from Africa in Transition

United Nations: Harsh Realities and Hard Lessons

April 25, 2014

Blog Post

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa



Wars and Conflict

Civil Society

This is a guest post by Alex Dick-Godfrey, program coordinator, Studies administration for the Council on Foreign Relations Studies Program.

International peacekeeping missions in Sudan and South Sudan received a lot of bad press last week from a number of different sources. Together these reports challenge a basic tenant of United States (U.S.) policy toward Africa–that peacekeeping missions, in their current form, work.

On, a three-part investigative report by Colum Lynch outlines the failure of the African Union/United Nations (UN) hybrid operation (UNAMID) in Darfur, Sudan. The series explores how the Sudanese government has continued to actively hamper peacekeepers, how the United States ignored the mission after moving it through the UN Security Council, and even how the UN sabotaged its own efforts to stem the violence. The central argument of the report is that, despite initial enthusiasm, the UN and its partners categorically failed to protect civilians in Darfur.

Second, Medicines Sans Frontieres sharply criticized the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), calling it “shameful” that the mission hasn’t improved the “squalid” conditions at the Juba base and camp. As the rainy season begins, conditions at the camp are likely only to deteriorate. UNMISS, instead of improving the camp, is trying to move the residents to another camp, which has yet to happen.

Third, “South Sudan: A Civil War by Any Other Name,” released by the International Crisis Group (ICG), discusses how the UNMISS is outgunned and outmanned. Currently UNMISS is protecting seventy thousand internally displaced persons at its bases. This is a mission that is not explicitly in its mandate and for which it is ill-equipped. The ICG report recommends that the mandate, which currently aims to “consolidate peace and security” and “establish conditions for development,” be amended to emphasize the protection of civilians and that it support the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development’s mediation process and forthcoming stabilization force. However progress on the mediation, and the promised stabilization force, has been slow.

The UN missions in Sudan and South Sudan share at least two characteristics: strong initial political support to “do something;” and waning or non-existent material and political support from international organizations and countries as attention turns elsewhere. This pattern is all too familiar. The UN recently approved another African peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (CAR). It should remember the lesson from Sudan and South Sudan.

That lesson? More is required to bring about real change in these crises then simply passing a security resolution and sending peacekeepers. Inconsistent, poorly funded, knee-jerk reactions by the UN to these crises will likely only further complicate the political landscape. Ineffective missions also unfortunately smack of international partners trying to ease guilty consciences.

To move effectively toward peaceful resolutions, each mission should first identify achievable goals and a clear strategy. Once those exist, send the peacekeepers. Try to establish a tenable security situation. But then sustain the mission with the equipment, training, and weaponry needed to fulfill the mandate. Without that follow-through, UN missions in countries and regions like Darfur, South Sudan, and CAR are likely to fail.