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Waging Peace: A Credible NGO? By: Abdullahi Osman El-Tom
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Aug 3, 2008 - 10:14:39 AM

 

Waging Peace: A Credible NGO?

By: Abdullahi Osman El-Tom

August 3rd, 2008: In today’s world, international humanitarian work delivered by International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) is a lucrative multi billion euro business.   Some estimates put the number of INGOs at well over 37,000. While many INGOs are true to their stated objectives and are delivering excellent services, the field is riddled with many irresponsible INGOs that should not have been established in the first place.   The reader is invited here to determine where Waging Peace falls in this regard.

On June 6th, 2008, Waging Peace – UK- delivered its most stunning Report on Darfur, or rather Chad.   The Report catapulted the organisation from a near state of oblivion into media stardom. If Waging Peace was intending to be lethal in its allegations against the Sudanese Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), it could not have done any better.   Alleging that JEM uses child soldiers, the Report conjures images of slavery, child abduction, trafficking and child recruitment in one move.   While the allegations of Waging Peace also implicate the Chadian army and the Chadian rebel groups, JEM is singled out by an added emphasis: “in particular, JEM”.

The gravity of the allegation reflects the current dispute with both JEM and surprisingly Waging Peace to file defamation court cases against each other (phone conversation with Waging Peace office in London).   But Waging Peace is neither new to controversy, nor to being sued by the people of Darfur.   In fact, the current problem is the third occasion in which this INGO finds itself in an acrimonious relationship with the very Darfur people it claims to serve.  

Lack of professionalism and the poor commitment of Waging Peace to its stated purpose was stunningly exposed by the case of a Massaleit boy from Darfur.   In 2007, Waging Peace came across a badly burned boy from Darfur in a Refugee camp in Chad.   Acting in partnership with the INGO Children of Fire (CoF), Waging Peace did the commendable job of sending the boy - known mostly by his first name Rachid - and his grandmother Khadmalla to South Africa where they run a compound of treatment and rehabilitation of juvenile victims of fire.   The project made use of assistance of both the UNHCR Office in N’Djamena and the Chadian government.   Rachid was a victim of the notorious Sudan Government supported Janjaweed who killed both of his parents and threw him in fire only to be rescued by his grandmother Khadmalla / Kadmalla.   Within less than a week of reaching South Africa, a problem arose.   Khadmalla was prevented from seeing her grandchild, mistreated and ordered to fly back to Chad leaving her grandchild behind.   But she persevered.  Even more challenging, neither the child nor his guardian spoke English.   As there was no interpreter, the child was selfishly used for a fundraising campaign.    Facts relating to mishandling of fire victims n South Africa are well documented by a Panorama Documentary made by the South African Broadcasting Corporation and subsequently the ruling of a court case that followed. Fortunately, a Sudanese citizen in South Africa stumbled on the situation of helpless Rachid and his grandmother.   What followed was a bitter dispute between an ordinary African citizen in a foreign land against the might of western INGO lawyers.     

Rachid’s case exposes the lack of credibility of Waging Peace and CoF in a quite startling way.   On arrival in South Africa, CoF discovered that they had no common language with the pair they were trying to help, a common sense requirement that escapes no decent INGO.   Subsequently, a Massaleit language interpreter was found and employed only to be dismissed later as fake.   But there is no end to the incompetence of Waging Peace and its partner.   Their report says that they later discovered that “the boy and the grandmother also understand tribal Arabic” in common with the interpreter.   Leaving the “fake” interpreter aside, it beggars belief that neither Waging Peace nor CoF knew that the Arabic language is a lingua franca across Darfur and spoken by the Massaliet and others alike.

CoF later blamed the “fake” interpreter for the collapse of communication between the charity organisations and the grandmother.   Its report reads:

After the grandmother refused to return home as previously agreed, the charity started suspecting that information was not being properly relayed to the grandmother by the interpreter”.   (CoF Report, CoF Website).  

Strangely enough, and citing   shortage of funds, the grandmother was to remain in South Africa for only one week, after which Rachid would have been left without a guardian and little language in common with his helpers.   Not surprisingly, the way Waging Peace and CoF dealt with Rachid’s case disrupted relations back in Chad, namely with the Chadian government, Darfur refugees, concerned NGOs and the UNHCR.   Blaming the “fake” interpreter for earning a bad name across the board in Chad is not good enough.   Rather, the two INGOs should contemplate how their lack of professionalism impacted on the unfortunate boy, Rachid, all along.

If Darfur communities in Chad are disappointed with these INGOs, they are not alone.   Speak to any member of the Darfur community in the UK and you will have a barrage of complaints about Waging Peace.  Three months ago, Waging Peace approached some Darfur women in London for a gathering, promising to help them with forming and registering a Darfur Women’s Community in London.   Waging Peace organised their transport to the venue and provided food, music and plenty of photo sessions.   The conclusion of some of the women who attended the meeting is revealing: “we expected help with establishing our organisation, but all what Waging Peace was interested in was our photographs” says one.   Waging Peace gave us lots of promises but had no intention to talk about our organization and that was why we went there in the first place. Instead they took photographs and disappeared.   We never heard of them again but nobody will go to see them anymore”. *

A husband of one of these women reported: “Waging Peace often joins our protests and open meetings in London but they avoid talking to leaders.   They want those at the lower level who know very little about how things work. That is why we are suspicious about them”.

