After operations in Somalia ended badly in 1993, the US seemed to have full blown “Black Hawk Down” syndrome when it came to military intervention on the African continent. Many have cited the Somalia event among other reasons for the Clinton Administration’s failure to act during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. However, the US has been involved in militarizing the African continent since the Cold War: propping up warlords, funding resistance movements, and even assassinating the newly (democratically) elected head of state of modern day Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Patrice Lumumba. Currently, the Obama Administration has shown no reason for restraint in sending troops to engage in African conflicts.
The UN has had a high degree of failure when it comes to peacekeeping missions in Africa. Largely due to limited mandates, UN troops in Rwanda, Darfur, and the DRC have been ineffective. The UN has had 15 deployments related to African conflicts, 8 of which are ongoing. The critical question is are UN peacekeepers more effective than US military interventions?
Darfur/ South Kordofan/ South Sudan
Sudan has presented a host of conflicts that seem to have baffled US and UN diplomats alike. Some have called for greater military intervention, but the US has focused on non-military negotiations and peace deals. The conflicts in the Sudanese region are largely based on the Sudanese government attacking other ethnic groups and attempting to maintain control of the remaining regions under their jurisdiction. The SPLA has become the main military of South Sudan and has an affiliate in Sudan (North) SPLM-N.
During the 2008 US Presidential race, on the campaign trail in 2007, Joe Biden called for a force of 2,500 US troops to end the genocide in Darfur. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards supported a plan for a peacekeeping force. Barack Obama called for a no-fly zone in Darfur and divestment from corporations supporting the Sudanese regime. Bill Richardson personally met with the Sudanese president to push for a peacekeeping force.
It is a little known fact that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) leader, John Garang, was trained at Fort Benning and that,
“The US government decided, in 1996, to send nearly $20 million of military equipment through the ‘front-line’ states of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda to help the Sudanese opposition overthrow the Khartoum regime.” (Source)
President Bush was lauded for his role in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the North-South civil war in 2005 which led to the popular vote dividing Sudan and South Sudan. However, there is no mention of the US’s military role in fueling the conflict.
The US has played a significant diplomatic role in the Sudanese region. There has been a lot of talk and agreements and support for peacekeepers, but there has been little accomplished in the way of ending the long running conflict between various groups. Could George Clooney get the US to send troops into Sudan?
The UN has four current missions in the Sudanese region: UNAMID, UNMIS, UNISFA, UNMISS. The first of which, UNAMID, began operating in Darfur in 2007. Since, then 51 peacekeepers have been killed. Reports continue that the Sudanese government is targeting civilians.
Following the creation of South Sudan, a conflict arose over the area of South Kordofan in Abeyi. The UN added missions in Abeyi to mitigate conflict in South Kordofan (UNIFSA) as well as a mission for South Sudan in general (UNMISS). By all accounts Darfur was a major failure of UN action and South Kordofan represented an equally prominent failure. Reports noted that UN troops stood by while Sudanese troops killed unarmed civilians.
In the Sudanese region, the UN has failed to end the killing of hundreds of thousands of people more than once and has suffered casualties of its own forces since becoming involved in the region. It is easy to quickly say that UN peacekeepers in the Sudanese region have failed, but would Joe Biden’s 2,500 US troops have done any better instead of the UN-AU peacekeeping force?
- Sudanese government troops
- UNMIS (UN mission, 2005)
- UNAMID with AU forces (UN-AU mission in Darfur, 2007)
- SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army)
- SPLM-N (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North)
- SLM/A – Sudan Liberation Movement/Army
- JEM – Justice and Equality Movement
- UNMISS (South Sudan, 2011)
- UNIFSA (S. Kordofan, Abeyi, 2011)
Uganda/ Democratic Republic of Congo
The DRC has seen a high degree of conflict, which increased following the CIA assassination of Patrice Lumumba in 1961 and the US backed Mobutu coming to power for the next 32 years. Mobutu supported the Hutu militia (FDLR) responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The FDLR has been given refuge by the political establishment in DRC first with Mobutu and later with current President Joseph Kabila utilizing the FDLR to combat intervening forces (i.e. Rwanda & Uganda in 1996, 1998).
