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Keeping the Peace in Africa

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Recently peacekeeping program officer Mark Malan testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Africa, on the US Africa Command or AFRICOM. Mark voiced the concern that as it stands now AFRICOM could dangerously blur the line between a military role and engaging in more civilian responses like development projects and humanitarian assistance. These activities normally fall to humanitarian organizations whose security and access to affected populations hinges on the neutrality of their work.

In short, the concerns of the humanitarian NGOs overlap with those of Africans—to the extent that they are both underpinned by the fear of the militarization of humanitarian and development assistance, as well as US policy in Africa. An obvious way to overcome such concerns and enhance the credibility of the new combatant command, is to focus attention and effort on those non-combatant roles which are relevant, meaningful, and undeniably appropriate for the US military. You can read Mark’s full testimony here.

Mark is also the director of the Partnership for Effective Peacekeeping (PEP), which works to increase peacebuilding capacity by bringing together various academics, think tanks, humanitarians, policymakers, and others. Visit the PEP website to read more about Mark’s testimony and to sign up for their mailing list.

On a related note, the United Nations Security Council recently passed a resolution that authorizes the deployment of a hybrid mission to Darfur made up of UN and African Union peacekeeping troops and police. The resolution is an important step towards alleviating the violence and humanitarian crisis that has pummeled western Sudan since 2003.

The African Union currently has about 7,000 peacekeeping troops in Darfur (compared to the 14,000 aid workers there), but they are under funded and understaffed, which means that vulnerable populations like women and children receive little protection against abuses such as sexual and gender based violence.

The 26,000 peacekeepers proposed for the hybrid mission could potentially bring some sense of safety and stability to Darfur. But as Mark points out in his recent commentary on the UN Resolution, the mandate for the hybrid mission, UNMID, is vague, and it remains to be seen whether the force commander and troop contributing countries will allow the peacekeepers to risk their lives in order to end the violence in Darfur and protect the civilians most in need.

Related Story: Peace Women, Convicted of Trespassing, Teach the US Government a Lesson in Diplomacy


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