African peacekeeping

Posted in Africa | 05-Jul-04

African Union (AU) chairman Alberto Chissano (L) chats with United Nations (UN) Secretary General Kofi Annan in Addis Ababa.
African Union (AU) chairman Alberto Chissano (L) chats with United Nations (UN) Secretary General Kofi Annan in Addis Ababa.
Revival or relapse?

The acute divisions in early 2003 over Iraq among the five permanent members of UN Security Council were accompanied by dire predictions about the growing marginalisation of the UN in international security affairs. It was thought that tensions between the US and France would complicate efforts to reach a common position on conflicts elsewhere in the world. Given that about 70% of the Security Council’s agenda in the 1990s was taken up by conflicts in Africa, the implications were deemed particularly serious for that continent.

Yet, it only took a few weeks following the end of ‘major combat operations’ in Iraq before the fear of such paralysis proved unfounded. Almost as if in defiance of the charges of irrelevance, the Security Council has authorised a spate of new operations in Africa, bringing the total of number of troops there now to well over 50,000. A further large-scale mission to Sudan, involving as many as 7,000 troops, is now in an advanced state of preparation and likely to be deployed later this year. Nor can any of these new missions be described as ‘traditional‘ peacekeeping operations of the kind deployed in September 2000 to monitor the cessation of hostilities between Eritrea and Ethiopia: they are all ‘complex peacekeeping missions‘, featuring a special emphasis on the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants.

Several of the mission are now precariously poised and the recent flare-up of violence in Côte d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is deeply worrying. It is against this backdrop that the need to strengthen the capacity of nations (especially African states), to undertake peacekeeping operations is being asserted as an ‘urgent priority‘ – most recently by the G8 in its ‘Action Plan for Expanding Global Capability for Peace Support Operations’.

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The new missions

In the last year, the UN has deployed six peacekeeping missions, five of which have been to Africa. In an acceleration of UN activity under Chapter VII, an aggregate peacekeeping force in excess of 40,000 has been authorised for sub-Saharan Africa. The missions – deployed to the DRC, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Burundi and Bunia in the eastern DRC – have involved politically sensitive tasks, including DDR, security sector reform, reform of the judiciary and correction systems, the protection of vulnerable groups, as well as the stabilisation of security conditions in zones of intensified conflict.

The Security Council’s management of the multi-layered and regional crisis in the DRC has involved the deployment of an Interim Emergency Multinational Force (IMEF) to stabilise the conflict-zone in Bunia. The IMEF has worked in tandem with the wider United Nations Organisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC). Following the promulgation of the DRC’s Transitional Constitution, MONUC was expanded through Resolution 1493 of 28 October 2003 to an authorised maximum strength of more than 10,000 military personnel. The mandate is to re-establish a DRC state, reform its security forces, prepare for elections, as well as contribute to security in Kinshasa. MONUC is also authorised to assist in the launch of a DDR programme for existing armed forces of the DRC.

Similarly, the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has been broad and ambitious, with Resolution 1509 authorising deployment, now largely completed, of 15,000 military personnel and up to 1,115 civilian police officers. Passed on 19 September 2003, this resolution transferred authority from the ECOWAS-led ECOMIL to UNMIL, which has since been responsible for overseeing implementation of the Liberian Ceasefire Agreement, developing cantonment sites, and launching DDR and security sector reform programmes.

The UN has been quick to feel the strain on its resources. In particular, it has throughout the last two years struggled to find sufficient French-speaking peacekeepers (many of whom have been absorbed by the 8,000-strong mission to Haiti). It has sought to improve coordination between different peacekeeping missions within one region, not only to improve efficiency and cut costs, but also in recognition of the fact that even internal armed conflicts often comprise a regional element and therefore require a regional solution. Thus, when Resolution 1528 replaced the small UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (MINUCI) with the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), it stressed the need for UNICI and UNMIL to coordinate on DDR, refugees, repatriation, border control, logistics and administrative support. As UNOCI required the deployment of an additional 6,240 UN peacekeepers, such synergy will be vital.

Similar challenges of coordination are involved in Burundi, where Resolution 1545 of May 2004 established a maximum force of 5,650 military personnel. The mandate is ambitious: the UN Mission to Burundi (ONUB) is to support the Arusha ceasefire agreement, re-establish confidence between the existing armed forces, launch DDR and security sector reform programmes, assist in monitoring Burundi’s borders and help establish an equitable judiciary. The Security Council again stressed the importance of regional peacekeeping cooperation, specifying that the Burundi DDR programme work with MONUC in the DRC and that both missions cooperate in stemming cross-border illegal flows of weapons.

Some 50,000 people were heading south from Bunia to Beni, an administrative town just south of the Ituri district. The…
Some 50,000 people were heading south from Bunia to Beni, an administrative town just south of the Ituri district. The World Food Programme (WFP) was reporting that some 12,000 refugees had now crossed into Uganda. Shown are civilians fleeing the on-going violence.
More nimble…

The ‘Report of the Panel on UN Peace Operations’ (the Brahimi Report) presented in August 2000 made a series of detailed recommendations designed to strengthen the capacity of the UN to mount and sustain operations. A surprisingly large number of these recommendations have been implemented, and some of the new missions in Africa have clearly benefited. A long-standing concern, for example, has been the issue of rapid deployment to the field; a critical issue given the often limited window of opportunity that exists following the signing of a ceasefire. To address this, the Brahimi Report proposed measures to ensure complete deployment of a complex peacekeeping operation within 90 days of authorisation by the Council. The timeline for ‘traditional peacekeeping operations‘ was set at 30 days. To achieve this, the UN Logistics Base (UNLB) in Brindisi, Italy, has been equipped with ‘start-up kits’ for new missions. Arrangements have also been made for headquarters staff to be deployed more rapidly. Just as important, implementation of other Brahimi recommendations has eased the movement of money within the UN system – traditionally a major problem resulting from antiquated procurement regulations and ingrained resistance on the part of member states to relinquish financial authority. Greater flexibility in personnel recruitment and management, another long-standing weakness in UN field operations, has also been achieved.

