Blue Helmets ineffective compared to US troops in Central Africa?

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.

US

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?

UN

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?

Actors:

  • 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).

US

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

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.

Actors:

  • 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.

hope and change in 2008 politics

peace without sickness, failure without denial, and democracy without restriction

Hope and change have gained a great footing in not only the 2008 Presidential elections in the US, but also in the communities of Northern Uganda. Peace talk negotiations and a cease-fire in fighting have allowed children to return home, families to rebuild, and communities to begin creating lives without fear from conflict. The conflict in Northern Uganda is often tagged as a “civil war,” but largely centers on a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). (Read more here) Thousands displaced, abducted, lost – hundreds killed. The peace talks have been going well and two weeks ago (April 10th) Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA, was supposed to come out of hiding to sign the peace agreement. He did not show up and his spokesperson claimed he had been sick. Sick or afraid? Kony and his top officials are now on the top of the International Criminal Court’s arrest list. It seems he may have been sick with fear of being held accountable for his long-running violent resistance.

The election count in Zimbabwe has been delayed. After many have called for the results to be released from the election, electoral officials have decided to recount 23 out of the 210 seats. This will take 3 more days. There is fear that the recount will include vote-rigging, something that would not be new in Zimbabwean elections under Mugabe. It is well known that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party has gained the majority over Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party. There are fears that the recount could reverse that majority. Hope for change in Zimbabwe is stalled yet again and there is no guess as to when election results will actually be released. Now hundreds of opposition supporters, fleeing “state-sponsored” violence, have been detained. Most will be charged with inciting election violence as the scapegoats for Mugabe’s government response to political opposition.

Opposition candidates have been arrested, people stayed away from the polls, rising cost of food and decline in wages have lead to a popular discontent with the Egyptian government. People are more concerned with getting bread on the table than on turning out in the polls. The main opposition party in Egypt has been officially banned and their candidates have been arrested and detained so that they cannot campaign. The hope for change has been squashed by the current government, but not without at least some opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood, with its candidates banned, boycotted the elections and clashed with police. There is fear in the government that they will lose more support to the “pro-Islamist independents” who seem to have the backing of the people. The US is not the only country where the rise in power of Islamic groups has produced an unfounded fear and caused actions that are far from democratic.

Kenyan politicians have reached a deal to allow a coalition government. Mwai Kibaki will remain President and his opponent, Raila Odinga, will serve as Prime Minister. It is not clear how the people will react to this evolution. The next major task of the coalition government is to work on relocating the hundreds of thousands of displaced peoples as a result of their “election” or move to power. Nearly 140,000 people are living in tents and depend on food handouts to live. Adding difficulty, there is disagreement in the parliament as to what actions should be taken first: returning the displaced or preaching co-existence and reconciliation. The historical rifts in Kenyan politics will need to be handled as soon as possible if Kenya is to move forward with the stability of the past.

In all four cases there is an extensive past to learn in order to fully understand the current situations. Each case represents a direct outcome of former colonial systems perpetuated (especially their failures), oppressed populations, and a push for democracy that seems to be historically flawed in its practice and exportation. Hope and change may just become buzz words for the 2008 election year, but they also have the great potential to live up to the aspirations of many looking for a new way of handling governments and societies.