For decades, Africa has been host to many of the world’s peacekeeping missions. This has been challenging, but one benefit is that African nations now boast some of the world’s most experienced and well-trained peacekeepers. Year after year, these men and women are setting the standard for how to intervene in crisis zones.
In 2013, more than 70,000 African peacekeepers served in African Union and United Nations peacekeeping missions. Nearly three-quarters of African nations –– 39 –– had peacekeepers deployed somewhere on the globe. Among the military leadership in African nations, peacekeeping is typically at the top of resumes, and it is common to hear of an officer’s service record that includes time spent in the Middle East, Asia and beyond in command positions. This deep knowledge and experience is paying off.
After years of tough progress in Somalia, the 22,000-person AU mission has turned the tide against al-Shabaab insurgents and restored order to the capital, Mogadishu, and the coast. In the Central African Republic, the African-led support mission stood between warring factions for months to defuse what the U.N. termed a “pre-genocide.” This effort gave the U.N. the time and space it needed to take control of the mission. In West Africa, an AU mission is helping to contain the Ebola outbreak and treat those already infected.
Despite this record of success, there is room for improvement. The AU wants its missions to become faster, more high-tech and less reliant on force. To that end, the AU has identified a need to develop a rapid-reaction capability to respond to disputes before they explode into crises. The AU also is supporting mediation and dialogue to resolve conflicts nonmilitarily where possible and placing a greater emphasis on the protection of civilians in combat zones. Finally, the AU and African nations are incorporating the latest and most affordable technology to protect Soldiers from harm and increase their effectiveness on the battlefield.
None of this will be easy, but in peacekeeping as in life, experience is priceless. With the firm commitment of African nations, regional organizations and the international community, Africa will continue to lead the way in peacekeeping innovations even as the need for interventions decreases.