Deadly Allure Of African Peacekeeping
It is certainly legitimate to ask why expensive and sophisticated weaponry and other materiel can be mobilized by the international community for peacekeeping in the continent when at the same time investments in education, health care, agriculture, institutions of the rule of law and democracy are not being committed in a manner commensurate with the requirements of the era of information technology
[Issues Of Principle]
In the past several years, the international community has gained a reputation of using military peacekeeping troops more or less as a formula for, and predicable response to, internal conflicts in Africa.
The presence of peace-keeping troops has often been complemented by international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) that provide various forms of assistance such as food and medical services to suffering Africans.
In conventional thinking, both have generally been regarded as acts of altruism and charity, for which they have been rightly applauded and supported. The heroic work of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), for example, must be regarded as arguably a most practical identity with and demonstration of solidarity with vulnerable Africans, which international community should replicate as a model for other INGOs.
But as the continent now boasts the largest contingents of peacekeeping troops of any region of the world, and as their presence is becoming a feature of African political landscape, conventional thinking should give way to critical reflection about the long-term impact of peace-keeping and even of the activities of INGOs on African societies and on the development of values in the continent.
To provoke critical reflection, we need to ask some searching questions, among which are the following: It is not rather curious that while the international community is able to mobilize enormous resources for military peace-keeping, it has been rather anemic in harnessing efforts on a similar scale for peace-building?
What is the equation between those who are victims and beneficiaries of conflicts and those who profit from military peace-keeping? Where do African combatants, who can barely provide good nutrition or educational materials or medical care for their families, for example, get their weapons from and at what price? And what is the long-term cost and impact of peace-keeping on societies in Africa?
When we critically reflect on these questions, it becomes apparent that although in the short run military peace-keeping might provide respite to Africans caught up in the flames of civil conflicts, in the long run it might prove a Trojan horse to the future of the continent.
Before attempts are made to outline some of long-terms implications of military peacekeeping, it is necessary to provide some basic background and contextual facts related to peace-keeping in the continent.
Available data shows that in the past three decades or so one-fifths of the people in Africa lived in countries convulsed by violent armed conflict. Interestingly, the evidence indicates that whereas prevalence of civil wars increased in Africa during the period, it fell or remained stagnant in other regions of the world.
The various civil conflicts claimed the lives of millions of innocent civilians and destroyed the livelihoods of tens of millions more across entire sub-regions and created forbidding conditions for sustainable development. Another result of civil conflicts in Africa has been the production on a massive scale of internally displaced people and refugees, to the extent that even though Africa’s share of global population is about twelve percent (12%), it boasts about fifty percent (50%) of the world’s refugee population.
It has generally been in response to the conflicts and humanitarian crises that military peacekeeping forces have been sent to Africa. The details about international peace-keeping in Africa show that troops have been to every region of the continent. Currently, there are substantial peace-keeping troops in the following countries: Chad (from 2008), the Democratic Republic of Congo (from 1999), Ethiopia and Eritrea (from 2000), Ivory Coast (from 1999), Liberia (from 2003), Somalia (from 2007), Darfur region of Sudan (from 2003), Southern Sudan (from 2005), and Western Sahara (from 1991).
A review of the history of modern military peacekeeping as it relates to Africa shows that it is not simply a current phenomenon. In fact, military peacekeeping since the founding of the United Nations in 1945 emerged as an ad hoc and episodic technique to respond to international conflicts in Africa, which the founders of the United Nations could not have foreseen.
It was following the invasion of the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt by Anglo-French forces on 5 November, 1956 that the UN General Assembly authorized a UN Emergency Force (UNEF 1) as a face-saving means for the two countries, viz. Britain and France. Having brazenly violated international law, which they had always professed to promote, the two countries found themselves in otherwise untenable political quagmire. It was in order to minimize exposure of hypocrisy that military peacekeeping was introduced to contain the conflicts while political tempers cooled down.
The use of international peace-keeping during the Suez Canal Crisis was intended not for internal conflicts but rather to deal with situations whereby military forces would be used in cooperative, non-forceful and voluntary arrangements to contain conflicts between States.
The first time international peacekeeping forces were deployed in a major way in internal conflicts was again in the Congo, which at the time was caught up in the machinations of Super Powers’ Cold War politics and geo-strategic antagonisms.
It was following the hasty formal independence of the Congo from Belgian colonial rule on 30 June 1960, and the subsequent manipulation of the differences between individual politicians and ethnic groups by the outgoing Belgian authorities, which led to violent conflict for ethnic domination of the country’s politics, that the Security Council authorized the establishment of Operation des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC).
Tragically, although the peacekeeping forces did prevent unmitigated anarchy, the operations of ONUC did not inspire confidence in the military peacekeeping, as it was helpless in preventing the assassination of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in cold blood. In fact, reports at the time indicate that ONUC troops were occasionally involved in killing people, thus becoming part of the problem. Significantly too, some of the international forces facilitated the coming to power of the military strong-man and dictator, Colonel Joseph Mobutu.