But Waging Peace Executive Director, Rolland-Gosselin, has a different explanation. Exactly as they blamed their “fake” interpreter for wrecking their name in Chad, they now have a culprit in London called JEM.   As she asserted to me, Darfur women refuse to deal with Waging Peace because JEM told them (allegedly) that they are working for Sudan’s government.  

On June 6th, 2008, Waging Peace released a Report under the title: “Trafficking and Forced Recruitment of Child Soldiers on the Chad/Sudan Borders”.   While the Report implicates many parties, Waging Peace lays its emphases on JEM in particular.   In a nutshell, the Report claims that JEM is actively involved in “trafficking”, “forced recruitment” and “purchase of children for use as child soldiers”.   It further alleges that these activities have been taking place among Darfur refugee camps in Chad with the connivance of the Chadian army at the camps and despite presence of EU Troops in the same vicinity (Waging Peace Website).   This is blatant indictment of EURFOR which has so far been doing the excellent job of protecting Darfur refugees in Chad.

In its child soldier allegation work, Waging Peace left little chance for any claim to objectivity.   Taking a leaf from Khartoum’s war propaganda about JEM, the text reads:

“. .. most [refugees] no longer share rebel groups’ desire for a continued uprising, since this is not contributing to an improvement of the situation. ….. The rebel faction JEM is a staunch ally of the Chadian government, acting as a proxy force against Chadian rebel groups in return for safe harbour, material and financial support”.

In simple terms, Waging Peace started with the premise that JEM has no support necessary for procuring voluntary fighters and that it is no more than a bunch of mercenaries working for a foreign cause.

An elementary research rule is that research sampling must be fairly representative of the parties involved.   Waging Peace researchers have not observed this simple elementary rule.   The so-called “testimonial evidence”, on which their conclusion is made, is based on an “in-depth” interview of only two individuals.   As human beings are motive driven, one would have expected Waging Peace to provide some information regarding the identity and possible motives of these two informants. That, it failed to do.

Although the conclusion of their research touches the hard core of JEM in the first place, Waging Peace made no attempt in the field to contact representatives of JEM and reveal the other side of the coin.   In my phone call to the Waging Peace office, the spokesperson claimed “they did not contact JEM for fear of putting their researchers at risk”.   This is an inadequate excuse on two counts: JEM has no history of assaulting western visitors and JEM has a political office in N’Djamena as well as in many major capital cities in Europe which could have been approached.   Waging Peace however conceded that “they made a mistake in not contacting JEM representatives in London prior to going public with the Report”.   The failure of Waging Peace to interview JEM personnel and pay a visit to Darfur casts the credibility of their work in doubt and reduces its conclusion to a worthless endeavour.

Darfur refugees in Chad are estimated to number above 250,000, distributed over 13 refugee camps.   Among all of those, Waging Peace was able to locate only two informants for its alleged “testimonial evidence”.   That number is dwarfed by that of the 13 refugee camp leaders who forcefully denounced the Waging Peace Report as “insulting, inaccurate and a figment of imagination of the organisation” (Mahmoud Sulaiman, Sudanetribune, July 7th 2008). In defending itself against the 13 Darfur camp leaders, Waging Peace resorted to its usual “blame” strategy.   It denounced the refugee leaders who opposed its Report as fraudulent and in receipt of payment from JEM for the protest (Phone communication with Waging Peace Office).   Besides the failure of Waging Peace to include JEM in its investigation, its defective sampling alone is sufficient to totally discredit its thesis of child soldiers.

In its Report under discussion, Waging Peace alleges that children as young as 9-15 are bought and trafficked by JEM for use as child soldiers.   Let us leave aside the question of whether a child as young as 9 is a liability or an asset for a combat Movement.   The mere talk about ages of children is problematic for a society in which birth dates are neither recorded nor accorded any importance as is the case in the west.   Waging Peace itself and its sister INGO came to this conclusion in its Rachid fiasco discussed earlier.   In their attempt to provide Rachid with travel documents, their report reads:`

 His name is Rachid.   In theory he turns thirteen years old on January 1st 2008. That birth date is invented. But it might be right, out of all the other 364 choices they could have made. The overall age is a reasonable approximation for his gangly frame, his big feet and unbroken voice. (Bronwen Jones 2008 Children of Fire Website)”.

One may conclude from this statement that the 9-15 ages reported by Waging Peace are equally invented and are not based on any hard fact.

At the moment, Waging Peace is trying to jump on the bandwagon of Khartoum’s alleged 90 or so JEM child soldiers, supposedly captured at the invasion of Omdurman, 10th of May 2008.   An envoy from Waging Peace has been dispatched to view these unfortunate children.

