Goodbye Sierra Leone, Hello CAR: On ‘new’ peacekeeping not being so ‘new’

12 Mar

With Ban Ki Moon overseeing the wrapping up of the UNIPSIL peacebuilding operation, fifteen years of UN involvement in Sierra Leone through peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations has come to an end. This note will not go into much depth about that process, as there are some competent histories of peacekeeping and peacebuilding in Sierra Leone[1]. Nevertheless, it’s aim is to highlight certain of its peacekeeping components (UNAMSIL), while demonstrating the value in reflecting on Sierra Leone operations as opposed to simply forgetting about them. Such reflection is pertinent in light of current proposals on a peacekeeping operation in the Central African Republic (CAR), and wider debates on peacekeeping.

More or less at the same time as the UN is wrapping up its Sierra Leone’s commitments, the organization is preparing itself to deploy into the CAR. The descent of the CAR into the grave violence seen today has been well documented[2], as has analysis of the joint French (Operation SANGARIS) and African Union (MISCA) peacekeeping intervention.  The Security Council’s meeting on 6th March looked to directly address the worsening situation in the country through the establishment of a UN peacekeeping presence in the country. Contributions to the meeting came from heads of humanitarian agencies (OCHA and the UNHCR, both of whom appeared to be doing a great deal of work on very little money), the Foreign Minister of the CAR (who gave a considerably emotional and powerful speech), the African Union (who sought to outline MISCA’s achievements, and not have their efforts pushed side by an international presence), as well as a number of member states.

Regarding the probable establishment of a UN operation, the view is very much that the deployment would have to be ‘phased’ – i.e. – robust at first, followed by a larger, more multifunctional force when security was more established. This model of peacekeeping is logical if international peacekeepers are to be deployed. However, the approach was described as being a ‘new approach to peacekeeping’[3]. This description is problematic: the experience of peacekeeping in Sierra Leone demonstrates that phasing operations in this way is anything but ‘new’. The description could become even more problematic if lessons from previous phased operations are not incorporated into new resolutions.

On an organizational front, the Sierra Leone missions incorporated a range of phased actors.  Through the second half of the 1990’s ECOWAS’s military wing, ECOMOG led a robust intervention, largely via the regional hegemon (Nigeria). A considerable number of these forces were ‘re-hatted’ – i.e. forces acting under a regional banner and transitioning over to working under a UN flag[4]. Moreover, the deployment of the UNAMSIL peacekeeping operation was supported by a robust, combat capable deployment from a P5 member – the UK. This allowed for a ‘phased approach’, wherein the UN/UK would push outwards to unsecured zones of operation to create secure conditions for a multifunctional peacekeeping force to undertake core peacebuilding functions.

Conceptually, this demonstrated the first signs of ‘post-Brahimi’ peacekeeping. UNSCR 1270 mandated the operation under Chapter VII to take ‘necessary action to ensure the security and freedom of movement of its personnel and, within its capabilities and areas of deployment, to afford protection to civilians under imminent threat of physical violence’. At the time, Protecting Civilians in peacekeeping mandates was a new phenomenon – UNSCRs 1265 and 1296 being passed in 1999 and 2000 respectively[5].

The use of Chapter VII to authorize ‘necessary action’ allowed peacekeepers to undertake more robust approaches to their duties when faced with belligerent groups.  This linked to the significant doctrinal efforts of the time, in particular the evolution of the ‘Peace Support Operations’ concept[6], which espoused a robust, combat capable military presence to start a mission, which would be phased out by a multifunctional peacebuilding presence.  Indeed, the principle author of PSO doctrine, Phillip Wilkinson, saw Sierra Leone as a conceptual test of that idea[7].

Finally, efforts were put into the transition from peacekeeping – the provision of negative peace – into peacebuilding – the provision of more positive forms of peace. The transition from UNAMSIL to UNIOSIL (later to become UNIPSIL) and the subsequent involvement of the Peacebuilding Commission demonstrated a commitment to longer-term peacebuilding

Sierra Leone demonstrates that ‘new models’ of peacekeeping have been undertaken in the past – but so what? The importance here is that the mission endured a significant range of challenges – some almost bringing the mission down. It is through acknowledging such failures that peacekeeping doctrine and practice develop, particularly useful in the context of establishing new operations.

Levels of enthusiasm towards ‘Robust peacekeeping’ varied considerably as the mission went on. Reports of contingents not willing to undertake offensive operations against rebels beset the operation throughout the first year of its deployment. This was compounded by issues of considerable in-fighting between contingents[8] linked to issues of re-hatting of ECOMOG Peacekeepers into UN ones[9]. The operation was also the ‘poster image’ for the oft-used concept of peacekeepers arriving in theatre with inadequate levels of training and equipment, a dilemma often faced when peackeepers are required to deploy rapidly. Even Secretary General Annan was quoted to have said ‘Anyone who believes, or says they believe, in multilateral affairs must be disappointed.’[10] These dilemmas were to contribute to the low point of the operation in the summer of 2000, when rebel groups took 300 peacekeepers hostage[11].

