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African Peacekeeper Puzzles

Prepared by: Stephanie Hanson
August 29, 2007

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Their jeeps lack (McClatchy) two-way radios, they’ve been forced to borrow soap and food (WashPost) from humanitarian agencies, and some of them haven’t been paid in months. Yet the seven-thousand beleaguered troops currently stationed in Darfur as part of the African Union (AU) peacekeeping force are expected to form the backbone of the new joint AU/UN peacekeeping force for Darfur authorized by the UN Security Council in July. The UN resolution authorized a force of roughly twenty-six thousand military personnel and police, but it also specified the force should be primarily African. The AU’s chairman, Alpha Oumar Konare, declared that due to sufficient troop pledges (AP) there will be no need “to resort to non-African forces.”

But many of Africa’s militaries are already stretched “to their limit” (CSMonitor). The challenges encountered by the current AU peacekeepers illustrate “it may not be possible to source from Africa the full range of skills, expertise, and experience required for either the military or the civilian contingent of the hybrid force,” writes watchdog group Human Rights Watch. Many African countries do not have (Reuters) the capacity to equip their troops to the level required by the UN peacekeeping department. Army engineers, intelligence-gatherers, and transport helicopters are necessary to make the Darfur force effective. These capabilities are not just lacking among African Union peacekeepers, reports the Economist, they are also in short supply worldwide.

UN peacekeeping is also stretched thin, with more than one hundred thousand personnel deployed worldwide. About 75 percent (Prospect) of those peacekeepers are located in Africa. The UN Security Council on August 27 approved (AP) sending UN and EU peacekeepers to Chad and the Central African Republic, which suffer from the fallout of the Darfur conflict.

The African Union is only five years old, raising questions about its ability to jointly run an operation that Jane Holl Lute, assistant secretary-general of UN peacekeeping operations, calls “unprecedented” in its logistical and administrative challenges. Yet as this Backgrounder discusses, the African Union has had some peacekeeping successes, such as the AU intervention in Burundi which helped maintain security during cease-fire negotiations in 2003. The United States has provided peacekeeping training to some ninety-two thousand African troops, though some are not part of AU forces. And there is certainly enthusiasm among some African countries for contributing to peacekeeping duties. “If Africans have a problem, Africans must solve it,” Maj. Felix Kulayigye, a Ugandan Army spokesman, tells the Christian Science Monitor.

This sentiment, however, does not seem to be echoed across the continent. In Somalia, where a weak transitional government faces an Islamist-led insurgency, promises of some eight thousand AU peacekeepers in January have resulted in the deployment of just sixteen hundred Ugandans. Nigeria, Ghana, and Burundi pledged troops, but boots have not materialized (Reuters) on the ground. Many analysts cite the complicated political landscape in Somalia, but some say African countries are loath to contribute troops because the AU mission in Somalia is not funded adequately. “When your house is on fire, the neighbors come with the buckets of water. But the neighbors are not the fire engine. The fire engine is the United Nations,” (AP) says South Africa’s UN ambassador.

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