Review: A Peacekeeper in Africa by Alan Doss
ALan Doss’ career at the United Nations has taken him to some of Africa’s most complex conflict zones as a peacekeeper – Sierra Leone, CÃ´te d’Ivoire, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (DRC).
In the first two parts of A peacekeeper in Africa: Learn from UN interventions in the wars of others, he reflects on the operations he has been through, while in the final sections he reflects on the nature of peacekeeping and its future.
He begins by recalling that very few modern conflicts in Africa have been wars of territorial conquest. The decision to respect the colonial demarcation of national borders that created multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual states inevitably led to internal conflicts erupting throughout the post-colonial era.
âInstead of wars between countries, many smaller wars have erupted within countries as various groups and leaders struggle to capture or resist the state, spawning abusive regimes and rapacious rulers, sometimes with support or connivance of outside powers, âhe explains.
In such cases, the demand of an existing government, “however ineffective, unrepresentative or vile as that government may be”, may be sufficient to mobilize a UN peacekeeping force.
A common misconception is that peacekeepers are there to support these governments, but Doss says that is absolutely not the case.
âRobust peacekeeping is essentially tactical in nature – designed as a short, focused response to a specific and localized armed threat. In my experience, it worked best when the threat was confined to a limited geographic area and relatively accessible terrain. “
Doss sees the use of UN peacekeeping as an absolutely crucial tool of humanitarianism, and begins his memories with his stay in Sierra Leone, where he was posted in 2000. He outlines his history, recalling his first years under British colonialism as a colony for freed slaves, before tracing the decline and fall of the independent state, which culminated in the Civil War and the rise of the brutal Revolutionary United Front (RUF). This “dystopian amalgam of the dispossessed, the discontented and the defenseless” triggered regional, international and UN military interventions.
âBy the time I reached Sierra Leone,â Doss recalls, âthe horror of the conflict – characterized by amputations and child soldiers carrying AK47s – was widely known. ”
Almost half of the 4.5 million residents had to flee their homes because of the war, but Doss was impressed with how they were able to get their lives back on track once the RUF was pushed back.
Many factors contributed to the end of the war – political, diplomatic, military and personal – but he cites the capture and imprisonment of RUF leader Foday Sankoh as determining factors.
Ivory Coast: “A conflict of superimposed complexity”
After three and a half years in Sierra Leone, Doss moved to CÃ´te d’Ivoire, where the terms of a ceasefire reached in January 2003 between the government and rebel forces had led to a de facto partition of the country.
It perfectly sums up the path that led to the war. While the country largely avoided Sierra Leone’s serial coups, in part thanks to a stable relationship between President FÃ©lix HouphouÃ«t-Boigny and the former French colonizer, a fundamental challenge later arose out of the growth dependent on migrants from the Ivorian economy. A post-independence economic âmiracleâ was founded on plantation agriculture run by immigrant labor from Burkina Faso and Mali.
On the death of HouphouÃ«t-Boigny in 1993, his successor Henri Konan BÃ©diÃ© undertook to modify the electoral list to exclude candidates whose parents were not born in CÃ´te d’Ivoire or who had not resided in the country for five years, a requirement known as ivory. The issue has become a central element of the political crisis that has enveloped and deeply destabilized CÃ´te d’Ivoire.
The rebels consolidated their hold in the northern half of the country and were joined by two armed groups from the west. As Abidjan sank into chaos, Doss feared that the militias would turn their anger against the communities of West and North Africans in the city: âIf this happened, and despite our mandate to protect civilians, we would have had a hard time preventing massacres. ”
Doss’s stay in CÃ´te d’Ivoire was relatively short but discouraging. âUnlike my departure from Freetown, I left Abidjan with the feeling of an unfinished job,â he writes. âThis was a conflict of many levels of complexity and not simply a repeat of the ‘good against evil’ struggle that characterized the war in Sierra Leone. “
Liberia: famine and sexual violence
He was then posted to Liberia, which had suffered a quarter of a century of brutality, social unrest and economic collapse. The violence and its consequences, including famine, have killed at least 250,000 people and displaced many more.
Liberia’s descent into chaos was marked by three phases. The first was the rise of Samuel Doe after a coup in 1980, which ended in his gruesome murder a decade later. Doe’s death sparked a second phase of conflict marked by turf wars that eventually brought Charles Taylor to power in 1997. The third phase began in 1999 and ended in 2003 with Taylor’s exile in Nigeria and the creation of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) as a peacekeeping force.
The elections saw Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf become the ruler of Liberia, and her progressive policies quickly made the path to lasting peace a viable reality.
BBut even when the conflict ended, anarchy increased dramatically. Doss was confronted with evidence of the prevalence of rape, and UNMIL personnel were complicit in it.
Sexual exploitation remains a constant dilemma for the UN and many NGOs, a scourge that Doss says has seriously damaged the reputation of peacekeeping despite the lack of progress on a solution.
“In the most serious cases of sexual exploitation and abuse involving military personnel,” he writes, “our inability to go beyond a call for offenders to be recalled and prosecuted – the UN no. has no prosecutorial authority over troops or police deployed in peacekeeping operations. – the credibility of the seriously damaged mission. This policy is very unlikely to change. The prospects of a government handing over prosecution power to the UN to sanction its own troops appear highly unlikely. “
Sexual violence by militias was a major problem when Doss arrived in the DRC as the special representative of the UN secretary general.
âThe sexual violence in the Congo has eclipsed even the horrors that had been inflicted on the women and girls of Sierra Leone and Liberia,â he wrote.
Can guns be silenced?
Doss draws on his experience in the four countries to reflect on the nature of the UN’s peacekeeping role.
âDoes peacekeeping have a future? he asks. âI would like to say no, confident in the belief that conflicts of the type that the United Nations has been involved in over the past decades will be avoided in the first place.
âBut I’m afraid that’s not the case. Given the international community’s mixed record in conflict prevention, I anticipate that United Nations peacekeepers will continue to be called upon to intervene in the wars of other peoples.
It’s a fascinating book by a peacekeeper who has seen a lot but is still looking for answers.