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Vantage | Why are UN peacekeepers unpopular in Africa?

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Vantage | Why are UN peacekeepers unpopular in Africa?

As UN peacekeeping missions face increasing criticism and challenges, the need for reform becomes evident

The Vantage Take December 20, 2023 19:30:49 IST Vantage | Why are UN peacekeepers unpopular in Africa?

(File) A security guard closes the gate of the UN compound in the Congo Ituri province capital Bunia. AP

In recent news, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is gearing up for elections, but a significant security development is poised to make waves—the departure of a long-standing UN peacekeeping force. Stationed in the DRC since 2010, this force, known as MONUSCO (United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), has become a subject of celebration as it concludes its mission. However, the jubilation is not due to the success of fostering peace but rather a reflection of the controversial legacy left by the peacekeeping mission.

The DRC has been plagued by conflict for years, especially in its eastern regions, witnessing violent clashes between armed groups. The UN mission was expected to bring stability and peace to the region, but unfortunately it fell short of expectations. Instead of being a force for good, MONUSCO became entangled in a web of criticism and controversy.

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Unmet expectations and scandals

The primary reason behind the lack of enthusiasm for MONUSCO’s departure is its perceived ineffectiveness. Despite its decade-long presence, the mission did not succeed in quelling the ongoing conflicts in the region. Moreover, the peacekeepers themselves faced accusations of misconduct including involvement in sexual abuse scandals. The issue was not confined to the DRC alone, as similar incidents have marred UN peacekeeping missions in various parts of the world.

One glaring example is the reported cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping personnel, as documented by the UN itself. The perpetrators, often repatriated to their home nations, rarely faced legal consequences, contributing to a pattern of impunity that has tarnished the reputation of UN peacekeeping forces globally.

The backlash against UN peacekeeping missions is not unique to the DRC. Across the globe, these missions are increasingly viewed with scepticism. The fundamental issue lies in the structural problems inherent in these operations.

Structural challenges

UN peacekeeping forces lack a standing army and rely on member nations to contribute soldiers voluntarily. This practice, while noble in principle, introduces several challenges. Firstly, these missions operate on a donation-based model for both troops and funding, making them susceptible to shortages and delays. The reliance on the generosity of member nations hampers the rapid and effective deployment of peacekeepers.

Furthermore, the immunity and lack of oversight enjoyed by peacekeeping forces create a scenario where perpetrators of crimes often escape justice. The UN’s inability to punish wrongdoers results in their repatriation to their home countries, where they may face minimal consequences. This lack of accountability undermines the credibility and effectiveness of UN peacekeeping missions.

Call for reform

As UN peacekeeping missions face increasing criticism and challenges, the need for reform becomes evident. The current system requires substantial improvements including better funding mechanisms, enhanced oversight and mechanisms for holding peacekeepers accountable for their actions.

Research indicates that the mere presence of UN peacekeeping forces can contribute to reduced civilian casualties during conflicts. While they are far from perfect, these missions play a vital role in stabilising tense regions. Rather than discarding them entirely, efforts should be directed towards reforming these missions to address their inherent flaws.

To regain public trust and fulfill their mandate effectively, UN peacekeeping missions must undergo substantial reforms. Adequate funding, accountability for wrongdoing and support for peacekeepers are crucial aspects that need immediate attention. If these reforms materialise, UN peacekeeping missions could transition from being perceived as paper tigers to effective agents of peace in troubled regions.

The challenges faced by UN peacekeeping missions, as exemplified by the situation in the DRC, underscore the urgent need for comprehensive reforms. The international community must collectively address the structural issues that impede the success of these missions to ensure a more positive and impactful role in global peacekeeping efforts.

Views expressed in the above piece are personal and solely that of the author. They do not necessarily reflect Firstpost’s views.

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