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Friday, 5 May, 2000, 06:43 GMT 07:43 UK
UN failing in Africa
UN Somalia
The UN's intervention in Somalia was disastrous
By Jon Leyne

UN peacekeeping around the world has not had a happy recent history and has been a disaster in Africa.

Events in Sierra Leone appear to be following a tragically similar pattern.

Across Africa, a series of intractable conflicts has met with global disinterest.

In a way it is almost not a surprise there are failures

Africa analyst Dominique Jacquin-Berdal
Where the UN has managed to raise a force, the nature of warfare on the continent has challenged traditional concepts of peacekeeping.

"In a way it is almost not a surprise there are failures," says Dominique Jacquin-Berdal, an Africa specialist at the London School of Economics.

"It would almost be more surprising if there were not failures given the nature of the wars and the unwillingness of everyone to do anything about it."

UN officials must still have sleepless nights when they recall the increasingly desperate warnings from their force commander in Rwanda of the impending genocide in 1994.

Even after the killing started, it took months for the world to react.

Ethnic hate

Yet this case illustrates the depth of the problems facing the UN in Africa.

Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan: faces major problems in Africa
In Rwanda, as in so many African conflicts, the civil war was driven by deep ethnic hatreds.

Just putting in a few blue helmets was a hopelessly inadequate response.

As so often in Africa there was no line of ceasefire.

Often there is no line of authority or responsibility either when those earnestly negotiated ceasefires break down.

If the UN cannot rely on consent, the alternative is to use force.

That is what happened in Somalia in 1993 with even more disastrous results.

The Americans ended up killing the civilians they had come to feed.

Washington's decision to pull out after the humiliating downing of one of its helicopters has led all Western governments to rethink their involvement in Africa.

Few are now willing to offer the well equipped soldiers that should be the mainstay of any UN operation.

African solution

One of the answers since then has been for Africa to police its own conflicts.

Kenyan UN
UN troops in Sierra Leone are in deep trouble
The initiative has had some success, but it was the decision of the Nigerian-led force to pull out of Sierra Leone last year that resulted in the deployment of the UN force that is now in so much trouble.

The list goes on:

  • Angola is back in civil war, despite years of UN involvement.
  • Fighting continues in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the UN has been able to raise barely 1,000 of the 5,500 peacekeepers promised. Even the full force would be sadly overstretched.
  • The UN has not yet been allowed to police the front line in the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
  • Nobody has even considered getting involved in the forgotten war in Sudan.

One of the most successful generals to lead a UN peacekeeping operation had a blunt message recently.

UN peacekeeping was a child of the Cold War, he said. No more Cold War, no more peacekeeping.

Looking at events in Africa, he may have a point.

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16 Dec 99 | Africa
UN admits failure in Rwanda
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