The Ethiopian battalion of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in 2008. (UN Photo/Christopher Herwig).

Supplying Peace (For A Reason): Africa Troop Contributions To UN Peacekeeping Missions


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THE one number that probably sums up the state of security in Africa, as we previously reported, is this: more than 100,000 uniformed UN peacekeepers are deployed in Africa in early 2015. That’s twice as many as 10 years ago, and 80% of all UN peacekeepers deployed in missions around the world.

The largest missions are in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Darfur (jointly administered with the AU), South Sudan, and Mali. In total, there are nine peacekeeping operations active on the continent, supported by at least 80,000 troops as of May 2015, and 15,000 civilians.

Still, the ‘demand’ side of UN peacekeeping, in the form of wars and instability in Africa, isn’t the whole story.

SUPPLY SIDE

There is a ‘supply’ aspect to it too. Some countries in Africa contribute an outsized number of troops to UN peacekeeping missions, considering their size and population. The largest contributor in Africa is Ethiopia, with over 8,000 troops.

That’s fourth-largest globally, only after Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, the top three countries that send the most troops to UN peacekeeping missions.

Rwanda is second in Africa, with over 5,000 troops active in peacekeeping missions; Burkina Faso, Ghana and Senegal round out Africa’s top five.

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What Ethiopia and Rwanda have in common is that they are both led by liberation movement ruling parties – Ethiopia People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and Rwanda’s Patriotic Front (RPF) came to power by revolutionary armed struggle.

After coming to power, countries like this often find themselves with an excess of trained military personnel, which they then ‘donate’ to UN peacekeeping missions. It solves two functions – it keeps troops gainfully employed in peacetime, which also helps ruling parties consolidate power at home.

BURNISHING CREDENTIALS

There’s another broader, geopolitical reason as well. When countries (even more ‘ordinary’ democracies, like Burkina Faso, Senegal and Ghana) contribute to peacekeeping missions, it burnishes their international credentials. Both India and Brazil have cited their countries’ personnel contributions to UN peacekeeping in their bids to become permanent members of the Security Council.

The United States, Japan, and France are the top funders of peacekeeping missions, but they send relatively few troops. The disconnect between those nations that send troops and those that fund missions is often a source of conflict. African governments have complained about having little say in the design and mandating of UN operations on the continent.

But there’s something else there. By sending troops, developing countries like India, Brazil, and the African contributors are bargaining for a seat at the table with what they have. They may not have the money, but they have the bodies.

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