With more than 70 missions under its belt since it was formed in the mid-40s, the United Nations Peacekeepers have played a significant role in their quest to protect civilians and bring about peace in war-affected territories.
In commemorating the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, marked annually on May 29, we take a look at some of the missions the men and women in blue helmets has carried out in Africa.
Like its neighbour, Rwanda, Burundi was beset by a lengthy civil war that claimed more than 300,000 lives. The conflict, which dragged from 1993 to 2006, was caused by the age-old tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups in the country. The war started after Burundi held its first-ever democratic election in 1993, precipitated by the assassination of the new president, Cyprien Ntaryamira, two months into office.
In 2001, the Burundian Government and the main rebel group signed the Arusha Accords to establish a Hutu-Tutsi power-sharing government. Despite the agreement, the conflict persisted. In response to the protracted war, the United Nations deployed a peacekeeping force in the East African country in 2004 to oversee the peace process and the 2005 presidential election. The United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB) consisted of more than 5,600 soldiers and ended in 2007.
Democratic Republic of Congo
The UN’s first peacekeeping operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo ran from 1960 to 1964. Known as Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC), the mission was created to help bring an end to the Congo Crisis, a period of conflict between 1960 and 1965.
The second UN mission in the DRC began in 1999 and has been ongoing ever since. The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or MONUSCO, was established to restore peace during the Second Congo War, which caused 5.4 million deaths. In relation to the magnitude of the DRC conflict, it’s no wonder MONUSCO is the UN’s largest and most expensive peacekeeping mission in the organisation’s history.
The operation has seen the deployment of more than 19,000 troops and over 1,000 police in the Central African country. Contributions of military and police personnel come from more than thirty countries, with India being the largest contributor. The operation’s current budget is set at US $7.9 billion.
Eritrea and Ethiopia
The role of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), from 2000 to 2008, was to monitor a ceasefire in the border dispute between the two Horn of Africa nations. The war had begun in 1998 in the contested town of Badme, displacing about 250,000 Eritreans and killing about 80,000 people from both countries.
With headquarters in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, and in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, the peacekeeping mission was made up of over 1,600 military personnel.
The UN also responded to the war by imposing a one-year arms embargo on both sides, banning all nations from selling or supplying the neighbouring countries with weapons, and from providing them with arms-related training. A peace deal signed in 2000 ended the two-year territorial war. After the end of the war, the UN formed the Eritrea–Ethiopia Boundary Commission, which drew the border and established that the town of Badme belongs to Eritrea.
After Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975, victory celebrations were short-lived thanks to the civil war that erupted due to a combination of ethnic and international issues. Beginning immediately after independence, the conflict was also a proxy war between Cold War opponents that interfered to back the different fighting sides.
The war was a power struggle between two liberation parties, People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Cuba and the Soviet Union supported the former, while South Africa and the United States backed the latter.
A UN operation (United Nations Angola Verification Mission I) was established in 1988 to oversee the withdrawal of the Cuban troops. Following the success of the mission, the world body launched a follow-up operation known as United Nations Angola Verification Mission II in 1991. The second mission, which ended in 1995, was created to monitor peace agreements and oversee the ceasefire of 1990.
Mozambique was plunged into a lengthy and crippling civil war between the government and the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO), two years after the country gained independence from Portugal in 1975. It was also revealed that the war was supported by South Africa’s infamous apartheid regime.
After two years of negotiations in Rome, the two parties eventually signed a General Peace Agreement on the 4th of October, 1992. As part of the agreement, the United Nations Operations in Mozambique (ONUMOZ) was established to help implement the peace deal, as well as to monitor a ceasefire, the demobilisation of foreign forces, and the national electoral process.
The Rwandan Civil War between the Rwandan Armed Forces (who were loyalists of the Hutu-dominated government), and the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a rebel group comprising mostly of Rwandan Tutsi refugees, broke out in 1990. The conflict was catapulted by the former’s invasion of the northeast part of the country. The carnage left by the three-year war resulted in several ceasefire agreements, most notably the Arusha Peace Agreement.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), at the request of both the Armed Forces and the Patriotic Front, was established to help implement the Agreement signed by the parties in 1993. The mission, which ran from 1993 to 1996, called for a democratically-elected government, in addition to the repatriation of refugees.
Chad and Central African Republic
The conflict in Darfur has forced over 240,000 Sudanese refugees and more than 45,000 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) to flee to Chad for safety. Civilians in eastern Chad, together with Darfurian refugees, lived in perpetual danger as armed rebel groups incessantly carry out attacks across the Sudanese border.
The UN sent peacekeeping troops to Chad and the Central African Republic in 2007 to protect civilians, promote human rights, and foster regional peace. The United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) initially consisted of 350 military and police personnel, but as the conflict continued, the UN Security Council sent more troops, bringing the number to 5,200 by 2010. Countries that contributed to the military personnel included, among others, Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya.
The First Liberian Civil War was an eight-year conflict that commenced 1989, leaving more than 600,000 dead in its wake. Fighting started when former government minister, Charles Taylor, moved to Liberia from Côte d’Ivoire to spearhead an uprising that intended to overturn Samuel Doe’s allegedly crooked government.
The war led to the intervention of the UN and resulted in the establishment of The United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) in 1993. UNOMIL’s roles were to aid in the implementation of peace agreements, to investigate ceasefire and human rights violations, as well as monitor the electoral process, among other matters.
The UN mission was launched after the regional group, Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), brokered a peace agreement between the warring sides, making UNOMIL the first UN peacekeeping operation established in cooperation with an already existing and similar mission by another organisation.
The second Sudanese civil war, which began in 1983 to 2005, saw the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLMA) fight over power, resources, and the role of religion in the country. The war continued for 22 years, and claimed more than two million lives, while some 600,000 people were displaced as refugees.
The conflict ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement by the government of Sudan and the SPLM in 2005. The peace accord led to the creation of the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS), which was tasked with supporting the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, protecting and promoting human rights, and supporting the African Union Mission in Sudan.
As a result of the mission, up to 10,000 military personnel, including observers and police, were deployed in Sudan. UNIMIS wrapped up on 9 July 2011, the same day South Sudan became an independent country.
Plagued by a civil war that lasted for eleven years, Sierra Leone was desperate for peace. An intervention was needed to help end the conflict that had begun in 1991 when the rebel group, Revolutionary United Front (RUF), supported by former Liberian leader, Charles Taylor, launched attacks in an attempt to overthrow the government.
The West African country was only able to see peace with the assistance of foreign forces. The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) was formed to help with the implementation of the Lomé Peace Accord, an agreement intended to end the fighting.
The UN’s mission in Sierra Leone is often described as one of the organisation’s most successful peacekeeping operations. Among other things, the organisation’s troops successfully “disarmed more than 75,000 ex-fighters, including hundreds of child soldiers. The UN destroyed more than 42 000 weapons and 1,2 million rounds of ammunition – a potentially deadly arsenal that is now itself dead,” former Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, revealed about the mission.