Challenges of Peacekeeping in Africa

Challenges of Peacekeeping in Africa

AnchorAfrica had been colonised by the great European powers for over 400 years. From the 16th century, it provided the growing industrialised continents of Europe and North America, with millions of young people, captured against their will as slaves to work in the plantations of the Northern hemisphere.

Between 1500 and 1900, approximately 4 million African slaves were shipped to Island plantations in the Indian Ocean, 8 million to Mediterranean countries and 11 million to the new world.

It was this slavery – this mass importation of slaves from the continent of Africa – that fuelled the growing economies of what are now the richest and most powerful countries in the world. Combine this with the pillaging of the world’s most precious natural resources and it is not surprising that there are to this day, conflicts all over our continent.

Africans realized that only through unity among themselves could they salvage themselves. That is why African unity remains a sine qua non for the creation of a better life for all in Africa.

Our march to freedom lasted for over four centuries and entailed the defeat of colonialism and imperialism. For the first time, in the history of our continent, we hold the possibility of shaping our own destiny. Now, working with Africa’s friends, we are busy with this task.

The Organisation of African Unity (OAU), founded in 1963, focussed its activities on the liberation of the African continent.  Having achieved this goal, with the arrival of democracy in South Africa in 1994, it was clear that development and prosperity were not going to follow automatically.

There was a need to re-define the mandate of the continental body hence the African Union with its principal task to prioritize the economic development of the continent.

But the objective of development was never going to become a reality in an atmosphere of instability and widespread turmoil and conflict. This made conflict resolution a priority task in order to set the stage for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) and other initiatives.

It was for this reason that the newly formed African Union set out to secure peace agreements among several of its members and to address several conflicts. The need to create a peacekeeping capacity on the continent was central to this approach.

Conflict and wars have over the years led to loss of life, displacements and misery in many parts of the continent. The need to solve, manage and prevent conflicts and to deal with other socio-economic challenges has become urgent, especially in the light of globalisation. 

Africans recognize the reality that without peace, security and stability, there can be no development. Thus, for us Africans and our partners in this quest for continental development, conflict resolution is a top priority.

A World Bank study released in February 2007, states that “conflicts are now arguably the single most important determinant of poverty in Africa”. It goes on to say that “recent research suggests that the incidence and severity of conflicts in Africa have had a robust, negative effect on the growth rate of income…countries that experienced civil wars had an average income 50% lower than that of countries that experienced no civil war.”

A study carried out in 2004 confirms that “the direct cost of war is only a fraction, often less than 10% of the indirect costs. Far more people die from war-related disease and malnutrition than from battle death”.

These conflicts need to be understood, in order to be solved.

They cannot be subject to knee jerk reactions and one size fits all solutions. Our collective interventions in the past have had an impact. But as the World Bank report says “the fact that wars are ended doesn’t necessarily mean that their underlying causes have been addressed. For peace to be sustainable over the long run, the root causes of conflict need to be addressed”.

As our quest for peace and stability unfolds, we are putting mechanisms in place to carry us forward.  The strengthening of the African Union, the creation of the Africa Standby Force and the SADC Brigade are all part of the strategy to resolve conflict, to encourage development and to create a better life for all on the continent.

Conditions on the continent had to be factored into our military planning.

Geographical conditions are not favourable to conventional military exercises making logistical support for peacekeepers extremely difficult.  We have a huge geographical space to cover. 

Africa does not have the financial resources to support large contingents of peacekeepers. Many African countries are saddled with huge backlogs of underdevelopment compounded by unmanageable debt burdens and are therefore not able to sustain peacekeeping operations.

Moreover, we are still at an early stage of industrial development. Thus we have to contend with a lack of infrastructure which constrains our movements. These factors directly impact on how we carry out our peacekeeping mandate. In this context, strategic lift, both maritime and aerial, become essential for success.

Therefore in the course of our growing practical involvement in peacekeeping in Africa, we conceived of and subsequently raised, in continental and international fora, a number of initiatives which are shaping our approach to peacekeeping.

In Burundi, for example, because the UN’s assessment was that conditions were not ripe for its intervention, African leaders took the view that they must work to create such conditions as would be conducive for UN intervention.

They took the initiative in persuading contending parties to commitment to negotiate. They then facilitated the return of the exiled leaders to their home soil for negotiations to take place there.  It was as these objectives were realized that the UN revised its initial reluctance to commit to the process and came on board.

As things stand now, in any theatre where conditions are not conducive for negotiations to take root, Africans will apply the same approach. History has been made. It is there to stay.

One of the lessons from Burundi and the DRC has been that conflict must go beyond formal elections. Our involvement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has resulted in a more holistic approach to Peacekeeping. Peace keepers, who are placed into a conflict area, must provide security and protection for the civilian population. They must first and foremost stop the ongoing fighting. They must then be able to re-direct the energies of the people into reconstruction activities. They must be able to pursue integrated approaches to repatriation, resettlement, reintegration and rehabilitation of refugees, the internally displaced, ex-combatants and their families, paying particular attention to women and child victims of violence. They must plan and implement comprehensive and well blended disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration (DDRR) programmes as a basis for consolidating safety and security.

Central to making our interventions sustainable, and in line with the principles of Security Sector Reform (SSR), we have to ensure that the thinking of the leaders of new democracies is directed towards respect and loyalty to their Constitution. Peacekeeping interventions do not end with elections.

