Africom leading the way in conflict prevention in Africa, says former Unamir commander


Conflict prevention and early intervention are key to eradicating human rights violations and catastrophic events such as genocide, said former commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) and Canadian Senator Romeo Dallaire.

Dallaire made the comments on September 4 at U.S. Africa Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. As part of U.S. Africom’s Commander’s Speaker Series, Dallaire shared with staff members his thoughts on how to move toward a safe and secure Africa based on his experiences as the force commander of UNAMIR in 1993-94, during the peak of the Rwandan genocide.

Significant reforms are needed to achieve peace and security in Africa, said Dallaire, and that requires being more proactive and taking more risks.
“We need to not simply respond to crises but to prevent them from happening. The ultimate aim of all this is to prevent catastrophic failures, massive abuse of human rights, genocide, conflict, and in fact, establish an atmosphere of security where nations can grow and live with hope,” he said.

U.S. Africa Command, with its mission to “strengthen the defense capabilities of African states and regional organizations,” is on the right track toward conflict prevention in an area of the world that has often been ignored, Dallaire told the staff.
“This headquarters is one of the most positive assets that have been demonstrated by the developed world towards Africa than any of the initiatives I’ve seen with other countries,” he said. “You are leading the charge in a very troubled region.”

Long-term programs, such as many of the humanitarian and security initiatives Africom conducts throughout the continent, are vital to creating and sustaining peace and stability. Dallaire explained that the international community engages in a lot of “crisis management” in Africa and other areas of the world, but does little long-term planning to avoid future crises.

Mass catastrophes, such as the genocide in Rwanda, escalate from internal conflicts that can likely be resolved if action is taken earlier. However, too often leaders in the international community are not willing to take the risk.
“We don’t have much risk taking. We have very much concentrated on managing problems and have shown very little leadership in trying to solve them,” he said.

However, Dallaire added, it is in our self-interest to intervene when necessary and prevent these types of events from happening “because the alternative is horrific, complex, and far more expensive.”

Conflicts can result in human rights scenarios, such as refugee camps, where pandemics are prevalent and can easily spread to other areas. Additionally, Dallaire described conflicts as the “source of frictions that create the rage, which leads to extremism and terrorism.”

Integrated planning is needed — one that involves the military, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — to ensure that all are working together toward one common mission and not in separate “stovepipes.”
“We are in a multi-disciplined world,” Dallaire explained. “What that means is that we’re now at the crux of trying to figure out how all these things will be working in synergy and get ahead of the game. The era of stovepipe disciplines operating in a sequential fashion is over.”

For the military, this means moving away from strictly kinetic operations and taking a broader approach to understand the problems and work with NGOs and government agencies to find the best solutions.

Dallaire added that he believes Africom is headed in the right direction with its integration of interagency staff from 13 U.S. government departments and agencies, including Departments of State, Treasury and Commerce and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“I think this headquarters is breaking the ice, and it is moving well in that area,” he said. “It has brought together development people, the diplomatic corps, political people, and security. And they’re all working in the same command for the same boss. That is the greatest innovation of all. We’ve not seen that anywhere else.”

Dallaire offered a variety of long-term solutions to prevent major conflicts, including the empowerment of women, education of children, building mutual respect, and being more proactive in protecting people from crimes against humanity.

He told staff members that he hopes to work together with Africom on future initiatives, including those to advance new tactics and train militaries, police, and NGOs and one that is close to his heart — ending the use of child soldiers through non-lethal weapons.
“I want [Africom personnel] to remember that they’re in the front lines of this new era. And that a headquarters like this is screaming for innovative, creative ways, ideas, methods, skills, knowledge, in order to handle the complex and ambiguous scenarios that are out there.”