A New View
Working for the United Nations Mission in Sudan this summer gave two Fletcher School students a unique view into an international peacekeeping operation and a new outlook on the Darfur conflict.
They are often portrayed as victims, the "internally displaced persons" or IDPs that make their home in the ramshackle camps of Darfur, Sudan. But what Fletcher School student David Lanz witnessed from inside Kalma and Otash camps last summer would change his perception.
"Now when I read the news about Darfur, I look at it with different eyes," says Lanz, a 2008 Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy (MALD) candidate and one of three Fletcher students who spent the summer as a researcher with the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).
Lanz says what he was struck by most was "the agency" of the people. According to Lanz, the IDPs should be thought of not as victims, but as a force for change in their own conflict. "It's wrong to think that we know what's best [and] what's good for them. They need to be involved."
"The advocacy that is going on in the U.S. and in Europe on Darfur is much too simplistic," Lanz continues. "We should shift our focus and start thinking about how we can help Darfur to save itself as opposed to wanting to safe Darfur from the outside."
Assessing the Camps
With a new UN-led peace process set to launch in the following months, including the IDPs in the effort is a priority. Lanz, along with fellow Fletcher student Michelle Barsa (MALD, '08), helped to lay the foundation for their participation this summer by collecting information about the political climate in six of the major IDP camps in Darfur.
As past attempts at peace in the region have failed, Barsa says engaging the IDPs, who comprise nearly one-third of the Darfurian population, will be critical to the success of this new peacemaking effort.
"There's a strong understanding that this upcoming peace process has to be more inclusive than the previous one," says Barsa, referring to a 2006 peace agreement between the Sudanese government and one of Darfur's largest rebel factions. Mediated by the African Union, the failed resolution was pushed through without involving the IDPs—a mistake the UN seeks not to repeat.
Women and children leave an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Abu Shouk, North Darfur, to gather firewood.
Stationed at UNMIS headquarters in Khartoum, the Fletcher students spent most of the summer sifting through daily, weekly and monthly UN field reports and gleaning information about everything from tribal compositions to emergent leadership structures in order to assess the situation in the camps. The data that they extrapolated into their own reports will inform the upcoming peacemaking efforts.
Barsa points out that the next attempt at peace in the region needs to take into account issues associated with displacement, land occupation, the destruction of traditional livelihood structures and the lack of investment in infrastructure development—all of which have emerged as major barriers to rebuilding Darfur.
"The reality of the crisis has shifted," Barsa says. "It's a huge humanitarian crisis—quite possibly the worst in the world—but we need to be thinking about it in real terms and what it looks right now." (continued)
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Profile written by Meghan Mandeville, Office of Web Communications
Homepage image by Amr Nabil / Associated Press. Photo of Sudanese women by Ron Haviv / Associated Press. Student photos by Alonso Nichols for Tufts University
This story originally ran on Oct. 1, 2007.