On a wider scale, issues with the Lomé Peace Agreement offered considerable lessons in the crafting of peace agreements[12], in particular, the awarding of Senior Ministerial Posts to those in the highest echelons of the principal rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front. Critiques over the minimal role of women in crafting peace agreements for Sierra Leone were also made. Moreover, assessments of the PBC engagement noted substantial difficulties with the coordination of peacebuilding, in particular the use of the Peacebuilding Fund without effective political agreement with the government on how the money would be used[13]. UNAMSIL was also one of the active missions to be highlighted in reports of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, at a time when the SEA went from being an issue swept under the carpet to one of the most damaging scandals to beset UN peacekeeping operations.

If history is constantly being reinvented by those who authorize and deploy operations, then there is a legitimate concern that the lessons of that history will not have been learned. This is not to say that the mission in the CAR is a ‘Sierra Leone’ engagement – no two conflicts are the same, neither should the response be. However, if the CAR operation runs into difficulties, suggesting that the difficulties are due to the fact that this is a ‘new’ type of operation will be neither honest nor sufficient. This is a critical matter when it comes to properly addressing and assessing significant security threats to human lives.

This leads one to ask what ‘new’ actually means. States in the C34, and fourth committee have often sought to highlight how peacekeeping today is substantially different from what it used to be. The C34 committee contained statements – both tinged with skepticism and optimism – that peacekeeping just wasn’t like it used to be. Given that peacekeeping in Sierra Leone was being undertaken 15 years ago, this judgment about the relation between ‘new’ and ‘old’ peacekeeping should be interrogated more deeply. Again, peacekeeping operations are deployed into highly violent societies. Consistently claiming to invent the wheel when the wheel has long been present will not help us meet current peacekeeping challenges.

It is not up to this article to proclaim Sierra Leone as a ‘success’ – that is up to the people of Sierra Leone to decide. Nevertheless, its importance in developing peacekeeping doctrine and practice is not to be sniffed at. What the mission did, how it did it, and the challenges it faced should all be kept in mind, particularly as the UN seeks to establish a peacekeeping mission to the CAR.

By all means consign peacekeeping in Sierra Leone to the history book, but do not consign its lessons to the trashcan.

Dr. David Curran, Peacekeeping Fellow


[1] David Keen, Conflict and collusion in Sierra Leone, New York, Palgrave, 2005

[2] Gobal Centre for R2P, ‘Central African Republic’, http://www.globalr2p.org/regions/central_african_republic

[3] French Mission to the United Nations – 6 mars 2014 – République centrafricaine – Remarques à la presse de M. Gérard Araud, représentant permanent de la France auprès des Nations unies – found at http://www.franceonu.org/la-france-a-l-onu/espace-presse/declarations-presse/points-de-presse/article/6-mars-2014-republique

[4] United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations Best Practices Unit – “Re-Hatting” Ecowas Forces As UN Peacekeepers: Lessons Learned http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/sites/coe/referencedocuments/ECOWAS%20Rehatting.pdf

[5] Curran, D. M.; Woodhouse, T., Cosmopolitan Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding in Sierra Leone: What can Africa contribute?, International Affairs. Vol. 83, No. 6, 2007 pp. 1055-1070.

[6] Joint Doctrine Development Centre, Joint Warfare Publication 3-50: Peace Support Operations. London: Permanent Joint Headquarters, 1998, (JDDC is now the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre – DCDC)

[7] Wilkinson, P, ‘Peace support under fire: lessons from Sierra Leone’, International Security Information Service briefing paper, June 2000

[8] Bullion, A, India in Sierra Leone: A case of Muscular Peacekeeping, International Peacekeeping, Vol.8, No.4, Winter 2001, pp.77–91

[9] The Guardian, Sierra Leone peace force accused of sabotage, 8 September 2000, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2000/sep/09/sierraleone.unitednations

[10] See note 8.

[11] United Nations, Lessons learned from United Nations peacekeeping experiences in Sierra Leone, UN Best Practices Unit ‘Lessons learned’ report, New York,  United Nations, Sept. 2003

[12] Bright, D., ‘Crafting the Lomé Peace Agreement, Conciliation Resources Report, 2000, http://www.c-r.org/sites/c-r.org/files/Accord%2009_7Implementing%20the%20Lome%20Peace%20Agreement_2000_ENG.pdf

[13] Actionaid, CAFOD and CARE International, ‘Consolidating the peace? Views from Sierra Leone and Burundi on the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission’, London, CARE International, 2007

 

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