Africa, Police Thyself; Conflicts in the Ivory Coast and Sudan Are Raising the Question of Whether Local Forces Can Keep the Peace
Byline: Tom Masland (With Alexandra Polier in Nairobi)
A mob raged through Abidjan's richest neighborhood, hunting whites. French tanks rolled out of a base near the airport to confront the militants. French warplanes had destroyed the tiny Ivorian Air Force earlier this month after the government broke a ceasefire by bombing rebel positions and a French base. That sparked rioting and set the scene for a classic African bloodbath. A brigade of U.N. troops from tiny Togo took the lead in evacuating expatriates. The French-speaking African force performed admirably--not a single expat died in the upsurge of violence. "The Togolese, and only the Togolese, know how to talk to these hotheads," says Col. Dumont St. Priest, operations chief for the 6,400-member U.N. force. "They can go to places the French can't. In Ivory Coast, the Africans will be more and more the U.N.'s operational face."
The Ivory Coast is not the only place where Westerners are turning to Africans to help defuse a crisis. As problems multiply across the world's poorest continent, both leaders of Western nations and architects of the two-year-old African Union say Africans must take the primary role in restoring the peace--easing a burden that now rests almost solely on the United Nations. The first big test case for a new AU force will be Darfur. There, a Pan-African peacekeeping force--managed by the AU, not the U.N.--is deploying in an effort to shut down a proxy war that's killed tens of thousands of people. "We remain loyal to our [colonial] past, but we live in a new epoch, that of Africanization," French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told Le Figaro last week. "France's role in Africa is to be the partner of development and peace, but surely not the policeman."
Lowering France's profile in the Ivory Coast won't be easy. A force of 4,000 French troops backs up the 6,400-member U.N. mission that separates the rebel-held north from the government-held south. But the AU has helped; last week it threw its support behind an arms embargo against erratic Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, which the U.N. Security Council afterward unanimously approved. In the long term, such political cover may help ease France's exit from its former colony. The move also made good on a key AU promise: to police errant African nations.
It's no mystery why outsiders favor a new peacekeeping paradigm. Right now, there are six U.N. missions in Africa comprising nearly 50,000 troops from 86 nations, 61 of them from outside the continent. More than 30,000 of the soldiers are deployed in West Africa, where the contiguous countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Ivory Coast make up what amounts to a new U. …