By Paul Ndiho, Washington D.C.
September 15, 2010
To most Africans, peacekeeping conjures up positive and heroic images of soldiers operating in difficult and often tragic environments. But for Africa’s strongmen, say analysts, peacekeeping is about catering to Western interests and deflecting attention on themselves during war.
Rwanda has threatened to pull out all its troops from United Nations peacekeeping missions in Darfur, following a leaked draft U.N. report claiming Rwandan troops may have committed genocide in Congo. The U.N. Human Rights report details some serious crimes committed by various forces in Congo during the 1990s and Early 2000s. Richard Downie, a former professional journalist and now a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says contributing peacekeepers can help to build a leader’s popularity and international prestige.
“Contributing peacekeepers for many of these African leaders is very astute; it’s good political business especially where there is a shortage of peacekeepers in Africa. You have some big missions run by the African union and the United Nations in Somalia and the two U.N missions in Sudan spring to mind these are under strength missions any contributions of peace keepers by other African leaders are very welcome.”
Some analysts say African peacekeeping missions are helping African leaders build a cover against criticism over human rights abuses. Rwanda has four battalions of troops deployed in Sudan’s western Darfur region, where the United Nations says conflict has killed as many as 300,000 people since 2003. Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo says Rwandan forces did not commit any war crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo:
“Seeing the seriousness of accusation against our army, we can’t continue having our army in peacekeeping operations. We made it very clear to highest authorities within UN and we are saying today the United Nations had leaked the draft of this report it has commented on leaked draft which is what we are commenting on it. Now we are saying that we are seriously considering withdrawing our troops from Darfur and we have instructed our commanders there to make contingency plans for our troops to come home.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon made an emergency trip to Rwanda and met with Rwanda’s president:
“I decided to visit Kigali at this time to speak directly with president Kagame and his government about their concerns regarding the democratic republic of Congo human rights and mapping exercise commissioned by the office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights of the United Nations. Both the president and I are disappointed by (the fact that) the draft of the report had been leaked. The United Nations is interested in establishing all the facts relating to incidents in the DRC and covered by this mapping exercise.”
Critics say the meeting between the U.N secretary General and the Rwandan president was damage control – and that the United Nations is trying to protect Mr. Kagame’s image, since Rwanda is one of the few countries providing peacekeepers.
“It does show how politically astute it is to contribute peacekeepers where they are in short supply. Therefore, it gives you political leverage on the world stage. So when your domestic conduct is criticized as Rwanda most definitely has been in this draft UN report, then President kagame can turn around and say we will take our troops away if you don’t reconsider your findings. This is real politics.”
U.N. peacekeepers were widely criticized for failing to prevent the 1994 slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda that ended only after Tutsi-led fighters seized power. In the process, Rwandan forces invaded Congo following after Hutu militias, where it is alleged that Rwandan troops committed acts of genocide.
Uganda provides the bulk of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia. For his efforts to extend his term in office, in 2005 Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni came under stinging attack by western governments, especially from then Ambassador Johnnie Carson, who is the current U.S Assistant Secretary of state for Africa. But with his troops now in Somalia, President Yoweri Museveni enjoys a good working relationship with the U.S government, though critics accuse Mr. Museveni of keeping a tight grip on power and not allowing adequate political space for his opposition.