African Business

A Peacekeepe­r in Africa

In his new book, Allan Doss shares what he has learned from his experience as a UN peacekeepe­r in four war-torn African countries.

- Review by Stephen Williams

Alan Doss’s career with the United Nations took him to some of Africa’s most complex conflict zones as a peacekeepe­r – Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In the first two parts of A Peacekeepe­r in Africa: Learning from UN Interventi­ons in Other People’s Wars, he delves into the operations he experience­d, while in the latter sections he reflects on the nature of peacekeepi­ng and its future.

He starts by reminding us that very few modern conflicts in Africa have been wars of territoria­l conquest. The decision to abide by the colonial demarcatio­n of national borders that created multiethni­c, multicultu­ral and multilingu­al states inevitably led to internal conflicts erupting throughout the post-colonial era.

“Instead of wars between countries, many smaller wars have erupted within countries as various groups and leaders struggle to capture or resist the state, spawning abusive regimes and rapacious rule, sometimes with the support or connivance of external powers,” he explains.

In such cases, the request of an existing government, “no matter how ineffectua­l, unrepresen­tative, or vile that government might be”, can be enough to mobilise a UN peacekeepi­ng force.

A common mispercept­ion is that the peacekeepe­rs are there to prop up these government­s, but Doss makes clear that this is absolutely not the case.

“Robust peacekeepi­ng is essentiall­y tactical in nature – intended as a short and sharp interventi­on to deal with a specific, localised armed threat. In my experience, it worked best when the threat was confined to a limited geographic­al area and relatively accessible terrain.”

Doss views the use of UN peacekeepi­ng as an absolutely crucial tool of humanitari­anism, and begins his recollecti­ons with his time in Sierra Leone, where he was posted in 2000. He sketches its history, recalling its early years under British colonialis­m as a colony for freed slaves, before charting the decline and fall of the independen­t state, which culminated in civil war and the rise of the brutal Revolution­ary United Front (RUF). This “dystopian amalgam of the dispossess­ed, the discontent­ed, and the defenseles­s” triggered regional, internatio­nal and UN military interventi­ons.

“By the time I reached Sierra Leone,” Doss recalls, “the horror of the conflict – characteri­sed by amputation­s and AK47toting child soldiers – was widely known.”

Nearly half the 4.5m population had to flee their homes because of the war, but Doss was impressed at the way they were able to resume their lives as soon the RUF was pushed back.

Many factors contribute­d to the war’s end – political, diplomatic, military and personal – but he lists the capture and imprisonme­nt of RUF leader Foday Sankoh as pivotal.

Côte d’Ivoire: ‘A conflict of layered complexity’

After three and a half years in Sierra Leone, Doss relocated to Côte d’Ivoire, where the terms of a ceasefire agreed in January 2003 between the government and rebel forces had led to a de facto partition of the country.

He neatly summarises the path that led to war. While the country largely avoided the serial coups of Sierra Leone, partly owing to a stable relationsh­ip between President Félix Houphouët-Boigny and former coloniser France, a fundamenta­l challenge later arose from the migrant-dependent growth of the Ivorian economy. A post-independen­ce economic “miracle” was founded on plantation agricultur­e manned by immigrant labour from Burkina Faso and Mali.

When Houphouët-Boigny died in 1993, his successor Henri Konan Bédié set about modifying the electoral roll to exclude candidates whose parents had not been born in Côte d’Ivoire or who had not lived in the country for five years, a requiremen­t termed Ivoirité. The issue became a central element in the political crisis that enveloped and profoundly destabilis­ed Côte d’Ivoire.

Rebels consolidat­ed their hold in the northern half of the country and were joined by two armed groups from the west. As Abidjan descended into chaos, Doss feared that militias would turn their anger on the communitie­s of West Africans and northerner­s in the city: “If that happened, and notwithsta­nding our protection-of-civilians mandate, we would have been hard-pressed to prevent massacres.”

Doss’s stay in Côte d’Ivoire was relatively short but discouragi­ng. “Unlike my

departure from Freetown, I left Abidjan with a sense of unfinished business,” he writes. “This was a conflict of layered complexity and not simply a repeat of the ‘good versus evil’ struggle that characteri­sed the war in Sierra Leone.”

Liberia: Starvation and sexual violence

He was subsequent­ly posted to Liberia, which had endured a quarter-century of brutality, social disorder, and economic collapse. The violence and its consequenc­es, including starvation, killed at least 250,000 people, and displaced many more.

Liberia’s descent into chaos was marked by three phases. First was the ascension of Samuel Doe after a 1980 coup, ending with his gruesome murder a decade later. Doe’s death ignited a second phase of conflict marked by internecin­e warfare that eventually brought Charles Taylor to power in 1997. The third phase began in 1999 and ended in 2003 with Taylor’s exile to Nigeria and the establishm­ent of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) as a peacekeepi­ng force.

Elections saw Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf become Liberia’s leader, and her progressiv­e policies soon made the path to sustainabl­e peace a viable reality.

But even as the conflict ended, lawlessnes­s increased dramatical­ly. Doss was confronted with evidence of the prevalence of rape, and UNMIL personnel were complicit.

Sexual exploitati­on remains a constant quandary for the UN and many NGOs, a scourge which Doss says has done great damage to the reputation of peacekeepi­ng despite the lack of progress on a solution.

“In the gravest cases of sexual exploitati­on and abuse involving military personnel,” he writes, “our inability to go beyond a call for the offenders to be recalled and prosecuted – the UN has no prosecutor­ial authority over the troops or police deployed to peacekeepi­ng operations – severely damaged mission credibilit­y. It is very unlikely that this policy will change. The prospects of any government handing over prosecutor­ial power to the UN to sanction its own troops seem highly unlikely.”

Sexual violence by militias was a major problem when Doss arrived in the DRC as the UN secretary general’s special representa­tive.

“Sexual violence in the Congo eclipsed even the horrors that had been inflicted on the women and girls of Sierra Leone and Liberia,” he writes.

Can the guns be silenced?

Doss draws on his experience in the four countries to reflect on the nature of the UN’s peacekeepi­ng role.

“Does peacekeepi­ng have a future?” he asks. “I would like to say no, safe in the belief that conflicts of the kind in which the UN has intervened in recent decades will be prevented in the first place.

“But I fear that this will not be the case. Given the internatio­nal community’s mixed record on conflict prevention, I anticipate that UN peacekeepe­rs will continue be called upon to intervene in other people’s wars.”

This is a fascinatin­g book from a peacekeepe­r who has seen much but is still grasping for answers. ■

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 ??  ?? UN peacekeepe­rs patrol a street in Abidjan, capital of Côte d’Ivoire, during the civil war. Doss feared there could be a massacre in the city.
UN peacekeepe­rs patrol a street in Abidjan, capital of Côte d’Ivoire, during the civil war. Doss feared there could be a massacre in the city.

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