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The East African : April 28th 2014
32 The EastAfrican OUTLOOK APRIL 26 - MAY 2, 2014 Pa≥tiality dilemma: The new model of UN COMMENTARY PETER KAGWANJA AND LAUREEN WESONGA “Growing perceptions of increased UN militarism on the continent are likely to stir residual nationalism against external intervention.” T wenty years ago, the United Nations and major global actors stood accused of standing by and watching as nearly a million Rwandans were killed in the world’s worst case of genocide after the Nazi Holocaust five decades earlier. Since then, the UN has swung like a pendulum — in both theory and praxis — from its traditional non-combative and “neutral” peacekeeping model to a new militaristic approach that has seen its forces embroiled in combat in African theatres of war. This follows a new tendency by major global powers at the helm of the United Nations Security Council to pursue a more militaristic approach, which is turning UN missions into “combative peacekeeping.” This has fuelled scepticism about the neutrality of UN missions and the behind-the-scenes role of former European colonial powers in these missions. On April 10, the UN Security Council approved the deployment of 11,800 peacekeepers to the Central African Republic — including 6,500 African-led forces and about 2,000 French troops already on the ground while the European Union is planning to deploy up to 1,000 troops. Fighting between Muslim and Christian militias that began in December 2012 has claimed thousands of lives, created more than 650,000 internal refugees and forced more than 290,000 others to flee to neighbouring countries. Some 2.2 million people — about half the population of CAR — are in need of humanitarian aid. While it is not clear from the UN resolution whether the mission in CAR will have a combat role, it is most likely that this will follow the new trend where peacekeepers serve as combatants. The UN mission seems author- ised to take over the internal affairs of the country, which in ordinary circumstances would be seen as recolonisation — especially with the heavy presence of French and EU forces. The mission is expected to work with national authorities to monitor, collect evidence and arrest war criminals. Bangui is a signatory of the International Criminal Court. Given the recent protest by the African Union over the involvement of the ICC in African af- fairs, the jury is still out as to whether the AU will condone the involvement of the court in CAR. The new-style combat peace- keeping came to the limelight in April 2011, when the UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) came under heavy scrutiny and censure for using force against former president Laurent Gbagbo, which paved the way for the forces loyal to President Ouattara to seize power in Abidjan and end the stalemate that began after elections in November 2010. The Ivorian operation reignit- ed the acrimonious debate about the evenhandedness of the UN in African conflicts, with memories being evoked of the UN mishandling of the Congolese crisis in the 1960s that led to the assassination of prime minister Patrice Lumumba and the worst dictatorship on the continent. New era of peacekeeping It was Britain’s ambassador to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant, who announced the coming of “a new era of peacekeeping.” This new age of combative peacekeeping took concrete shape in March 2013, when the UN Security Council authorised a 3,000 unit intervention brigade to augment the 19,000 UN forces of the stabilisation mission in DR Congo (Monusco). Made up of three infantry bat- talions, a Special Forces and Reconnaissance Company and one Special Forces unit, the “Congo Brigade” was the first ever offensive UN combat force mandated to use necessary force to protect civilians and neutralise armed groups, particularly the M23 rebels in the east of the country. Unlike typical peacekeepers, the brigade was not only sanctioned to engage in combat but it was also equipped for war — with tanks, night vision goggles, artillery and armoured personnel carriers. The new combat style has been praised for resolving longstanding security stalemates and protecting civilians in conflicts. As Jeffrey Laurenti, a UN ex- pert at the Century Foundation argues, it was the frustration with Monusco’s failure to protect civilians and create a conducive environment for lasting peace after being on the ground for nearly two decades that led to the authorisation of the interventionist brigade by the Security Council. There is every reason to rejoice at the success of new UN militarism. In its aftermath, the UN combative mission has forced the French soldiers patrol near a mosque where Muslims had gathered in the PK12 neighbourhood in Bangui, on April 24. Picture: AFP M23 rebels to return to the negotiation table and resume the previously stalled peace talks with the DRC government in Kampala. Predictably, within the UN corridors of power, interventionism is the new norm. Speaking in Goma on September 2 2013, Mary Robinson, Special Envoy of the UN to the Great Lakes Region, said, “The recent military engagement [in the DRC] did not at all complicate it, it was necessary.” In the same vein, the United States ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said the brigade was invigorating both the Congolese National Army and the UN peacekeeping mission. And the US special envoy to the Great Lakes Region, Russ Feingold, echoed Powers’ view, describing the brigade as “a stronger approach that can give peacekeeping operations more strength in the future and help resolve knotty problems.” Militarism and its discontent But the new UN intervention- ism has its fierce critics. JeanMarie Guéhenno, the United Nations peacekeeping chief from 2000 to 2008, has cautioned against the thinking that a combative mission will resolve conflicts in Africa, particularly Congo’s quagmire. Offensive peacekeeping cannot be relied upon to resolve the structural causes of the conflicts in Somalia, South Sudan or eastern DRC, which often have regional dimensions and linkages in neighbouring countries. These pundits want the UN to pursue a solution that will involve willing heads of state from the region. They say that it is “not a SWAT team that’s going to clean up a bad neighbourhood… That requires politics.” Also worrying experts is that the new militarism is radically changing the way the UN has been perceived in conflict situations. “The bigger danger is that when the UN becomes a combatant on the ground it loses what has been its unique role of having been a potential mediator — of being the impartial outsider,” said Mr Laurenti. Others feel that the shift to a combative style can compromise the image of the UN peacekeeping forces as neutral actors in conflicts. “It may compromise the neu- trality and impartiality which we find essential to the organisation’s peacekeeping. Its presence should be perceived by all parties as that of an honest broker, and not a potential party to the conflict,” said Gert Rosenthal, the envoy of Guatemala, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Criticism of UN intervention- ism has also come from the humanitarian aid agencies who fear that a combative UN force risks blurring the line between aid workers providing care and soldiers. “You can have a helicopter one day used to deliver the Force Intervention Brigade troops to attack a village and next day to deliver aid to that same village,” said Michiel Hofman, a senior humanitarian specialist with Medicins sans Frontieres in Brussels. The UN bureaucracy can only take lightly the critics of interventionism at its own peril. In war situations, perception is everything. Interventionism hugely impacts the perception of the UN peacekeeping operations not just in Africa but globally. Although Africa is unlikely to resist external players in situations like the CAR, growing perceptions of increased UN militarism on the continent are likely to stir residual nationalism against external intervention.
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