It was therefore in these tragic circumstances that military peace-keeping was introduced in Africa. Since then, and in particular after 1970s, the upsurge of military keep-peacekeeping in Africa has been brought about principally by the dramatic increase in civil and ethnic conflicts.
With the dramatic increase of military peacekeeping what has been and will be the impact on African societies and on the development of values among people? It is now apparent that in the short run military peace-keeping has served as a placebo necessary to create space of respite and simply dealt with the symptoms of civil conflicts.
Although the balance sheet about the impact of military peacekeeping cannot be foretold conclusively, there are already clear indications of its likely effects on development of new values that might prove counter-productive to the welfare of Africans. In Africa where the breakdown of peace and upsurge in civil conflicts have always been brought about by people who are keen to use violent rather than peaceful legal means to get power and to settle differences, engagement of military peacekeeping tends to reinforce and even legitimate the notion that demonstration of force is necessary for ensuring peace.
Over time, people who experience the power of the military, whether in peacekeeping or in government, become wedded the admiration if not worship of military means as the way to gaining and maintaining power, of survival, of transgression without consequences, and of acquiring social status in society.
There are, indeed, examples from Africa that military peacekeeping has nurtured a culture of violence, or at least worship of military personnel. Brigadier General John Musonda, Chief of the African Union Mission (AMIS) Peacekeeping Force, which was established in 2003 to maintain a semblance of peace in the inferno of Durfar, captured quite well what seems a tragic paradox, when in an interview in The Sunday Independent newspaper of South Africa, September 30, 2007, he made the following observation:
“What all these children now all have in their heads are military thoughts. All those children, they want to become like me.” The observation by General Musonda suggests that military peacekeeping has managed to generate new symbolic and psychological meanings among the wretched of the earth in internally displaced camps.
On closer scrutiny, General Musonda’s observation really boils to this: those children in refugee camps where military peace-keeping missions operate have come to admire the military, as worthy of emulation. A similar logic has been at work in Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, etc., where war lords and military personnel have more influence and power than groups such as doctors, teachers, and farmers who are engaged more in productive activities than destruction.
The development of a culture of violence or the worship of military means in socio-political transactions, if not checked sooner than later, will exacerbate the downwards spiral of the continent.
And then there are the INGOs that oftentimes complement the activities of military peacekeeping missions. So far as INGOs are concerned, it is now apparent that they often provide services that normal governments are expected to provide to their citizens. This has reduced the function of governments to that of “night watchmen” to impose social order for the activities of INGOs.
What should be of greater concern is the long-term impact of the activities of INGOs on African societies. In a number of countries in Africa, where INGOS provide food to people, such as in Northern Uganda where people had not experienced famine due to the fact that they were self reliant in food production, the provision of food by INGOs has in fact, whether intended or not, helped gnaw away at people’s sense of independence, pride and dignity. Overtime, a people who had traditionally carried themselves with enormous sense of dignity, might begin to develop a culture of dependence on and submission to the INGOs.
What is not clear is whether the long term impact of military peacekeeping and those of other INGOs were foreseen by those who authorized most of their missions. With some of these impact in mind, it is an imperative for those who have the means and expertise, to reevaluate the role of military peacekeeping, as it continues to multiply in the continent.
It is certainly legitimate to ask why expensive and sophisticated weaponry and other materiel can be mobilized by the international community for peacekeeping in the continent when at the same time investments in education, health care, agriculture, institutions of the rule of law and democracy are not being committed in a manner commensurate with the requirements of the era of information technology.
This is a legitimate question not because there is a conspiracy to inculcate in Africans a culture of violence and of dependency on external powers, even though reports by Oxfam do show that small arms transfers to Africa garner huge profits for their dealers. Rather, the question needs to be asked because history tells us that in the early 1960s, with the exception of the Congo, the continent did not need peacekeeping.
During the period, when great investments were made in the productive sectors of society, education was regarded as the means of social upward mobility, the economy grew fifty times faster than it had grown in the previous sixty years, democratic pluralism flourished with intense competition among political parties, and peaceful resolution of differences was mediated through the rule of law superintended by independent judiciary.
If indeed the early 1960s can serve as counterpoint to the past three decades which have witnessed dramatic increase in military peacekeeping in the continent, it might be that it can also serve as a formula for African renewal.
The way forward, apart from directing a searchlight on the long-term impact of peacekeeping in Africa, should be for the international community to set into motion two priorities. First, a moratorium on transfers of small arms to Africa should be declared by the UN Security Council, if the international community is really serious about peace in the continent.
And second, investments should be directed to building and strengthening two major institutions in particular. These are education, which is the principal means of purveying and conveying values; and independent judiciary, which can ensure that the rule of law is used as peaceful means of resolving conflicts before they flare up into violent hostilities that would require peace-keeping.
Black Star News columnist Professor Amii Omara-Otunnu is UNESCO Chair in Human Rights, Executive-Director of the UConn-ANC Partnership and Professor of History at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. His column appears bi-weekly online and in the newspaper.
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