The alarming number of conflict prone countries underscores the need for a broader approach to conflict prevention – one that avoids an artificial divide between pre-conflict, crisis and post-conflict. It also indicates the need for an appropriate mix of political, security, humanitarian and developmental responses.

Securing a just, sustainable peace in a conflict-prone situation means building strong transparent states with professional, civilian-led military and police. It means developing a democratic framework that tolerates diversity.

It means building an open civil society that promotes democratic governance and personal security. 

And it means instilling in all state institutions – but especially the security forces – a culture of democracy rooted in respect for the rule of law and individual rights and dignity.

Our concept of “security sector reform” (SSR) encompasses democratic oversight, civil society, defence reform, intelligence and security services, border management, policing, justice, prisons and private security companies. The object of SSR is to create a secure and safe environment for the affected state and its population, through the re-establishment of the architecture and structure of the state. Its inclusive nature encompasses all sectors of the security cluster.

The activities in the security cluster are based on the concept of human security as stipulated and defined in the African Union’s peace and security committee’s mandate, the Common African Defence and Security Policy.

Whilst the concept of Security Sector Reform encompasses the transformation and stabilization of the whole of the security sector, on our continent it deals predominantly with defence institutions.

It is a political process, and to be successful, it must be participatory. It must involve local ownership and because it has to pay attention to non-state actors and security and justice institutions, its approach must encompass the whole of Government. But it is more than governance, it is also about operational effectiveness.

In other words, when the strengthening of new democracies becomes a priority, the security organs of the state must be transformed and secured.

An important element of peacekeeping is post conflict reconstruction. Experience has taught us that we should ready ourselves to stay in theatres of conflict long enough to allow for fledging democracies to allow for stability to take hold and sustain itself.

Only when we are certain that success achieved will not be reversed can we withdraw permanently.

At this present moment we are actively canvassing to retain a United Nations presence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is much too early in the process of democratisation in that country, for an “impartial” force to withdraw. And even if we cannot persuade the Untied Nations to remain, African forces are committed to stay. The genuine desire of the people of that country for peace and stability must be sustained.

We also have to take note and adjust to our changing strategic environment. 

In the present era, advances in military technology have resulted in the increasing need for highly skilled military personnel. We have seen, over the last two decades, the emergence of a global trade in hired military services. This, combined with massive cuts in defence budgets, has resulted in the privatisation of many sections of the defence function. 

These private military or security firms have now assumed greater roles in conflict areas, in the guarding of installations, the delivery of logistical supplies, the provision and running of aircraft etc. The expansion of this relatively new industry raises a range of concerns. A number of human rights abuses have been committed by some firms and in many instances their operations have led to a rise in internal tensions. They have been used even to stage military coups in certain states. These firms, falling as they do outside the prescripts of government, are not regulated by international law nor are they accountable to international bodies.

The potential for abuse is high and there must be serious concern that the industry’s position in the legal sphere remains ambiguous.

Thus regulation, at national level, offers the hope of both superior legal definition and enforcement.

The appearance of non-state actors in different shapes and forms, including private security firms and private military companies needs to be reckoned with. Private military/security companies are able to intervene in conflicts tilting the balance of power in favour of their paymasters. They have the potential to undermine legitimate, constitutional democracies.

Whilst “terrorism” has been identified by the ‘developed world’ as the biggest threat, we maintain that poverty and underdevelopment are the biggest threats to democracies in the developing world because it exposes our people to manipulation by those of wealthier countries.

Competition for ‘scarce’ resources is another source of insecurity across the continent.  It is in this context that we can understand the situation in Somalia.

But let me say that in our increasingly globalised world, armed conflict has become subject to change. 

In many areas like the Sudan, the conflict that is raging does not “fit” the definition of Armed Conflict. This raises a number of questions

The Advisory Service of the International Committee of the Red Cross states that:  “International humanitarian law applies only to armed conflict; it does not cover internal tensions or disturbances such as isolated acts of violence. The law applies only once a conflict has begun, and then equally to all sides regardless of who started the fighting”. How then do we apply these rules and regulations to peacekeeping?

How do we make sure that those who are no longer taking part in the fighting are protected? 

And what if the deployment is a Chapter 7 deployment?  The ICRC says “it is forbidden to kill or wound an enemy who surrenders or is unable to fight; the sick and wounded must be collected and cared for by the party in whose power they find themselves”. Do these rules apply when the definition of the armed conflict differs from the book definition?

These are the issues that we are debating when preparing our soldiers for peacekeeping operations.

The demands placed upon us by the ‘war on terror’ should not detract from the sound principles the international community has agreed on about the conduct of any war.

The development of our continent is essential for the normalisation of international relations.  We cannot continue to allow the continent of Africa, so rich in natural resources, to be ripped apart and torn asunder by the greed of other countries that are more developed, and who are in need of these precious resources.

The African Union is being strengthened on a daily basis.  We strive to build our continental body aware of the complexities of working with countries who have different levels of development, and subsequently different priorities.

We have a lot to learn from Spain’s experience in working with the European Union.

Thus, for us Africans and our partners in this quest for continental development, conflict resolution is a top priority.

But it is our hope that the growing partnership between the African Union and the European Union will influence and shape the reform of world bodies such as the United Nations to allow the voices of the developing world to be heard.  In this context we welcome Spain’s Africa Plan.

We have increased our presence at the United Nations in the hope that the support needed by Africa, to implement its peacekeeping challenges, will be heeded.

I thank you.

Mosiuoa Lekota
Minister of Defence of the Republic of South Africa