WFP chief freelance peace-making divides agency managers

WFP Executive Director David Beasley with rebel leader Hilu in October 2019. Photo: Sudan Tribune

 ROME -- World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley's increasing involvement in peace initiatives in Africa and central Asia has divided senior executives at the UN agency with some claiming that the former South Carolina governor may jeopardise the safety of WFP staff if he is seen to take sides in conflicts.

 Mr Beasley, who collected a Nobel Peace Prize for the agency this year, has visited a dozen countries since June including trips to Taliban-controlled Kabul and Sudan to try and kickstart the flow of humanitarian relief to Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa.

 While his trips to Sudan and Afghanistan received considerable media coverage, one senior WFP executive commented that "it seems he forgot he’s running a food agency, or he’s extended its mandate to making peace through food."

 "He is now calling us 'peacemakers.' Admirable, but who gave him that role? Has the NPP gone to his head?" asked the executive, who spoke to the Insider on condition he not be named.

 "He seems to insert himself into various peace talks, himself flying to various places and flying various people to various places with WFP assets."

 "That is all very nice if it works out but it is often so much more complicated. And if you do get involved and one side sees you as leaning more to the other, what does that do to the safety of your people on the ground while you fly away at 30,000 feet?"

 "There is a very good reason why humanitarian work has to be seen as much as possible divorced from politics."

 At the end of October the UN Special Represenative in Khartoum, Volker Perthes, rebuffed Mr Beasley by asking him to drop an ambitious but unsanctioned plan to bring together Sudan's military leader and the prime minister he had deposed a few days before. “The World Food Program’s freelance attempt to engineer a negotiated settlement in Sudan have been broadly seen as ham-fisted and damaging by the diplomatic and U.N. community,” Jonas Horner, the senior Sudan analyst for the International Crisis Group, was quoted by Foreign Policy magazine saying.

 Diplomats have expressed concern that one of  Mr Beasley’s top aides, Gavin Gramstad, has played a role as unofficial advisor to  Abdelaziz al-Hilu, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, Foreign Policy reported. Gramstad is a former Republican congressional aide who once ran a refugee camp for Sudanese refugees from the Nuba Mountains on behalf of Christian relief agency Samaritan’s Purse.

 However another WFP senior manager said Mr Beasley’s efforts had been welcomed in Khartoum and Kabul.

 “It is normal for WFP to work with all parties to ensure access to those in need and try to save lives,” she said, cautioning that critics may seek to lambast Mr Beasley since he shortly is due to be renewed for a second term at the helm of the world's largest humanitarian agency.