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African peacekeeping under the spotlight

African Union peacekeepers.The intricacies and politics of peacekeeping came under the spotlight today at the fourth annual Peacekeeping and Logistics Africa conference in Pretoria.

It is unlikely that peace support operations in Africa will be reduced and in fact the number of peace support operations may increase in the future. Associate Professor Martin Rupiya, Executive Director of the African Public Policy and Research Institute, said that of the 16 peacekeeping missions around the world, nine are in Africa, with Monusco in the Democratic Republic of Congo consuming at least $1.5 billion a year.

Rupiya looked at the ways in which peacekeeping in Africa has changed over the years. Conflict has in many instances gone from interstate to intrastate, with rebels and terrorist groups playing a large role. Peacekeeping responses need to adjust as a result, he said.

Rupiya said that deploying peacekeepers may not always be the right solution and in some cases political solutions are necessary. For example political considerations make a big difference in the security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Rupiya also questioned the motives of peace contributing countries, noting that some use deployments as a source of income through United Nations reimbursement and are not interested in carrying out operations. China, he said, has been increasing its peacekeeping presence, especially in Sudan and Mali, as it looks to increase its soft power and international reputation.

Advocate Doctor Mashabane, Chief Director: UN Political, Peace and Security at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, said peacekeeping is facing serious challenges, including the changing nature of conflicts to intrastate conflict and terrorism and the impact of geopolitics, regional politics and domestic politics on operations. For instance, the United States reduction of its funding for United Nations peacekeeping operations is affecting operations. He said that politics determines the mandate of peacekeeping missions and that politics has a direct bearing on peacekeeping nations.

Mashabane suggested that peacekeeping should not be an end in itself and should be there to support the political process. “The United Nations has not mastered the political process,” he said.

Major Seitebatso Pearl Block, SO2 Counter Intelligence with the South African Army, discussed the role of women in peacekeeping and emphasised the importance of women in peacekeeping as there are often women with rebel groups, such as in the DRC, who are there unwillingly. Female peacekeepers are also better able to interact with victims of conflict and can be more empathetic. She said there needs to be a focus on the protection of women and girls during peacekeeping operations and support for victims of gender based violence.

However, there are numerous challenges in using women in peacekeeping, such as the dearth of women in the decision-making process; using women in support roles; patriarchy; insufficient gender training; a lack of mentorship for deploying women and religious and cultural barriers.

Block has been deployed with Monusco in the DRC as an intelligence officer, where she was instrumental in the creation of a bulk SMS service to communicate with the local population. She said before the system, peacekeepers would have to drop leaflets, which was time consuming and expensive. She described the bulk SMS system as a force multiplier.

James Machakaire, Coordinator: Peacekeeping Unit at ACCORD (African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes), emphasised the need for cooperation between the United Nations and African Union in peace support operations. He pointed out that collaboration is key as the majority of United Nations peacekeeping operations are in Africa and the UN needs to understand the context in which it deploys. “The United Nations needs the African Union’s influence,” he said. “We can’t solve a conflict in isolation. We have to work together.”

Machakaire warned that a failure to manage conflicts in Africa will have an adverse impact on the rest of the world. He cited Libya, Somalia and conflicts in the Middle East as examples of regional conflict having international consequences. As a result, “the cost burden should be shifted globally.”

“Collaboration is inevitable given the increasing nature and complexity of conflicts in Africa,” he said, especially as states and organisations struggle to handle conflicts by themselves. For example, the G5 Sahel force and Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) fighting Boko Haram as well as the combined effort to combat the Lord’s Resistance Army are successful examples of collaboration.

Machakaire pointed out that the United Nations is not averse to regional cooperation as long as it is in line with UN principles.

Other topics discussed on 29 August included logistics support and logistics in African Union/United Nations operations. Topics to be scrutinised on the second day of the conference on 30 August include evaluating the role of the military in brokering the transitional government in Zimbabwe; managing HIV/AIDS in peace support operations in Africa; mandating peace support operations; and encouraging more flexible peacekeeping missions to be able to adapt to evolving threats. DCD Protected Mobility will look at addressing armour and logistical vehicle requirements for Africa and peacekeeping missions.

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