Thu 5 Jun, 2003 01:11 pm
World Leaves Africa Peacekeeping to the Poor - Critic
IPS - 6/5/03
Thalif Deen The United Nations is trying to prevent a major humanitarian disaster in Central and West Africa by dispatching a battalion of diplomats and a contingent of peacekeepers to the politically troubled continent.
But non-governmental orga nisations (NGOs) and peace activists say the international community is doing too little too late to prevent the spreading crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ivory Coast, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Burundi and the Central African Republic.
The inaction reflects a new division of labour in international security, where the United States and other rich nations will handle ''hard issues'' such as weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and nuclear proliferation, leaving local conflicts, poverty and HIV/AIDS to others, says Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action.
The United Nations is left with ''soft issues'' such as peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, adds Booker, with peacekeeping largely carried out by troops from the developing world. ''It is an international double standard,'' he says.
After dragging its feet over the last few months, the 15-member U.N. Security Council is sending two high-powered delegations to Africa this month to help prevent more devastation on the beleaguered continent.
Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere of France, who is heading the mission to Central Africa later this week, told reporters that his delegation will focus on two conflicts that ''are tearing the region apart'' -- one in Burundi and the other in the DRC.
''The human cost is absolutely unacceptable,'' he said Wednesday. ''The international community should remain strongly mobilised.''
A second Security Council delegation is scheduled to leave for West Africa on Jun. 28.
Last week, Council members responded to a plea by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and approved a 1,200-strong multinational rapid deployment force to restore law and order in DRC, where over 430 lives were lost last month in a violent conflict between local militias for control of the town of Bunia.
Booker says the Security Council is only trying to prove that it is not preoccupied with Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East.
''But at the same time, it is not taking action commensurate with the size of the problem in the Congo,'' he said. The decision to send a military force to DRC is a positive move, he told IPS, but the 1,200-strong French-led force ''is woefully inadequate''.
Booker said the United Nations already has 3,000 to 4,000 troops in the country -- the U.N. Observer Mission in the Congo (MONUC) -- but they are spread too thin.
In a report released last week, Annan urged the Security Council to increase the troop strength in DRC to 10,800.
So far, according to U.N. sources, the only Western nations that have agreed to supply troops to the new force include France and Britain. Other potential contributors include South Africa, Nigeria, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The United States has ruled out any participation in the new force, said Booker, because it is not prepared to sacrifice the lives of U.S. soldiers in Africa. ''And there is a great irony there because the U.S. armed forces are disproportionately composed of people of African descent."
Sending troops would signal to the world that Washington is serious about helping to end the conflict, says MaryAnne Hoekstra, associate director of the Africa Centre for Peace and Democracy.
''France has shown leadership and agreed to have its soldiers take part in this, but otherwise the forces are mainly comprised of African and a few Latin American nations. If the United States is serious about peace, we need to also be willing to send our troops over there,'' she said.
Hoekstra said that ''human rights should be more of a priority than our national interest in their resources'', adding, ''only then can we see peace and stability flourish in Africa''.
Although the new rapid deployment force in the Congo is a step forward, the number of troops needs to increase significantly in order for peace to be restored, she added.
In an interview Hoekstra described the situation in DRC as ''a humanitarian disaster on a scale that surpasses the horrors of World War II''.
''The international community has turned a blind eye to the horrendous situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo -- and this is unacceptable.''
Under-Secretary-General Ibrahim Gambari told the Security Council last week that the world community should make greater and more creative efforts to consolidate the peace in places like the Central African Republic, Liberia and Guinea-Bissau after peacekeepers leave.
That effort should include the donor community, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) he added.
Gambari, U.N. special advisor on Africa, said the Security Council mission to West Africa will also assess the capacity of regional organisations such as the African Union (AU) to participate in peacekeeping operations -- particularly in Burundi and Ivory Coast.
But Doug Brooks of the International Peace Operations Association challenges both the quality and quantity of troops assigned for the new mission.
''The professionalism of troops eventually proffered to U.N. operations is often questionable. Reportedly, some deployed troops have made special arrangements with the United Nations specifically stating that they will not use armed force for any reason,'' he wrote in an article published in the 'Washington Post' on Monday.
Brook says that in both Liberia and Sierra Leone, ''international peacekeeping efforts floundered due to the lack of a credible force''.
''When rebels in Sierra Leone routed 8,000 U.N. troops three years ago, the British needed only 800 soldiers to restore U.N. authority,'' he added.