UN peacekeepers face pushback in Mali and elsewhere in Africa

AFP , Saturday 24 Jun 2023

When Mali recently called for a UN peacekeeping force to depart the country "without delay," it was the latest sign of unease in parts of Africa over the role of the so-called Blue Helmet operations.

UN peacekeeping forces
File Photo: More than 170 peacekeepers have died in fighting, making MINUSMA the UN s deadliest combat mission. AFP


Mali Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop last month called for the UN Security Council to withdraw peacekeepers from his country "without delay", denouncing their "failure" to meet security challenges.

The UN Security Council, which was due to vote on the renewal of the mission's mandate on June 29, is likely to agree to Mali's request, according to diplomatic sources.

A draft resolution, which will have to be approved by the Council, "acknowledges the withdrawal" and refers to a six-month period to organize the departure of around 12,000 military and police personnel, a source told AFP.

The mission has been in "persistent crisis" since Mali's military coup in 2020, Anjali Dayal, a professor at Fordham University in New York City, told AFP.

Mali's military has increasingly imposed operational restrictions on the peacekeepers, demanding that the mission instead tackles terror groups in the country.

The landlocked Sahel state has been battling a security crisis since jihadist and separatist insurgencies broke out in 2012.

"It's not the only mission in the world to have host state problems," Dayal said.

Blue Helmet forces have also faced friction in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

In the DRC, anti-UN demonstrations have repeatedly broken out over the years, while the government has called for an "accelerated" departure of the UN's mission there.

"There is a 'consent crisis' in several African countries," Patryk Labuda of the University of Zurich told AFP.

"Populations and governments are not satisfied with the services provided by the Blue Helmets", but for different reasons in each country, he added.

Richard Gowan, of the International Crisis Group, told AFP that "the Blue Helmets are finding it difficult to play a role in the persistent violence" in the DRC, South Sudan and Mali.

"The local population often views UN units with skepticism and contempt," he said.

"I think that some governments in Africa think that the UN wastes too much time talking about human rights and too little time killing off troublesome insurgents."

'Predatory And Brutal' 

Under UN mandates, peacekeepers are authorized to use force only as a last resort to defend themselves or the mandate. They are neither a peace enforcement tool nor an anti-terrorist force.

Gowan said Russia's paramilitary Wagner group, which is active in several Saharan countries, represents the "predatory and brutal" alternative to the Blue Helmets, using lethal force on insurgents.

"In reality, this is usually a recipe for more chaos," Gowan said.

Divisions within the UN Security Council don't help.

"This level of resistance that we're seeing from some host governments, not all but from some, I think is connected to the divisions that we're currently seeing within the Security Council. And host states are unfortunately using this as leverage," Julie Gregory, of the Stimson Center think tank, told AFP.

Mali's decision "may send a signal to other governments: if you're not happy, you can be more assertive. It may reduce the UN's room for maneuver," Labuda said.

But despite the setbacks faced by Blue Helmet forces, the achievements of UN missions should not be forgotten, experts said.

"The way we think about peacekeeping is so colored by its failures because they are visible and big," Dayal said.

"But it's a pretty successful tool. It tends to reduce the spread of conflict; it tends to keep casualty levels lower; it tends to be particularly effective at protecting people from rebels."

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