The so called Omdurman child soldiers proved a lucrative business for Khartoum war propaganda.   They have been visited by so many reputed international households, including UN affiliates.   They are equally commented upon by many international spokespersons including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.   Nonetheless, the fact remains that none of the organisations or personnel who have visited these children did so for the purpose of investigating their alleged affiliation to JEM.   Rather, their visits are driven by legitimate concern about the safety and good treatment of children.   Assurance of good treatment given by Sudan government during its carefully stage-managed visits was later contradicted by a clandestine film that first appeared in Youtube but was later shown across Arab media.   The film shows shackled and handcuffed children being forced to crawl on hot sand.   Security forces appear in the film torturing these children and hurling abusive words including “slaves” and “mercenaries” ( www.youtube.com.watch?v=qy36a-wtme ). Sudan government is so outraged by the film that it has now joined the only other five countries in the whole world that have opted to block Youtune and criminalise its viewing.

For many in Sudan, the source of these children is no longer a secret.   These children did not come with the JEM invading force.   Instead, they have been simply collected from the streets of the capital where around 70,000 live.   These children are products of war, drought and mal-development and come from all over the Sudan.   They are commonly referred to as Shammasa, a term which literally means “homeless children who live under direct scorching sun heat”.   Some of the children now labelled as JEM child soldiers have also been collected from Suad Elfateh Quranic School, a philanthropic institution that houses some of these children and teaches them the Quran.  

That these children come from the whole of Sudan and not only Darfur, let alone JEM recruits, was revealed by the work of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABCC).   SABCC’s camera focussed on two of these children who were given crayons to write their names.   To the surprise of all, the two names inscribed were “Tom” and Jack”.   These unfortunate children are clearly from the Christian south of the country.   These names are never, ever, used by Darfur people who are 100% Muslim (personal communication with O. Gamal Eldin).  

In recent JEM meeting in London, Mr A. M. Hasanain, the reputable Sudanese lawyer and Deputy Leader of Sudan’s Democratic Unionist Party, confirmed that these children are hijacked in the streets of Khartoum and have little to do JEM forces.   I may add here that Mr Hasanain is also involved in defending Omdurman war prisoners, including the alleged child soldiers.

Before I conclude this paper, I must refer to Waging Peace’s flagship work “Child Drawings of Darfur”.   A few years ago, I saw a display of this project at the fringe of a UN Human Rights meeting at Geneva.   When I signalled my suspicion about the authenticity of these drawings, a friend of mine humbled me and reminded me that I am not an artist and should leave these drawings alone.   The drawings are meant to be the work of five to 18 years old children resident at the time in the Darfur refugee camps in Chad.   While some of the images in these drawings are clearly the work of children, others raise a number of questions.   The conical roofs of huts are represented by straight lined triangular shapes, reminiscent of the famous “London Underground Map”.   While those children may have had access to rulers, inclusion of exact angles raises suspicion.   The two angles forming a base of a cottage roof seem to be too exact for a child with little training in geometry.

Furthermore, symmetrical positions of objects in some of the drawings also look mystifying.   Objects are distributed with almost exact spaces between them, a skill that is hardly available for a child who is new to holding a crayon, let alone producing a semi perfect piece of art.   Poor education of these children can be abstracted from the way they inscribed their names and the syntax of their comments on some of the drawings.

Excessive use of straight lines, right angles - (90 degrees)-, rectangular and triangular shapes are hardly part of Darfur’s rural culture, a culture that is primarily oral in nature.   Structures in these cultures favour circular rather than rectangular or square shapes.   Hence, child drawings presented by Waging Peace stand at odds with Darfur culture.   It is my conclusion that these drawings must have benefited from substantial additions and/or adult supervision.   Either way, the authenticity of these drawings remains in doubt.

The appearance of military tanks in these drawings also looks enigmatic.   Children who have allegedly authored the drawings come from rural villages that have been cleared by Janjaweed aided by Sudan’s army.   Inhabitants of these villages are mostly unarmed and do not require much force to annihilate or drive away.   Indeed, the use of tanks has been a rarity in Darfur war.   Tanks are too slow while attacks on villagers take the form of rapid and surprise assaults, a process in which tanks are not suitable.   Tanks are used only to defend big cities like Alfashir, Nyala and Geneina and are not known to have been used for combat outside cities. Based on these facts, the repetitive appearance of military tanks in the collection is problematic. Refugee children in Chad would simply not have sound familiarity with military tanks to the extent that they would portray them in many of their drawings.  

Before I conclude, let me assure all INGOS and other international stakeholders that JEM is committed to all relevant international conventions. Like all other major forces, JEM makes no claim to perfection. Nonetheless, it is ready to engage all international partners and work towards those ideals.   In March 2007, JEM produced its Rules and Regulation for its army and combat activities. Drafted by the late Commander and Lawyer Jammali Hasan Jalal Eldin, the document came in 26 pages and was widely discussed in the field.   Article 2.2 of the document gives clear instructions on commitment to international codes of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Provisions, Rights of Children, Geneva Convention 1949, and the 1977 Protocol on conflicts.  

Having presented ample information on the profile of Waging Peace, I now leave the reader to produce his/her honest verdict on the credibility of Waging Peace.  Donors are equally urged to do so - and calibrate their support for Waging Peace accordingly.

Bureau for Training and Strategic Planning, JEM

Email: [email protected]

 

 



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