Security Studies Seminar

"The Darfur Crisis: Successes & Challenges in Planning an Effective African Peace Support Operation"

Col. Michael L. Smith, USA , Retired

Date: Wednesday, March 16



I was in charge of coordinating the response of the African Union to the crisis in Darfur — 19 countries. What happened over the last few years on these missions? We wanted to enhance the capacity of regional organizations to do peacekeeping. We wanted to develop a systematic approach to it.

If you want to be effective in peace support operations in Africa , you have to build a road on a certain foundation and walk that road a certain way. You need effective leadership, management, information technology, political will and appropriate mandate. Without those, the operation won't work. You have to have collaboration with the partners—coordination, communication, cooperation, and co-working. They have responsibilities in Africa . You need contingency planning. We have to share this information with partner organizations. You need to give and get technical, financial, logistical/material, and training assistance. You also need institutions. Not only do they legitimize approaches to these sorts of activities, but they act as repositories for getting these procedures and processes that enhance operational effectiveness. You need foundational documents. You need to institutionalize learning through after-action reports. Then you have to have some mechanism for actually implementing "lessons learned."


This is an overall framework, but now we need to discuss Darfur proper, and see how these things played out, or didn't. African Union : "African solutions to African problems." This is good, but the truth is the Africans still have to look to the west. There is still a bit of a "kabuki dance" about how this all works. You have to be sensitive to appearances in giving help. For example, of the many thousands of troops that have been authorized to go to Darfur , only 1900 have actually wound up there. It has taken months. The idea of "African solutions" is slowing help.

Why do we have a crisis in Darfur ? The early warning mechanisms failed. This paradigm does not work. The idea is if you can put people throughout the region with technology and equipment, you can predict a crisis through regular reports and systematic integration of information. This is a tremendous failure and a waste of money. ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) is an example. Technology failed, reports are not on time.

As of April last year, there was a ceasefire. But it is broken all the time. It is especially egregious in Darfur . Aid groups are pulling out. In Washington , there is frenetic activity on the part of legislators to figure out what to do. We had a lot of people to try to work with—Europeans, other countries, the African leaders, political-military people from State, military officers.

Our goal was to get the internally displaced persons (IDPs) back where they came from. To do this, we had to make them secure and convince them of that. We also had to plot where they were going to go back to. Many of the villages had been destroyed. We also had to figure out where the warring parties were. The Sudanese had said they wouldn't allow more than 3000 people total, even though our estimates indicated that we needed 3320. We were also trying to maximize mobility. We wanted helicopters and APCs as force multipliers. The mission was to observe and monitor the ceasefire, and to assist in humanitarian efforts.

The will is not there yet to actually kick down the door when people are screaming. The mandate is not there. There is also not the capacity in the African Union to absorb a lot of the assistance. If the African Union had been a partner, a lot of the logistics and equipment they needed were just waiting in the queue. There was surprising enthusiasm for this, given that it's not a high-paying mission like a UN one. The AU was going to pay for the personnel costs, but through support from donors.

Rapporteur: Caitlin Talmadge

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