A former force commander of the joint African Union/United Nations mission in Darfur has warned that a rethink is needed on peacekeeping in Africa if it is to remain a workable objective.
Nigerian General Martin Luther Agwai told a Washington workshop on enhancing peacekeeping operations in Africa the complex and increasing demands placed on African peacekeepers, coupled with high expectations, required “a significant amount of rethinking” by both the world and African bodies as well as continental regional economic communities and troop contributing countries.
“For robust peace operations to work, the peacekeeping community should agree to develop robust ideas at the strategic level, ensure political will and sound understanding by troop contributing countries as well as adequate preparation of forces at operational and tactical level,” he told the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies three-day workshop.
“Peacekeeping and peace enforcement are conceptually different. We are increasingly seeing a trend towards combining peacekeeping, peace-making, peace building and peace enforcement. Care must be taken to ensure military and civilian peacekeepers are not asked to perform roles and functions for which they are ill-prepared,” he said.
“If the AU, UN and troop contributing countries are not on the same page there will be a mismatch between mandates, operational doctrine and troop size. There needs to be better communication, co-operation, co-ordination and consensus.”
Drawing on his peacekeeping experience Agwai urged workshop participants to reflect on six specific aspects. These are the vastness of the area of operations; the relatively small numbers of troops; high and often unrealistic expectations; lack of peace between belligerents and the lack of financial independence and sustainability.
“We need to get to the root of these challenges instead of addressing only the symptoms,” he said.
US Colonel Sue Ann Sandusky, a regional specialist on Africa and former defence attaché in Liberia, Cote D’Ivoire, Nigeria and the DRC, also spoke on the growing complexity of UN peacekeeping.
“Increasingly, African peacekeeping troops are called upon to deter threats, protect civilians and create conditions for political reconciliation all at the same time. We need to work more closely to tailor available training and capacity building programmes to meet these challenges.”
She identified the challenges as mandate development, national ownership, financial resources and the difficulty of reconciling different military cultures and traditions.
“These challenges need to be incorporated in pre-deployment and post-deployment training, as opposed to merely imparting generic peacekeeping skills, where the focus seems to be at the moment,” she said.