Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Whither Peacekeeping in Africa? Assessing the Role of the United Nations

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Whither Peacekeeping in Africa? Assessing the Role of the United Nations

Article excerpt


It is a truism that the undertaking of peace initiatives in Africa is by no means a simple and easy task. The problems and dilemmas facing the United Nations (UN) in this part of the world reflect the peculiar difficulties of peacekeeping itself since involvement in African conflicts are amongst the organisation's most important and challenging endeavours in the post-Cold War era. At the same time, it is argued that the UN Security Council is lax in carrying out its mandated duty to maintain international peace and security in general, and in Africa in particular. Some observers even contend that at a time of growing challenges to African peace and security, the Security Council has reduced its commitment to deploy UN "Blue Helmets" -- in sizeable numbers -- on the African continent.

In view of the above, this article provides an overview of UN peacekeeping operations with special reference to African peacekeeping requirements. Specifically, it reflects on completed and current UN operations, and discusses African peacekeeping requirements in the context of international peacekeeping trends. Furthermore, it focuses on the abysmal record of international involvement in the Sierra Leone peace process. This serves as a case study of a ruinous civil war where the UN has found itself unable to respond effectively to peacekeeping challenges. Lastly, it reflects on some recent recommendations on how future UN peacekeeping operations can be more effective.


It is common knowledge that the end of the Cold War did not result in global peace and stability. The shift from a bipolar to a multipolar and multifaceted world in fact reduced the risk of conventional inter-state wars, but has been the cause of several intra-state armed conflicts with an even higher risk of regional instability. Since the end of the 1980s these conflicts have produced a dramatic growth in peacekeeping requirements. The international response, mainly through the UN, has been to promote preventive diplomacy and, in a number of cases, to conduct peacekeeping operations.

Until the end of the Cold War, UN peacekeeping forces were stationed in the affected areas with the consent of the warring parties. (1) Peacekeeping operations had two broad objectives, namely to stop or contain hostility, thereby creating conditions for peace by negotiation, and to supervise the implementation of an interim or final settlement negotiated by the peacemakers. To accomplish these objectives the UN deployed two categories of forces, that is observer missions consisting primarily of lightly armed officers, and peacekeeping forces consisting of light infantry with the necessary logistic support. (2)

Post-Cold War turbulence between 1990 and 1994 led to huge peacekeeping operations and the cost of these operations increased six-fold over this period. Troop strength burgeoned from about 12 000 to well over 70 000, with costs growing from half a billion to over three billion United States (US) dollars. In this regard, UN peacekeeping operations swiftly moved from traditional military peacekeeping tasks to multidimensional operations in disintegrating and "failed" states. Furthermore, the situations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Somalia especially, provided a new role for peacekeeping forces. In both the former Yugoslavia and Somalia combat conditions, combined with hostility towards the UN from at least one of the parties, led to the partial or limited use of enforcement action. (3)

At the request of the Security Council, the then Secretary-General of the UN, Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali, presented An Agenda for Peace in July 1992. In this document he proposed a significant broadening of the UN's use of military force to prevent conflict, halt aggression, and supervise and enforce cease-fires and post-conflict peace building. Where cease-fires had been agreed on but not complied with, Boutros-Ghali urged the Security Council to consider deploying peace enforcement units that were more heavily armed than traditional peacekeeping forces. …

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