We'd like to modernise our digital outreach in ways that suit your needs.
Please support us and do take part in this anonymous online survey regarding our users’ preferences.


In search of African solutions

The founding of the African Union (AU) in 2002 marked the end of the policy of non-intervention on the continent. In 2003, the AU sent troops to Burundi, which are now operating under UN command. The situation in Sudan looks similar today. The AU is cooperating with the UN in what is called a “hybrid mission”. Only time will tell whether this is a model worth copying.

[ By Meike Scholz ]

One side had Kalashni­kovs, bazookas and two helicopters – those were the African Union Mission (AMIS) troops in the western Sudanese province of Darfur, deployed in 2004 to enforce a cease-fire agreement. However, no local force adhered to the agreement, neither the numerous rebel groups, nor the government’s troops and the paramilitary militias that the Khartum regime supports . They all had grenades and machine guns installed on top of military vehicles, and were thus better equipped than the AU troops. Moreover, Sudan’s regular forces also commanded military helicopters and Antonov bombers, which had struck fear in the southern Sudan civil war.

None of this is new to Henry Boshoff. He is a military adviser at the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) in Tshwane, Pretoria. He counts weapons and therefore knows that AMIS was never a match for the warring parties. The case of Haskanita is just one example. In September 2007, a still unidentified group attacked a camp of Nigerian AU soldiers, of whom at least 10 were killed. “The Nigerians could not defend themselves, they ran out of ammunition,” Boshoff explains. “And there was no reinforcement because the helicopters could not fly at night. The AU was unable to help its own troops.”
A few months ago, a successor to AMIS was appointed. The new mission is a “hybrid” of UN and AU troops called UNAMID. The government of Sudan insisted that the peacekeeping troops remain African. Boshoff is not alone in thinking that this is an unconvincing solution. While he agrees that the troops have a robust mandate to not only protect themselves but humanitarian agencies and civilians as well, he complains that resources are not necessarily deployed properly.

Though some 20,000 soldiers have been pledged to the new hybrid force, Boshoff bemoans that this number will probably not be ready for action until 2009. In other words, the Sudanese government’s tactic was successful. “Everyone knows that African states cannot reach that goal,” Boshoff says, and he lists the reasons:
– African troops are already involved in too many other UN missions,
– the troops are not sufficiently trained for such missions, and
– they lack adequate equipment.

Boshoff says that African governments cannot even provide some essentials. Among other things, he mentions military helicopters, engineers and logistics. He also feels that major issues of command structures still need to be clarified. Who is ultimately responsible for the mission? Boshoff says he has yet to get an answer to that question.

Lacking political will

Huda Seif is just as critical. She is a political adviser to the EU Special Representative for Sudan. Her main complaint concerns who is picked for negotiations. “Up to now, we have only been talking to those who are armed,” she says. As a result, weapons seem to be what entitles people to negotiate. Seif would prefer to see representatives of various other interests involved in talks. After all, she says, neither the rebels, nor the government of Sudan enjoy the trust of the people of Darfur.

Aiesha Kajee, a director at the International Human Rights Exchange Programme at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, couldn’t agree more: “UNAMID does not have the blessing of the people it is supposed to protect. That’s why there’s so much paranoia.” In a region like Darfur the consequences can be fatal. The original three rebel groups have now splintered into so many smaller factions, that no one really knows who is fighting whom for what reason.

As Kajee points out, there are other conflicts in Sudan as well; and all of them basically result from the marginalisation of local populations by the government in Khartoum. While a peace agreement was signed to end the war between the North and the South in January of 2005, a number of disputes have yet to be settled. Armed conflict could therefore break out again soon, especially in the region of Abyei. And then there is eastern Sudan, where the humanitarian situation is even worse than in Darfur, as Kajee stresses.

Lt. Col. Carl Rüdiger Tillmann of the Bundeswehr, Germany’s armed forces, also has some objections to the new UN-AU mission. As the director of the Department of Monitoring Missions at the Potsdam Command Centre, one of his duties is to oversee the German soldiers in southern Sudan. He says that the mission was not properly prepared and that multilateral contingents should train together in order to become familiar with the various command structures in use. In view of all this criticism it seems doubtful that the AU attempt to cooperate with the UN to keep the peace on the continent can succeed.

Burundi – a positive example

In 2003, the new-founded AU sent a peacekeeping mission to Burundi. There was no mandate from the UN Security Council, but a request from the government in Bujumbura. A year later, the troops were operating under a UN mandate. From the outset, this mission was considered legitimate – and successful, which matters more. However, it only partially managed to reduce violence. Burundi expert Devon Curtis of the University of Cambridge says the troops were never supposed to protect civilians. But they did help set up a new political future starting with the elections that took place shortly after their deployment.

Curtis says that mainly South Africa is to thank for that mission’s success. The South African government reacted quickly, sent troops immediately, and paid most of the bill. In addition, Nelson Mandela, then-president of South Africa, got personally involved and acted as a negotiator between the government and various rebel groups to pave the way for a peaceful solution.

Many people therefore say that there are lessons to learn from Burundi. But instead of keeping up with its fastest members, the AU is only moving at a snail’s pace, according to Jakkie Cilliers. The director at the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria says that there are too few commonly shared values and that the AU is suffering from volatile commitments from various governments. For instance, Cilliers says, the AU performance was not very impressive in Zimbabwe.
Somalia is also considered a negative example because it was Ethiopia, not the AU, that intervened. As Festus Aboagye, a retired colonel and former military adviser to the director of the African Mission in Burundi, points out, neighbouring states generally promote their own interests. Their intervention therefore often leads to new conflicts.


In the past few years, African security architecture has changed considerably. Nonetheless, participants at the Potsdam Spring Dialogue organised by the SEF, InWEnt and others in April agreed that relevant institutions remain weak.

Political-science professor Siegmar Schmidt of Landau University remains unconvinced by hybrid missions. The command structure is simply too complicated, and troops being stationed takes too long, he argues. Instead, new and better-interwoven systems should be developed between regional and international organisations, such as between the European Union and the AU. It is German development policy to strengthen such regional and international institutions. Therefore, InWEnt is cooperating with ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, in that context. The goal is to improve the capacity of early warning systems and crisis prevention.

In the long run, African capacities are indispensable. Jean-Bosco Butera, director of the Africa Programme at the United Nations University for Peace in Addis Abeba, insists: “Africa has to take a leading role when things get serious.” But he also admits that the continent cannot pretend that Africans are the only ones who find solutions. In the end, the values in question are universal, and it is everyone’s duty to defend them.

Related Articles