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Cablegate: Balancing Act - Unamid Public Affairs Walks Tightrope

VZCZCXRO4468
PP RUEHGI RUEHMA RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #0518/01 0970849
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 060849Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0442
INFO RUCNFUR/DARFUR COLLECTIVE
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0142

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KHARTOUM 000518

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF/SPG, AF S/E WILLIAMSON
DEPT PLS PASS USAID FOR AFR, AND ALSO PASS USAID

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM SU KPKO UNSC
SUBJECT: BALANCING ACT - UNAMID PUBLIC AFFAIRS WALKS TIGHTROPE
BETWEEN GOS AND INTERNAL BATTLES

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On April 2, Shereen Zorba and Ali Hamati, of
UNAMID's Public Information Office in El Fasher, told emboffs that
they feel both external pressure from the Government of Sudan (GoS)
and a degree of internal marginalization within UNAMID itself. Most
notably, Zorba reported that strategic communications were excluded
from the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) concluded in February
between the GoS and UNAMID, an omission that is causing significant
problems for their department. Externally, Zorba and Ali also
stated that GoS's censorship, harassment, and bureaucracy slow their
public affairs and outreach work. Internally, Zorba and Ali stated
that they struggle with limited resource allocated from UNAMID (with
only eight staff, technological limitations, and delays in the
assignment of a permanent director.) END SUMMARY.

FEELING THE GOS'S HEAT
- - - - - - - - - - - -
2. (SBU) Zorba and Hamati stated that UNAMID public affairs is not
included in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the
Government of Sudan (GoS) and the United Nations-African Union
Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) signed on February 9, 2008. Zorba
explained that at the time of SOFA negotiation, inclusion of public
information took a back seat to other, more pressing issues (which
at the time included night flights and access). They stated that
because of this exclusion, government harassment and state control
of the press, they have had to do much of their work below the radar
of the government.

3. (SBU) They noted that it is particularly difficult to "tell
UNAMID's story," as the Government tightly controls the main media
in Sudan. Zorba stated that it is even more difficult for Sudanese
journalists to gain access to Darfur than international journalists.
Hamati said that during his two years in Sudan, he has learned how
to "play the government's game" when requesting travel permits for
journalists, putting for example, "researcher" on many forms (as
opposed to "reporter"), as this simple substitution speeds the
process and saves him a significant amount of work and time. Even
after gaining access to remote areas of Darfur, Hamati emphasized
that the government censors remove "almost every story coming out
about UNAMID in the local press."

4. (SBU) Despite the GoS censorship and harassment, neither Hamati
nor Zorba stated that they feel any sense of competition with the
GoS-controlled media or the rebel movements. Zorba stated in fact
that "the rebels take pressure off of us and do a lot of work for
us." Both admitted that non-signatory rebel movements are media
masters, whose information is often not to be trusted.

UNAMID INTERNAL BATTLES
- - - - - - - - - - - -
5. (SBU) Zorba stated that UNAMID public affairs currently has two
international employees and six Sudanese staff. Hamati is the
acting director, having served on and off in the position for the
past several months. Hamati stated that while he supports his local
staff, several of them confuse their work in public affairs with
other areas of the UN mission, including political affairs and
military intelligence. Zorba stated that she would like public
affairs to embark upon a comprehensive research and feedback
program, but she does not have the staff, time, or money to set up
focus groups and conduct pre- and post-program surveys.

6. (SBU) Zorba stated that most of UNAMID's leadership understands
the importance of public affairs, even though that department was
initially excluded from a two-day internal UNAMID brainstorming
session on Darfur Peace Agreement and Related Issues held on March
31 and April 1 [NOTE: Zorba publicly criticized senior UNAMID
leadership for this oversight during one of the final sessions on
April 1. END NOTE].

7. (SBU) Zorba stated that much work needs to be done to avoid
public affairs "blunders," such as AMIS' handling of the Haskanita
attack on September 30, 2007, when rebels attacked the Haskanita
base killing approximately ten AMIS soldiers. She stated that AMIS
did not have a mobile media unit, which would have allowed her and
her team to get directly to the site and report from the field. She
said by the time AMIS was able to put together its side of the
story, the media had already run with it, framing it as an example
of the incompetence of African Union troops. Zorba stated that
other resources, such as radio transmitters, radios for
distribution, and other equipment are needed to aid the public
affairs dimension of her work.

POSITIVES
- - - - -
8. (SBU) Despite both the internal and external challenges facing
UNAMID Public Information, both Zorba and Hamati were optimistic
about the coming months. Zorba stated that one recent success was a
public affairs training for many civilian police (civpol). She

KHARTOUM 00000518 002 OF 002


emphasized that public affairs staff "cannot be everywhere" and that
civpol have more contact with the local population than any other
UNAMID office, often prompting Public Information officers to
accompany civpol on patrols. "There are opportunities for UNAMID to
tell its story. Despite language and cultural barriers, the troops
are doing good things and we need to highlight that," stated Zorba.


9. (SBU) On April 15, UNAMID will hold a public event on "UNAMID's
First 100 Days," highlighting UNAMID successes during this period.
Public Information would like to hold this event in the Peace
Secretariat and has expressed interest in taking over the facility

SIPDIS
from the USG. [NOTE: The Joint Special Representative's Office, the
Joint Mediation Support Team and the DDDC have also indicated their
desire to assume control of the Peace Secretariat; we expect a
formal request from the JSR's office imminently. END NOTE]. Hamati
emphasized that UNAMID continues to work on a radio program for
UNAMID, while UNMIS's "Radio Miraya" continues its work throughout
some locations in Darfur. [NOTE: Although Radio Miraya has a fully
functional website with streaming audio, its broadcasts that are
advertised on the website did not appear to be functional in
El-Fasher on FM101 during March and April 2008. END NOTE].

COMMENT
-------
10. (SBU) Despite significant challenges, UNAMID Public Information
Officer Zorba appeared enthusiastic, informed, and undaunted by the
enormity of UNAMID's public affairs work. Like other elements of
the mission, the UN's own bureaucratic dysfunction and difficulties
integrating the remnants of the AU are two likely reasons for
UNAMID's shortage in staffing. Although help may be on the way when
Albany Associates (a UK-based contractor for communications and
public diplomacy strategies) provides six more international and
highly qualified staff to UNAMID, as of April 5, a MoU between
Albany Associates and UNAMID still has not been signed. GoS
harassment and UNAMID's failure to allot sufficient resources,
freedom, and leverage to public affairs are causes for concern. The
fact that UNAMID Public Affairs was not explicitly mentioned in the
SOFA (although there is a reference to UNAMID radio in the SOFA)
should not deter UNAMID's Public Information section from going
about their business. Embassy Khartoum's own experience with the
Sudanese press is that there is more actual openness and opportunity
than UNAMID describes - if the USG in Sudan can successfully
communicate its message, why can't UNAMID?

FERNANDEZ

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