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De Coning, Cecric, Linnea Gelot, and John Karlsrud, eds. The Future of African Peace Operations: From the Janweed to Boko Haram (London: Zed Books, 2016), pp. 256.

Reviewed by: Karen A. Mingst (Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, University of Kentucky)

This relatively short collection of articles brings together the work of think tanks, academics, and practitioners in international and regional organizations that are addressing current issues in African peace operations. The co-editors from the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs provide an excellent introduction to the salient issues. The various African contributors from Ghana, Ethiopia, South Africa, Senegal, and Nigeria focus on one of the major themes, identified as problem areas. The overarching conclusion is that the African Union (AU) “needs to retain a high great degree of flexibility so that it can continue to adapt to the highly dynamic and complex challenges it will be called upon to manage”, while the ASF (African Standby Force), a key component of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), “should remain the main framework of African peace operations” (p. 144).

UN Police (UNPOL) Training Team serving with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), in collaboration with EUCAP Sahel Mali, conducted a three week joint training on VIP close protection for 11 Officers of Mali's National Guard in Bamako.

MINUSMA Police Team Trains national Guards in Mali. photo credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

The AU is confronted by hybrid threats — terrorism, organized crime, and health pandemics — hence the need for multidimensional responses. Kwesi Aning and Mustapha Abdallah argue that there is a need to involve key non-state actors because of the variety of local security threats, which exist independently from central state actors (p. 30).  In general, coordination among groups is lacking and funding depends on external sources. Unfortunately, no other chapter takes up the call to involve non-state actors in addressing security threats.

This hybrid environment has inevitably led to complex interactions among the AU, the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), as well as with the regional economic communities, like the Economic Community of West African States, South African Development Community, and the Economic Community of Central African States. But those interactions have not coalesced into clear and productive relationships. Too often that interaction has been a hierarchical one, yet, as Michelle Ndiaye contends, “principles of subsidiarity, complementarity, and comparative advantage” should guide these interactions (p. 53). Also lacking is an “established conceptual or doctrinal framework that articulates the essence of stabilization mandates and missions,” (p. 39) as Solomon A. Dersso notes. Provision for police and civilian capacities is likewise inadequate.  As Yvonne Kpasom argues, while civilian participation has increased dramatically in recent years to protect civilians and address human rights problems on the ground, police participation has lagged. When police are recruited, they are too often integrated with the military, to the detriment of performing civilian police function so vital in destabilized environments.

Among the various weaknesses of the current African peace operations is the lack of an agreed upon framework for critical mission support. Too often, the importance of mission support activities is neglected in the literature. Walter Lotze emphasizes, quite correctly, the criticality of such support —that is, the acquisition, storage, and maintenance of materiel, transportation, operation of facilities, support services logistics, as well as financing. For too long the activities of the various organizations have been “ad hoc and unpredictable” (p. 88). While each of the various models developed to manage mission support functions has its own shortcomings, they all are dependent on partner support at virtually every stage—a finding consistent with the observations by the Independent Panel of Experts reviewing the ASF in 2013. Both sustainable funding and a lead nation mission support concept is needed in order to deliver on the promise of a successful, rapidly deployable peace support operation (pp. 87-88).

Thus, the overarching theme of this volume is that “an African model of peace operations is emerging that is at odds with the mission scenarios and multidimensional assumptions that underpinned the original framework of the ASF,”. Therefore, “the ASF will have to be revised and its RDC [Rapid Deployment Capability] concept will have to adapt to changing challenges and conflict patterns” (p. 10).  Cedric deConing, reminds the reader that none of the international organizations (not the AU, the UN, or the EU) have actually made direct use of the standing readiness arrangements. Instead, he suggests a just-in-time-readiness model, where capacity rests at the national level.  “Each crisis requires a context-specific solution, including the coming together of a unique set of countries that have a political interest in the resolution of the conflict, or have an interest in being part of that particular mission” (pp. 127).  What matters is “how those capabilities are coalesced in a political coalition that forges together political will, financial means, the capacity to plan, deploy and manage an operation and the national capabilities that can be deployed” (pp. 128).

MINUSMA Police Team Trains national Guards in Mali photo credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

MINUSMA Police Team Trains national Guards in Mali. photo credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

The co-editors thus conclude that, to meet the challenges of the new hybrid threats, more work needs to be done on both the lead-nation concept and on the fact that, in the long run, most AU missions are ultimately handed over to the UN.  While harmonization of standards between the two organizations remains critical, the AU’s mission must have the components necessary for its own success.  And those components include many of the recommendations the authors make in this book. The authors recommend, that mission support, in terms of planning and management, be given high priority; that African states take increasing responsibility for funding (the goal is to fund 25% of the costs); and that missions include all the necessary components—military, police, and civilians according to the specific needs of the operation. The authors also support the principle of subsidiarity, where those closest to the conflict are better positioned to act.

Like most edited works, this book suffers from some repetition of historical background and particular critiques. The number of acronyms included in this volume may overwhelm even a reader well-schooled in the many acronyms of the trade, although an excellent list of acronyms provides assistance. For policymakers in both international organizations and national institutions concerned with 21st century peace and security operations in Africa, the book is a valuable addition to the contemporary discourse.  This book joins the discussion initiated by several other recent works including T. Tardy and M. Wyss (2014) Peacekeeping in Africa: The Evolving Security Architecture and I.A. Badmus, (2015) The African Union’s Role in Peacekeeping: Building on Lessons Learned from Security Operations, as well as scholarly articles and books by Paul Williams and John Karlsrud.