Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thabang Makwetla will present a keynote address at next Thursday’s defenceWeb Peacekeeping Africa 2010 conference at Gallagher Estate just north of Johannesburg.
Makwetla will reflect on 11 years of peacekeeping success by the South African National Defence Force – most notably in Burundi where the military in December last year ended an eight year mission. The deployment was made in some haste in September 2001 at the behest of then-peace facilitator Nelson Mandela to support what Department of Defence spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi has called a “somewhat shaky ceasefire agreement clinched in Arusha, Tanzania, between the then-warring parties.
The South African National Defence Force deployed 701 personnel to provide static and close protection to returning political leaders of the main protagonists, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Force for Democracy (CNDD-FDD) led by Pierre Nkurunziza (current President of Burundi) and the Hutu Front for Democracy (FRODEBU) led by Domitien Ndayizeye respectively. In time, as the truce held and firmed, the SA contingent was joined by troops from Ethiopia and Mozambique and the force was renamed the African Union Mission In Burundi (AMIB) in April 2003, tasked with providing security for the cantonment of combatants and to assist the demobilisation, disarmament and in the reintegration process of the various armed groups.
“However, troop presence under an AU mandate and authority did not automatically guarantee an immediate ceasefire. Burundi continued to be volatile as sporadic attacks continued in the capital, Bujumbura, leaving the Department of Defence with little option but to secure Cabinet approval to increase the SANDF’s force levels to one thousand six hundred (1600),” Mkhwanazi wrote in background note on the deployment made available to defenceWeb earlier this year.
“The SANDF’s efforts assisted in laying the foundation for political dialogue, restored a semblance of peace, instilled hope and ushered a new beginning to the people of Burundi to build their country,” Mkhwanazi added. The United Nations (UN) Security Council subsequently adopted Resolution 1545 authorising the deployment of the United Nations Operations In Burundi (ONUB) from June 2004 consisting of 5400 troops, 168 military observers, 97 police, 316 civilian staff, 156 volunteers and 383 local civilian support personnel.
Major General Derrick Mgwebi was appointed Force Commander, marking this the first UN mission to be commanded by a South African. Troop contributing countries included, China, Bangladesh, Mali, Ghana, Guatemala, Jordan Nigeria, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Nepal, Netherlands, Malawi, Malaysia, Portugal, Peru and the Philippines.
ONUB completed its mission in December 2006. However, tension still hovered over Burundi since the PALIPEHUTU-FNL had not participated in the democratic elections that ushered in President Nkurunziza’s government. The security and political situation seemed precarious, Mkhwanazi notes and the South African government resolved that the SANDF should remain in Burundi while efforts continued to persuade the PALIPEHUTU-FNL to return to Burundi and be part of an evolving peaceful political process.
The SA force the became the AU Special Task Force in Burundi. In December 2008 then-defence minister Charles Nqakula, in his role as facilitator of the Burundi peace process told the UNSC that the SANDF deployment would wind up by March 31,2009. This was then postponed to August and finally to December.
South Africa still maintains hundreds of troops in Sudan’s Darfur as well as the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to support UN peace efforts there. Makwetla’s address also comes as the Department of Defence wraps up its review of defence policy. This and a related White Paper on peacekeeping operations did not foresee the massive deployments made over the last decade – postulating instead a much more sedate South African involvement. The big questions now are what this updated policy will prescribe for peacekeeping and the effect this will have on equipment acquisition.
PEACEKEEPING AFRICA 2010
For more on this topic, attend defenceWeb’ Peacekeeping Africa conference August 26-7 at Gallagher Estate, Midrand.