Evidence of progress can be seen in the deployment of UNMIL to Liberia, an operation that got underway on 1 October 2003 and was declared operationally effective by late March 2004. While this was still a few weeks behind schedule and did not meet the 90-day timeline, it was a marked improved on earlier missions. It was made possible by using mechanisms introduced since the Brahimi Report, specifically by drawing on strategic deployment stocks and making use of a rapid deployment team roster. The deployment also benefited from a so-called ‘pre-mandate commitment authority‘ (PMCA) – that is, from the ability to access funds for preparatory activities in advance of a mandate being finally agreed.

… but overstretched?

All of this suggests that the UN, in this case the DPKO, is capable of reform and innovation. However, the spate of new peacekeeping missions in Africa does raise two more critical problems. Firstly, the sheer increase in operational tempo over the past year is such that even with the changes introduced since 2000 – including a significant strengthening of the DPKO in New York – the Secretariat is now badly overstretched, while strategic deployment stocks have been depleted. Secondly, although some two-thirds of Brahimi’s recommendations may have been acted upon, arguably the most important ones, namely those relating to strategy, doctrine and mandates, seem to have been forgotten by Council members eager to set up new missions. Brahimi maintained that ‘once deployed, UN peacekeepers must be able to carry out their mandates professionally and successfully and be capable of defending themselves, other mission components and the mission’s mandate‘. As for mandates, the report stressed that they must be ‘clear, credible and achievable‘. While the establishment of a new field mission necessarily involves both calculations and acceptance of risk, it is questionable whether, say, the current UN mission to Côte d’Ivoire meets any of Brahimi’s cautionary principles.

The G8 initiative

When things go wrong on peacekeeping missions in Africa, Western media reporting usually draws attention to the inadequacies and weaknesses of the armed forces deployed. Increasingly, these forces are drawn from the developing world, as ‘western‘ armies are engaged elsewhere, notably in Iraq and the Balkans, or prefer to conduct operations with each other rather than alongside African or other non-Western forces. While it is true that these forces are frequently ill-equipped and sometimes poorly trained, the claim that African armies are not up to the task of complex peacekeeping is much too crude. African troops in particular have often distinguished themselves (as in the case of the Ghanaian contingent in Rwanda in 1994, once Belgian and other troops had beaten a hasty retreat). In addition, troops from developing countries have usually encountered difficulties in the field for understandable operational reasons, not necessarily out of incompetence and, even less, out of any unwillingness to risk casualties and engage in ‘robust‘ military activities. These operational reasons include, above all, the lack of force protection, tactical mobility and a capacity for effective war fighting. These kinds of capabilities have sometimes been offered by Western troops but then only outside the formal UN framework, as the British did in Sierra Leone and, more recently, the French in Côte D’Ivoire. It is also worth noting that following the French-led EU Operation Artemis in Congo, the European powers did not leave behind, as many had called for, a rapid-reaction force or ‘over-the-horizon-force’ that could have been used if MONUC got into trouble. Similarly, the US decided not to keep Marines off-shore after the deployment of UNMIL to Liberia, even though such a force might have proved useful had UNMIL run into difficulties on the ground.

Sudanese people at the Abu Shouk camp in Darfur.
Sudanese people at the Abu Shouk camp in Darfur.
These considerations are relevant to ongoing discussions about how best to strengthen African peacekeeping capacities, a central theme at the G8 summit in early June 2004. The commitment to assist in strengthening those capacities should be welcomed, even though the record of declaratory G8 summit statements is not encouraging. With talk of a large impending peacekeeping mission to Sudan, the strains on the UNDPKO will increase. The G8 Action Plan makes particular reference to the Brahimi report and hints at some solutions, particularly in relation to African capacities and resources.

With the Action Plan, the G8 commits itself to the training of 75,000 troops by 2010, with a particular focus on African nations and sub-regional and regional organisations, principally the African Union. More than a matter of numbers, however, the G8 also suggested that much could be achieved by focusing on ‘carabinieri- or gendarme-type’ forces that could bridge the divide between military and police duties. To this end, the G8 pledged an increased contribution to training centres for such forces in Africa and Europe.

The G8 also suggested that the peacekeeping capability of African nations could be improved by coordinating existing train-and-equip programmes. In particular, the G8 identified the need to establish a ‘transportation and logistics support arrangement‘, as a main setback in the training of peacekeepers has been the limited possibility of actual deployment once trained. Moreover, the G8 Action Plan highlights the need for interoperability between different peacekeeping forces and aims to establish a shared doctrine and operational code of conduct, particularly in relation to politically-sensitive activities.
In addition to these objectives, G8 and other Western states will probably also have to reconsider their willingness – in decline in recent years – to put boots on the ground in an effort to complement on-going African peacekeeping efforts. But there was, perhaps understandably given continuing troubles in Iraq, little discussion of this at the summit.

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