Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Peace keepers' dilemma: Keeping the peace where there is none

Don’t blame peacekeepers for the prolongation of Africa’s continuing crisis, argues François Grignon and Daniela Kroslak of the International Crisis Group. That’s because the continent’s bloodiest conflicts – like Chad, Somalia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo – can only be solved through political accommodation that tackle their root problems, which lies outside the purview of peace keepers.

The problem is the international community is more willing to send off these peace keepers and emergency humanitarian groups, but remain unenthusiastic to begin the arduous political process of bringing all parties to the negotiating table and keeping them accountable. When fighting restarts and civilians are involved, peace keepers are blamed for not doing their job. Without peace deals, however, the peace is quite hard to maintain.

Take the example of Darfur:

[P]ublic pressure has drawn attention to the international community’s inability to protect civilians. The consolidation of initiatives under the AU–UN banner will only bear fruit over time if negotiations go beyond the superficial sticking points—such as compensation for crimes committed, and janjaweed disarmament— and deal with the root causes of the conflict. That means establishing greater and more equal representation of Darfurians at local and national levels, and greater sharing of wealth. Despite the humanitarian effort on the ground, civilians in Darfur continue to suffer because the international community has put insufficient political pressure on Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to ensure that the government adheres to its past commitments. Addressing the root causes of the problem, and providing international support, will also be crucial if Unamid is to make a difference on the ground and avoid becoming a new scapegoat, blamed for its impotence in the effective protection of Darfurian civilians.

Finally, military operations usually create a void that needs to be filled by reformed government structures. Any peacekeeping force engaged in forceful disarmament of militias and area domination can only carry out these activities for a few days. Once a vacuum is created, it has to be filled by agreed state structures. If not, the same or other armed groups will quickly regain or expand their territorial control. The protection of civilians can only be successful operationally in partnership with the state. There is no way around that.

Sadly, in Darfur and beyond, the world seems more willing to contribute money to humanitarian efforts than to tackle the causes of conflicts. Peacekeeping missions are often used as a Band-Aid for complex conflicts, and are rarely equipped to do the political work that is vital to addressing the causes. In complex emergencies such as those facing the DRC, Sudan, and Somalia, the hostage population can only be sustainably protected if an effective political strategy accompanies the deployment of peacekeeping operations.

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