Ghana sees UN peacekeeping as an opportunity to serve humanity

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Ghanaian men and women have served as United Nations peacekeepers since the early 1970s participating in operations from the Sinai to Africa. The West African nation is now among the top 10 contributors to UN peacekeeping with almost 3 000 personnel serving in eight missions.

Brigadier General (Dr) Emmanuel Wekem Kotia, Western Sector Commander of the UN peacekeeping mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) gave the world body some insight into his decades of service, including participation in the UN’s ground-breaking transitional operation in Cambodia – a launch pad for UN peacekeeping activities such as disarmament, reintegration and electoral support – and the post-electoral security landscape in the DRC.

UN: How would you characterise the current situation in DRC?

Brig. Gen. Kotia: The situation remains calm. The President is continuing the transition by nominating his prime minister and other key ministers.

Security-wise, the western sector remains relatively calm, except for a few ethnic problems in the Yumbi area and Kasai region. On the eastern front, there continue to be activities by armed elements. MONUSCO, jointly with the armed forces of the DRC [FARC) continue to monitor the situation.

One must not discount the issue of human rights abuses in various parts of the country. In addition, the continuing increase in the number of cases of Ebola in the eastern part of the country, specifically Butembo and other areas is cause for concern.

To date, more than 700 Ebola cases have been identified. MONUSCO, humanitarian and other UN agencies and local authorities continue to work hard to contain the situation.

The relationship between FARDC and MONUSCO is cordial. In the Eastern sector we have armed elements fighting government. MONUSCO personnel are jointly working out plans and fighting alongside FARDC against rebel groups in those areas.

It must be noted the Congolese government may need to enact measures to facilitate FARDC operational capability and provide logistic facilities or resources for civilian police to do their duties in local communities.

It is also important for government to take ownership of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process for all rebel factions turning in weapons or voluntarily disarming, especially around the Kasais.

UN: Highlights and challenges you have encountered while serving with a UN mission?

Brig. Gen. Kotia: My participation in UN missions began when they were based on traditional concepts. From those, the UN moved to integrated operations – from dependence purely on a military force to a greater level of mixing police, military and civilians.

The UN then moved to a more international dimension, by which, in addition to the components mentioned, the issues of human rights and humanitarian support were introduced as part of its missions.

The UN has sustained itself well in multi-dimensional operations for some time. Stemming from a report by the high-level panel set up by the former UN Secretary-General and the realities on the ground, in contemporary UN peacekeeping, we moved from multi-dimensional to high risk peacekeeping operations – a dynamic and fluid situation.

Using MONUSCO as an example, we have core MONUSCO troops working or maintaining peace by protection through projection. We also have a Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) with a mandate to undertake offensive operations to protect civilians due to activities of various armed elements attacking MONUSCO and civilians.

To protect civilians in the DRC and elsewhere, it is important to underline higher risk peacekeeping missions must move toward more offensive operations. The FIB could serve as a template for similar capacities in Mali and the Central African Republic or other high-risk areas.

A key issue is in most conflict areas, we operate in difficult environments. Peacekeepers come from different countries and they need to be acclimatised to these environments.

Another challenge has to do with the background of conflicts. Most conflicts, especially those in Africa, are not well-understood by peacekeepers before deployment. Concepts of operation are not specific peacekeepers often must adjust activities to deal with on-the-ground challenges. Additionally, we sometimes have inadequate numbers of peacekeepers to fulfil a mandate that is big and has a wide scope.

UN: What are the factors helping troops succeed in missions you have participated in?

Brig. Gen. Kotia: There are a number. First, one must understand peacekeeping mandates are set as a matter of international law. Adherence to mandate, policy guidelines and directives are key to help troops succeed. Another area helping peacekeepers and my troops specifically is intensive pre-operational training before deployment. This prepares troops through, among others, a simulation of the areas they will be in. You get to have a feel for it before deployment and conditions on the ground don’t look so different.

Training – continuous training and in-mission ­– is key. Ensuring troops have equipment to match the mission mandate is also key to success. Apart from that, sharing the experience of Ghanaian troops, especially in other UN missions, also helps.

UN: What is an essential element in maintaining professionalism in peacekeeping?

Brig. Gen. Kotia: Peacekeepers must understand the dynamics of conflict. Without an analytical understanding of the conflict, one might not be able to come up with plans or strategies to succeed in a peacekeeping mission.

Respect for the culture of local communities is also vital. Remember we are helping stabilise an area or creating a secure environment for people. We are not there to dictate to them. We are there to support and/or assist. We must understand their culture so we’ll be able to operate in country and assist them to achieve peace.

Another aspect helping with professionalism is the deployment of more women. In MONUSCO, the introduction of a female engagement team was successful. In my sector, especially, when female engagement teams are sent in to assist in deprived communities, they are well received. These teams interact with children and other women to help them understand the essence of the peacekeeping deployment.

UN News: Describe Ghana’s contribution to UN peacekeeping?

Brig. Gen. Kotia: Ghana’s contribution is interesting. Incidentally, it started in the Congo. Ghana was the first country to deploy in the then Congo now DRC, in 1960, with a brigade of troops. After President Patrice Lumumba was killed, the Ghana battalion was redeployed to the Kasais.

Since then, Ghana has become one of leading contributors to peacekeeping in the world. We’ve seen Ghana deployed in 1973 in the Sinai and then later with a battalion deployed to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Ghana also found itself serving in, among others, Cambodia, Rwanda, Chad, Liberia and Bosnia.

Ghana’s participation has been massive as far as global peace is concerned. Our country has served as a mentor to other countries in this field. We have established the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, a global training centre for various aspects of peacekeeping. Ghana is considered a mentoring country.