The world plans to withdraw peacekeepers from Darfur by the end of this year. Without an alternative in place, this premature departure is a disaster in the making for the millions of Darfuris it will leave behind. While the West weighs the best ways to protect civilians going forward, I and millions of Darfuris were shocked when the so-called “people’s prime minister,” Abdalla Hamdok, did not speak up to keep peacekeeping forces in the country.
Last October, Hamdok secured a yearlong extension for the hybrid United Nations and African Union mission by pointing to legitimate security concerns that continue in Darfur. Those dangers haven’t gone away.
Regrettably, now Hamdok has shamelessly recorded a video to justify why he believes Sudan no longer needs foreign protection forces on its soil. In doing so, Prime Minister Hamdok betrayed the very people he vowed he came into power to protect.
For Hamdok, in the comfort of Khartoum, the capital, it may be tempting to rhetorically be seen as a strong, sovereign leader who does not accept international forces in his territory. This approach, however, will sacrifice Darfuri lives for his personal and political pride.
While Darfuris are the first to acknowledge that the performance of the joint peacekeeping mission, called Unamid, has not been adequate, we know that in many instances its presence has preserved our people’s lives. Darfuri women rely on UN peacekeepers to accompany them and deter attacks when they gather firewood. Women are not the only ones who are at risk in a region where the social fabric was rendered by a genocide. Peacekeepers are still needed to escort aid workers on dangerous roads to help secure their deliveries. The escorts guarantee that vaccines are delivered and that food gets to the people who need it most — otherwise, many more lives would have been lost.
Even though waves of popular protests, led by brave young women, brought down the brutal dictator and architect of Darfur’s genocide — Omar al-Bashir — none of those responsible for the horrific crimes against humanity committed in Darfur have been prosecuted. The victims have never received justice. Most worryingly, millions of people who have been displaced still cannot leave the camps where they are sheltering because there is no sign of safety in their old villages.
I fled Darfur at the height of the genocide, in 2005, and it breaks my heart to accept that the world will turn away when there are so many displaced people remaining in the very places where I left them. UN peacekeepers from Pakistan are still stationed in my hometown, Kabkabiya, working with the community, distributing goats to women, educating people about Covid-19 and patrolling humanitarian compounds from looters. Once they leave, who will take on these tasks?
For a genuine end to the crises in Sudan, the UN Security Council’s members, who meet this week to debate the future of Unamid, must not shy away from keeping the mission operating, despite pressure by China and Russia. Completely withdrawing armed peacekeepers from Sudan before the interim period can show it has been successful could be catastrophic. Sending a small political mission in its stead will not only fail victims in Darfur but jeopardize the safety of the UN civilian personnel working there.
My people know that the perpetrators of the genocide remain at large. In fact, they are in power. The Janjaweed militia and the Rapid Support Forces, government paramilitaries, have even been promoted to power in Khartoum. Instead of just having control over Darfur, these armed men have control over all of Sudan. Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who was the right hand of Bashir, and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, who has traded in his military fatigues for business suits, have become our leaders too. Hemedti cannot build trust with the communities he victimized by changing his clothes. The change we yearn for is a change of heart and behavior and an end to attacks by his Rapid Support Forces.
I cannot read his mind, but Prime Minister Hamdok seems to be beholden to the demands of the men with whom he shares power. I believe in the resilience and strength of Darfuris who endured nearly two decades in makeshift camps. Nonetheless, under international law, it is unacceptable for the Security Council to escape its own responsibility and leave Darfuris to fend for themselves.
I was cautiously optimistic last year when the interim government took power, placing my hope on Hamdok. I know that it is not an easy task to run a country devastated by crises and corruption. The attempts on his life underscore the danger of Sudan. Darfuris make up almost a third of the country’s population. As prime minister, he and his team must speak for everyone in Sudan, not just a small group of generals with stars on their shoulders and enough soldiers to intimidate.
Sudan does not live in isolation but is instead a part of the international community. True strength would come from recognizing that our country still needs support from the West, starting with the Security Council.
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Niemat Ahmadi is a genocide survivor and the founder and president of Darfur Women’s Action Group, based in Washington, D.C.