The Challenge of Peacekeeping in Africa

By Patel, Preeti; Tripodi, Paolo | Contemporary Review, September 2001 | Go to article overview

The Challenge of Peacekeeping in Africa


Patel, Preeti, Tripodi, Paolo, Contemporary Review


IN an article published in The National Interest in 1999/2000 the influential American scholar and political analyst Edward Luttwak stated that 'all over Africa, civil servants do not serve, government doctors provide no patient care, customs officers levy personal bribes rather than tariffs, inspectors do not inspect, judges sell their verdicts to the higher bidder, and state education officials and professors award degrees and diplomas for hard cash rather than term papers or exam results'. Despite the fact that Luttwak's point of view is expressed so strongly, the great majority of Africanists would not have any major problem in agreeing with his statement. Moreover, to point out that places like Djibouti, the still unrecognised North Somali Republic, and Mozambique challenge the American analyst's opinion is probably a pointless exercise.

The problem, however, is not just related to what Luttwak is emphasising in his paper, but the major concern is that he, as many other realist thinkers, is trying to convince us that Africa is not worth taking care of. The continent is plagued by complex emergencies representing the greatest challenges of recent years. Therefore, the international community should let African bloody wars follow their course until fighters are exhausted and willing to agree on a peace deal. Luttwak's idea is well explained in an article published in Foreign Affairs and with an emblematic title: 'Give War a Chance'. In this Luttwak argued that 'too many wars nowadays become endemic conflicts that never end because the transformative effects of both decisive victory and exhaustion are blocked by outside intervention. Unlike the ancient problem of war, however, the compounding of its evils by disinterested interventions is a new malpractice that could be curtailed'. What he is suggesting is that the international community shoul d just turn a blind eye on complex emergencies and let history take its course: enemies exhausting each other until they are willing to find a peace deal.

Despite several humanitarian intervention blunders during the 1990s in Africa, the realist position of non-intervention in conflicts is problematic. Indeed the intervention in Somalia with its catastrophic result was a big shock for the international community and for all those countries that suffered fatalities among their military contingents. The thought of intervening in the genocide in Rwanda in the mid-1990s also became more of a concern. Even today, deploying more UN troops in Sierra Leone or any other area of the continent, where the level of violence has surpassed what is 'normally' acceptable to a Western mentality, is presenting particular difficulties.

Intervention in Africa is extremely difficult, but it is by no means impossible and the successful examples of Mozambique and Namibia provide positive evidence that it is worthwhile to give peace - and peacekeeping - a chance.

The Dilemmas of Regional Peacekeeping in Africa

Humanitarian intervention in Africa represented one of the major challenges of the 1990s. The first impact with a harsh outcome was the intervention in Somalia in the early 1990s. Somalia was not only the first real occasion for the Western military to understand the implications of dealing with complex civil wars, but it was also the first opportunity to understand that culture is an important element to address in peace operations. Tamara Duffey noted in her essay 'Cultural Issues in Contemporary Peacekeeping' that the problems of the intervention in Somalia were mostly cultural. 'The operations in Somalia exposed serious organizational culture differences between the military and the diversity of civilian agencies' and yet 'the most significant problems were those resulting from the failure to understand Somali culture'. This lack of understanding involved the highest level of decision-making. In addition 'many contingents arrived in the mission area without knowledge of Somalia, its history and culture, o r the conditions on the ground'.

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