Page last updated at 01:58 GMT, Monday, 2 June 2008 02:58 UK

UN takes stock of role in Africa

By Mark Doyle
BBC World Affairs Correspondent, Nairobi

Pakistani peacekeepers in Congo
Pakistani peacekeepers have been accused of collusion in Congo

The United Nations Security Council has embarked on a mission to gather intelligence on Africa's wars and see how they might be ended.

The mission's first meeting includes discussions with the Somalian government and its opponents.

From there, officials will head to Sudan and other strife-torn nations - including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ivory Coast.

The diplomats hope to assess what needs to be done next to push peace forward.

As the world's top debating chamber on peace and security issues, and sometimes its global police force, the council plays a complex role.

Colonial ties

As a body, it is in favour of peace, and several countries on the council have provided UN peacekeepers to the continent.

But some of the individual member countries on the council are also actively involved in Africa's wars.

Of the permanent members of the Security Council, for example, the United States backs the government side in Somalia.

Several of the countries that the senior diplomats represent have also sold arms to belligerents in Africa - China and Russia are prominent in this category

And France is an ally of Chad - which in turn is alleged to back rebels in Sudan.

Among the alternate members, Libya, which currently holds a temporary seat on the council, has over the years been deeply involved in the conflicts in Darfur in western Sudan, and in supporting rebel groups across west Africa.

Several of the countries that the senior diplomats represent have also sold arms to belligerents in Africa - China and Russia are prominent in this category.

And some other Security Council countries have a long colonial relationship with the continent which colours their perspective and the way they are viewed by Africans.


The armies of France and Britain, in particular, have a long history of trampling across Africa - sometimes at war with each other, and often with scant regard for the plight of the local population.

Many of the diplomats in suits have a certain amount of cultural and political "baggage" which will not be missed by their African hosts.

The coming days may see some interesting diplomatic language as the conflicting interests of some of the countries on the council are finessed.

The fact that the UN Security Council will hold its first set of talks - the Somalia meeting - in the neighbouring state of Djibouti is instructive. The diplomats have decided that Somalia is simply too dangerous for them to visit.

The country is the ultimate "failed state" - the capital Mogadishu is destroyed by war and an estimated half of the city's population have fled.

Refugees flee Mogadishu
Aid agencies say 6,000 civilians have died in the past year in Mogadishu

The UN says almost two million Somalis are in desperate need of outside assistance.

An Islamist insurgency there has been mounting almost daily attacks on the weak government, which is backed by the United States because Washington believes the Islamists are associated with Al Qaeda.

The US ally in the region, Ethiopia, sent its army into Somalia in December 2006 to oust an Islamist-leaning administration which the Ethiopians accused of supporting anti-Ethiopian rebels.

The remnants of that ousted regime, known as the Union of Islamic Courts, make up part of the current Somali opposition.

Some experts on the Horn of Africa say the US's strong backing of one side in Somalia, rather than emphasising the importance of talks between the factions, has exacerbated the situation.

Warlords with titles

John Prendergast of the advocacy group Enough said: "By branding all resistance (to the Ethiopians) 'terrorism' and providing aid to factions of the Somali transitional government that are simply warlords with titles, the United States has contributed to further polarisation and made a political settlement less likely."

Unrest in Sudan's Abyei
Sudan's oil patch if Abyei is the source of unrest

UN diplomats believe that the recent appointment of a new Prime Minister in Somalia - a man called Nur Adde who has said he will negotiate with anybody - provides a rare window of opportunity for a peace initiative.

The Security Council is due to hold separate meetings in Djibouti with the Somali government and the Somali opposition, and has held out the possible prospect of the first official, face to face, talks between the two.

A senior UN diplomat involved in the negotiations told the BBC that this was already happening in private ahead of the Security Council arriving in Djibouti.

"They're in the same hotel," UN peace envoy for Somalia Ahmedou Ould Abdallah told the BBC via an aide. "And they're talking."

There is less optimism about Sudan, where the mass displacement of civilians in the western region of Darfur is still unresolved, and where a peace agreement in the war between the north and the south may be unravelling.

Congo collusion

The disastrous situation in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo will also be studied by the diplomats, who are hoping to visit the capital Kinshasa as well as Goma, the main city in the eastern province of North Kivu on the border with Rwanda.

Around a half a million people have been chased from their homes in North Kivu in the past year alone.

The culprits are a mixture of rebels and undisciplined government soldiers, but the underlying cause is the proxy war that is still being fought between Congo and Rwanda through various rebel groups.

The UN has its largest peacekeeping force in the world in Congo, with most of them based in the east.

While there is general agreement in the region that the humanitarian situation would probably be far worse had the UN not sent in troops, there is frustration at why it is taking so long to fix Congo.

The recent allegations of collusion and corruption between some UN peacekeeping contingents in Congo and one of the rebel forces, will almost certainly be one of the issues the Security Council ambassadors will discuss.

UN troops 'armed DR Congo rebels'
28 Apr 08 |  Panorama


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