"Their Priority Is Not The People": Civilian Views On Peace Operations In Africa
- Thijs Van Laer
- Content Type
- Working Paper
- Global Peace Operations Review
- “Their priority is not the people of Somalia,” a Somali woman who had recently fled to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya said about peacekeepers in her home country. “It is the government and themselves.”
Unfortunately, this view is not unique. Civilians in countries with peace operations often experience a wide gap between them and those missions. Yet, at a time when peacekeeping is at a crossroads—again—and under increasing financial pressure, it is more important than ever to solicit and acknowledge the views of the citizens who are affected by peace operations. Their suggestions on how to bolster results should be taken into account in the ongoing debates about successes, failures, and costs of peace operations. However, despite an acceptance in the ever-quoted HIPPO report that “engaging with host countries and local communities must increasingly be regarded as core to mission success” and despite the acceptance of protection of civilians as a core norm for UN peacekeeping, realities on the ground demonstrate that too little has been done to access or include these voices.
Between October 2015 and April 2017, International Refugees Rights Initiative (IRRI) conducted close to 200 interviews with civilians in South Sudan, Sudan (Darfur) and Somalia about how they perceive the peace operations in their countries.
The three missions in those countries, all of which are mandated by the UN Security Council, embody the range of different options available to implement the strategic partnership between the African Union and the UN, from a fully-fledged UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), to a joint AU-UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and an AU-operated mission in Somalia (AMISOM). While all three operate in significantly different contexts, they all have “little peace to keep” and have been often criticized for their limitations in implementing their mandate, especially when it comes to the protection of civilians.
All three missions have also been reviewed this year. UNAMID has been restructured and its troop numbers have been seriously reduced; the UN and AU have just concluded a joint review of AMISOM and strengthened the focus in its mandate on withdrawal and handover to Somali security forces. UNMISS faces some minor budget cuts and a review, even as reinforcement by a Regional Protection Force is slowly being implemented.
While much of what was talked about by the Somalis, South Sudanese, and Darfuris interviewed during the course of the research was specific to their context, a number of similarities and trends emerge from their responses, despite the strategic, operational, and contextual differences between the three missions. These trends are important, not only for any new rounds of high-level policy debates, but also for addressing the strategic challenges for protection of civilians and the rock-bottom popularity of peacekeepers among the civilians they are supposed to protect.
- Human Rights, United Nations, Refugees, Peace, Civilians
- Political Geography
- Kenya, Africa, Sudan, Darfur, Somalia, South Sudan