Since 2008, US military advisors have been on the ground in DRC helping to train the Congolese army (FARDC) to better maintain control of various regions of the vast country. It is unclear why military advisors were sent in the first place. Potentially it was a move by the US to counteract Chinese development programs targeting natural resources extraction.
The US has largely been absent from the conflicts of the DRC until recently. In 2011, President Obama announced that 100 US troops would be headed to Uganda to act as military advisors in the campaign to flush out the LRA leader, Joseph Kony. However, Kony and the LRA aren’t in Uganda anymore, they have been hiding out and operating from the DRC since 2006. New reports have come out saying that US troops are operating from bases in 4 countries are tracking down the LRA from bases in Uganda, South Sudan, DRC, and the Central African Republic.
The fact that the US is willing to devote military assets to routing a single militant group is extremely significant especially since there have been numerous bad actors operating in the region for decades and US actions in African conflicts haven’t been forthcoming. Since Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni took power and ensured that he kept getting elected, there have been 22 armed groups that have been formed to combat the government. Museveni has perpetuated the North-South ethnic divide held over from British colonial rule. As much as the LRA needs to be routed, Museveni needs to be engaged by the US to step down and allow real democracy to occur.
UN troops have been operating in the DRC since 2008, but have often had to bend to the will of area militias. What real power does the MONUSCO have in the DRC? More recently, in 2009 and 2012, MONUSCO has been cooperating with FARDC (the Congolese army) on joint missions to take down the FDLR and other militant groups, including the LRA. On March 14th, a senior officer of the FDLR surrendered to the UN forces.
The UN mission in DRC has the largest budget of any peacekeeping mission, but is notably underfunded and ill-equipped. The main problem is the vastness of the mountainous region and the multiple militant groups that need to be negotiated with or militarily engaged. It just can’t manage all the space with the man power that it has, therefore it is unable to protect the population because it is just unable.
Some have credited MONUSCO with ending the violence in some of the regions of DRC as well as organizing successful country-wide elections. Potentially the UN missions is gaining ground in the conflict?
Support from both the UN mission and US military advisors is somewhat concerning since FARDC has been involved in some of the worst human rights violations in the conflict.
- FARDC (Congolese army)
- MONUSCO (UN mission, 2010)
- General Nkundu – split from Congolese army to lead Tutsi forces against FDLR
- FDLR – former Interhamwe responsible for Rwandan genocide
- Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) – backed by Rwanda
- LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) – from N. Uganda
- UPDF (Uganda People’s Defense Force)
Will the US replace the UN as primary peacekeepers in Africa?
UN peacekeeping forces have tried to take on the Sudanese government and militias in the DRC, but have failed to keep peace or intervene in the killing of civilians. The UN almost always comes out with a statement condemning the killing of civilians by this or that group. Many peacekeepers have been killed in the various missions and there are only a few positive impacts noted from those missions. UN missions are notoriously plagued by underfunding, under-trained troops and a lack of adequate equipment.
In the past year the US has militarily intervened in 7 African countries with and without mandates or international support. They have trained the FARDC forces, which are now completing joint missions with MONUSCO to route militant groups. It seems as if Obama has taken up the Bush Doctrine to militarily intervene whenever he feels like it. Contrary to the UN missions, US military actions are rarely under-funded, troops are highly trained, and there is no lack of equipment.
On a side note, how can both the US and the UN overlook the atrocities committed by national armies (Sudanese government, FARDC, UPDF)? In these conflicts the UN/US create the narrative for who is the good guy and who is the bad guy, but there is a need for nuance. I understand that it isn’t possible to engage all sides and I can only hope that the UN/US missions are working to end atrocities committed by national armies, since those atrocities have often fueled conflicts further.
The UN is stretched and the US has the ability to send elite troops into conflict zones to rescue its citizens (Somalia). Can the US’s quick military interventions, anti-terrorism trainings, and military advisors create a more effective peace than the UN? After the LRA is eliminated will the US pick the next militant group to hunt down? Too many questions arise when analyzing military interventions. There is always cause for concern when conflict regions see an influx of militarization from the UN, US, and other countries with foreign policy interests.