U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit: Building on Progress to Strengthen African Peacekeeping

Posted by Dana Houk
August 5, 2014
A UN Peacekeeping Police Officer Holds Refugee Children in North Darfur, Sudan

On August 4-6, 2014, 51 African leaders are in Washington, D.C., for the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.  The theme of the summit is “Investing in the Next Generation,” and its purpose will be to expand U.S. engagement in and deepen our partnership with Africa.

One key aspect of the summit will focus on ways to partner with African countries and regional organizations to enhance peace and regional security.  Many African nations have demonstrated the will and ability to contribute regional peace and security by deploying peacekeepers to United Nations (UN) and regional organizations’ peace operations throughout Africa.  In fact, approximately 65 percent of peacekeepers deployed to UN and African Union (AU) peace operations in Africa are Africans, representing a major increase since 2002, when the AU was formed.  This demonstrates a strong commitment by these countries to help stabilize ongoing crises throughout the region.  The United States has long supported African peacekeeping capacity building and, through this summit, seeks to further enhance our support.

Through the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), we have partnered with 25 African countries to help build their capacity to train and sustain peacekeepers; increase the number of capable military troops and formed police units available for deployment; and facilitate the preparation, logistical support, and deployment of peacekeepers.  GPOI has also supported the AU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) with advisory assistance, training, and equipment.  These activities are primarily implemented through the U.S. Department of State-managed Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program and with the support of the U.S. Department of Defense’s U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).    

Through these efforts, the United States has already made significant contributions to African peacekeeping capacities.  For example, since 2005, GPOI has facilitated the training of nearly 230,000 African peacekeepers.  GPOI not only trains peacekeepers on military tasks in a peace operations context; it also emphasizes core peacekeeping topics such as human rights, the protection of civilians (including women and children) and gender issues. Through this training, GPOI seeks to equip peacekeepers with the skills and knowledge they need to successfully execute their mandates and protect civilians caught in violent conflict.  Currently, nine UN peace operations mandate the protection of civilians, and approximately 94 percent of UN military troops are deployed to UN missions with protection of civilian mandates.  Beyond training peacekeepers, GPOI also works to help build the self-sufficiency of partner countries to train their own military peacekeepers by training trainers, refurbishing training facilities and infrastructure, and helping partners develop their own peacekeeping instruction programs.  Self-sufficient training capacity is a core objective for GPOI partner countries, allowing them to continue contributing their own forces to peace operations and even helping other countries to make even more peacekeeping personnel available.

GPOI assistance has enabled the deployment of nearly 184,000 African peacekeepers to UN and regional organizations’ peace operations since 2005.  These deployments support more effective global responses to peace and security threats and help protect civilian populations.  In 2013, for example, the UN turned to three GPOI partners -- Malawi, South Africa, and Tanzania -- to contribute the troops for a new Intervention Brigade in the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) tasked with neutralizing armed groups, especially in the eastern DRC.  This region is plagued by recurrent conflict, humanitarian crises and human rights violations.  The battalion from Malawi specifically received GPOI-funded pre-deployment training for this mission.  The Intervention Brigade has helped improve the security situation by helping the DRC armed forces in compelling the M23 rebel group to lay down its arms, significantly weakening the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), and is expected to take action against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) if its remaining members refused to disarm.

GPOI’s success demonstrates the United States’ commitment to and investment in building global peacekeeping capacities, especially in Africa.  Through the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit, the U.S. and African nations can identify ways to build on the progress already made through GPOI to further enhance peacekeeping capacities on the continent.  GPOI will remain committed to contributing to these broader efforts.

About the Author: Dana Houk serves in the GPOI Division of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

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