and peacekeepers everywhere, except when called on to engage rebel groups like the CNDC -- then they stand down and return to their bases, with good food and even surfing, and allegedly guns for gold sales. In Abidjan, Ban Ki-moon's man Choi is installed in an old hotel on a hill, with his own radio station and no need, apparently, to answer questions about the Mission's alleged wrongdoing, even when some at Headquarters say ONUCI senior leadership have a lot to answer for.

  There is a need for more oversight, more checks and balances, less cover-up. We will continue to follow these issue.

Footnotes: In the Kigali airport, clutching a print-out an Inner City Press article which noted that France's Jean-Maurice Ripert had abruptly pulled back from the media after being accused of lying about Deby by, among others, the BBC's world correspondent, Ripert approached Inner City Press and demanded, "Why did you write this?"  How about, because it's true?

  In fact, Ambassador Ripert's problematic relationship with the truth began earlier on the trip, when he told the Wali of North Darfur that France had no role in the pardoning and release of the French staff of L'Arch de Zoe after they were found guilty of kidnapping Chadian and Sudanese children. It also continued right to the end of the trip, when in the final press conference before the Ambassador's were whisked to the Abidjan airport, Ripert grabbed the microphone to announced that "Licorne is not a French force," when the question hadn't even been asked. If put in charge of UN Peacekeeping Operations, thing would only get worse. And, we're compelled to report, one of the organizers of this Security Council trip tried to bar Inner City Press from going -- unsuccessfully as it turned out. But in Kigali, Ripert may have missed the point of that article and series, which looked more at the UN's own operations in these countries than at the quality and veracity of each Ambassador's performance.

             In Djibouti, Inner City Press asked the staff of Ould-Adballah how much the UN is paying its largely London-based Somali opposition interlocutors, but the answer was not provided in Djibouti, nor in the following nine days of the trip. (At the June 11 noon briefing, at deadline for this round-up, Inner City Press formally re-posed the question at the UN's noon briefing in New York, video here.)  In Sudan, it remains unclear if the legal advisor to UNMIS' Ashraf Qazi did, as Sudan claims, try to block the press' visit to the Omdurman museum of the attack, including on civilians, of the Justice and Equality Movement rebels. Likewise, whether UNAMID's Rodolphe Adada is using what credit he has with Khartoum to plead for extended no-bid contracts for Lockheed Martin. 

  In Chad, MINURCAT's Victor Angelo demanded off-the-record treatment for his answers to questions about JEM, about alleged French domination of the peacekeeping in Chad and the Central African Republic, including through EUFOR. On the ongoing question of the UN's closeness with Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, where Angelo served, he pointed at the retraction of one of the allegations, while saying even it it was true, it was "the Cameroonian," not him. At the end of the Chad leg, he asked Inner City Press for a review. Decidedly mixed.

  In Congo Alan Doss, while viewed as more of a post-conflict specialist than might be needed, at least had an answer, however canned, to questions of peacekeeper abuse, the trading of guns for gold. This stood in contrast the ONUCI's Choi Young-Jin, who went asked by Inner City Press about a less than two week old report of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast, of which senior ONUCI leadership was informed but did not nothing, merely referred to his earlier statement, which ONUCI sources say involved a largely dismissive buying of time to respond.  Still, Chad was the low point of the trip -- a "lost cause," as Ambassador Kumalo put it -- and its high point, at least for this reporter, was the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where people who have suffered too much war are still scrappling in the street, selling fruit and avocados and photocopies from machines run by generators, rolling enormous propane canisters of self-made wooden bikes, striving for better lives. When the UN can help that, it does well. But it does much that works against it, which should and will be covered.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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