United Nations peacekeeping missions in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan, Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR) are struggling to succeed. However, the forces, operating under strict guidelines, are unable to ensure general security, stabilize volatile situations, or even protect civilians. According to some analysts, this scenario is far from successful.
Blue helmets, “overtaken by violence.”
“They have consistently failed to address the cycle of violence in those countries and the very reason they were brought in in the first place,” said Adib Saani, executive director of the Jatikay Center for Human Security and Peacebuilding.
Some missions seem overwhelmed by the upsurge in violence, according to Saani.
“A clear case is Mali, [the security situation] has not been resolved because day by day the violence seems to get worse, and it seems almost as if the mission is defenseless,” Saani added.
Other experts blame the lack of success on the operational mandates of the missions in Africa, which restrict the activities of the forces.
For example, UN peacekeeping operations are not considered instruments of law enforcement: “blue helmets” may not use lethal force except in self-defense or in defense of the mandate.
“I would not say that all UN missions in Africa are failing, but rather that it is the nature of their mandate that limits their efficiency or effectiveness in the areas in which they have to operate,” said Fidel Amakye Owusu, an analyst at the Consortium of Conflict Research for Africa.
Complex political and cultural dynamics
Conflict situations in Africa are very fluid and very unpredictable, and according to Owusu, that makes the nature of UN mandates very difficult to execute in volatile situations.
“So, in most cases, it looks like they’re not doing everything they can,” he said. “However, it has to do with the limits of his mandate from him rather than the effectiveness of the forces involved or the mission itself.”
Political instability further complicates matters, according to Saani, who explained that nothing new would be achieved as long as there are no effective democratic systems.
“One of the reasons is political instability: You will only succeed when there is strong political commitment. If there is no such commitment, it will be very difficult for them,” he added.
A problem rather than a solution?
In Mali, citizens have turned against the UN peacekeeping mission, accusing the forces of escalating tensions.
Relations have deteriorated to the point that Mali’s foreign minister officially asked the UN last week to withdraw its forces immediately. Saani said that when these allegations of abuse are not investigated, and their perpetrators are not promptly punished, the work of the missions is complicated.
“A lot has to do with a lack of confidence in the process. For example, in the Darfur region, there were some allegations of exploitation by peacekeeping forces, which, I must say, brought the peacekeeping mission in that area into dispute,” he said.
“I must say that trust is a problem, And there is another aspect. Some believe it is a ploy by the Western powers to reassert, so to speak, their authority and control over the countries in which these peacekeepers operate,” he added.
Peacekeeping missions are inevitable.
The missions continue to play a fundamental role despite these complications, according to Mohamed Amara of the Bamako University of Letters and Human Sciences.
He said he is concerned, for example, that once missions fail and pull out, it could create bigger problems in host countries.
In the case of Mali, Amara fears that the government will find it difficult to fill the void left.
“It is important to note that MINUSMA, somewhere, acts as a buffer between the Malian authorities and the rest of the territory. Therefore, if MINUSMA leaves, it will be necessary to replace all these security posts occupied by MINUSMA,” he stated. Owusu has also warned against making UN missions unwanted and demanding their departure, saying it could backfire.
In the case of Mali and the Sahel region, “we continue to find a higher incidence of terrorism,” Owusu said. “We find Islamic State affiliates still on the move and quite emboldened and seizing territory every day, every week.”
Reforms and restructuring
In a statement, UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said there are still a significant number of UN forces “exercising with integrity to save and improve lives, often at the risk of their own, in difficult and dangerous conditions, to protect civilians and help ensure lasting peace .”
Saani, who agreed, said that the work of the missions is still relevant in Africa. “I cannot deny that Africa cannot do it alone; we lack self-sufficiency: what I think should happen is that the UN restructures itself,” he said.
Involving local actors more in mission operations, according to Saani, would restore a certain level of confidence and success. For Owusu, there is very little that UN missions can achieve if their operations are not reformed.
“Perhaps the UN missions will have to be redefined for the future, perhaps to broaden their mandate or to make their support more fluid,” Owusu said. “But in terms of credibility, I don’t think the UN mission has lost any credibility. No, that has to do with actors other than the UN.”