Global Policy Forum

A Continent in Crying Need of Peacekeepers


By Jean-Marie Guéhenno

International Herald Tribune
October 15, 2004

President George W. Bush recently told the UN General Assembly of plans by the Group of 8 industrialized countries to train 75,000 peacekeepers, initially from Africa, for operations on that continent and possibly beyond. In their second debate, both Bush and Senator John Kerry seemed to endorse U.S. logistical support for the peacekeeping efforts of the African Union in the Darfur region of Sudan. These offers are welcome, above all because most of the world's remaining wars are in Africa. In the last decade, more than six million Africans have died directly or indirectly as a result. What is happening now in Darfur is, in some ways, just the latest episode of a story of poverty and conflict that stretches back across much of the continent for almost half a century.

Africa's wars call for assistance at many levels, but training peacekeepers is one good place to start. A recent Oxford University study compared peacekeeping with a range of other interventions, from sanctions to development assistance. The study found that peacekeeping offered by far the best return on donor investment. Sometimes, as in Mozambique and Namibia, peacekeeping has eased a transition from war to peace, and the peacekeepers have gone home. Elsewhere, as in Sierra Leone and Liberia, peacekeepers are still on the ground, and real peace has yet to take root. Yet even there, the men who hacked the limbs off children are out of business and the slow climb back to human decency has begun.

In Burundi, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and even Sudan, hot wars appear to be cooling, and a surge in peacekeeping is helping to bring a degree of stability. The UN now has around 50,000 peacekeepers deployed in eight African operations, double the figure of five years ago. And as the number of peacekeepers has gone up, the number of war deaths has plummeted. But even these troops are overstretched, and the package offered by the G-8 offers real hope of filling the gaps and developing Africa's own peacekeeping capacity.

But there are two pitfalls to be avoided in the build-up of this capacity. The first concern is that peacekeeping not become a purely regional affair. The danger is that peacekeeping in Europe, for example, will get the full benefit of Europe's economic strength, while Africa, where the world's worst wars are being fought, will get much less. This is already happening to a degree. Congo, where millions have died, is 200 times as large as Kosovo. Yet Kosovo has a larger peacekeeping force that is better equipped, better supported and backed by an aid effort that is, per person, several hundred times more generous than the one that feeds Congo.

The second concern is not to depend on peacekeeping alone. Peacekeeping does work, and massively cuts casualties, but it is not a solution to every conflict. It can be the wrong solution altogether, as in Rwanda or Somalia, or it can simply be not enough. In Sierra Leone, for example, peacekeepers have brought security, but what happens now? The country remains desperately poor, ranking dead last of the 177 countries on the UN's human development index for 2004. There is a real risk that if the international effort doesn't broaden quickly, Sierra Leone could lapse back into misrule and conflict.

Security is the foundation without which state-building cannot ultimately succeed. But peacekeeping needs to go hand in hand with reforming the security forces, supporting the rule of law and laying the foundations for economic growth. Bush, Kerry and the G-8 have laid down a challenge to help Africa keep the peace. Seventy-five thousand peacekeepers will be a solid beginning, but not yet the whole solution.

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on Peacekeeper and Military Troop Training
More Information on Peacekeeping in Africa
More Information on Peacekeeping


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