Regional View: Recommendations Based on South African Experiences

Regional View: Recommendations Based on South African Experiences

Note that this briefing does not represent by any means an official position of the South African government, and is a sole reflection of observations made by the author in relation to how the engagements of the country can contribute to wider peacekeeping discussions.

South Africa has increasingly engaged in supporting peace and security processes in Africa over the last 20 years, through both participation and leadership in peace operations from the United Nations and the African Union. The country has become an active player in global peace operations efforts, placed as the 14th largest contributor of uniformed personnel to the United Nations peacekeeping, by September 2014. While at the forefront of several engagements in Africa, South African experiences can assist in better understanding how to strengthen peace operations responses, particularly through regional approaches.
South African positions help in understanding some of the changes at a global level in peace operations, as they have generated the need for the country to better align its policies, practice and objectives. The evolving peace operations environment brought the need for South Africa to better understand its own roles, including, for instance the increasing focus on multidimensional peace operations and the role of regional arrangements. Some of these changes and challenges faced by peace operations are presented below, focusing particularly on the idea of stabilistation, regionalisation and its support mechanisms, development of partnerships and capacity building.

South Africa’s Experiences in Peacekeeping
Since its process of internal transition in the early 1990s, South Africa has strengthened its roles in peacekeeping operations and engaged in several different peacekeeping operations on the continent. In particular, during the late 1990s there was a growing recognition that South Africa’s stability would be directly linked to that of the continent as a whole (see: African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD). South Africa’s Peacekeeping Role in Burundi: Challenges and Opportunities for Future Peace Missions. Occasional Paper Series, Volume 2, Number 2. 2007. p. 11). Thus, peacekeeping, together with wider support to conflict resolution in Africa, has been since one of the key pillars of implementation of South Africa’s foreign policy towards peace and security in the continent.

South Africa currently has uniformed personnel deployed in three peacekeeping operations, namely the Intervention Brigade under the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), the African Union/United Nations Hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). The role of South Africa in providing not only military but also political support to particular conflict situations was central to stabilising the situation and raising awareness of the conflicts in Burundi and the DRC. The deployments were often part of a wider South African engagement in these countries, which included assistance in mediation processes and institution-building engagements.

Interventionism and Stabilisation through South African Experiences
There is an increasing understanding in South Africa that UN missions globally are under-resourced and that deployment is often too weak and too lightly armed and equipped (based on an e-mail interview with South African Independent Military and Defence Analyst). In addition, South Africa, together with other African states, has repeatedly demonstrated the will to engage in the robust use of force in its engagements in peace operations, as demonstrated in their reaction force role for seven years under MONUC and later participation in the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) under MONUSCO. Through its participation in the FIB, South Africa has not only provided core capability of the force, but also focused in ensuring stabilization as a priority area for South Africa’s foreign policy. The relative success of the FIB in the operation against M-23 and other rebel groups is often used as an argument to assist this discussion.

More broadly, one could say that African countries often present a greater willingness to respond to challenges to conflicts in Africa with more robust mandates and expects also more decisive responses from the UN. In line with this approach, responses of the African Union have shown to be more inclined to apply more robust measures than UN operations. This is a result of the change of peace operation demands, which are increasingly being requested in environments where there is no peace to keep. This impacts the key pillars for deployment of UN peacekeeping operations, particularly in relation to the idea of impartiality and non-use of force. As such, the understanding of what the different pillars for deployment for the UN means is critical in the process of reviewing UN peacekeeping operations. It would be important to further understand the modalities of responses of UN peacekeeping operations, and more clarity on the concept of what impartiality and non-use of force means in situations like the ones faced in African contexts (e.g. Mali, DRC, CAR, and Somalia).

Towards increased focus on State building
Since 1994, South Africa has increasingly played a role in African efforts to assist countries with longer term and structural support to peacebuilding processes, including capacity building support, administrative, financial and technical assistance towards building of state institutions and wider recovery. South African experiences in Burundi, the DRC and South Sudan, have for instance shown that South Africa’s engagements in peace operations cannot be disassociated from its wider political strategy of assisting countries in its peacebuilding processes.

These experiences provide some lessons to UN peacekeeping operations. Currently, while peace operations are increasingly expected to perform early peacebuilding functions, these approaches are still largely isolated from wider peacebuilding efforts. These raise the question of whether peacekeepers (being civilian, police or military) are the best positioned to perform all the peacebuilding tasks mandated by the Security Council, creating particular challenges of deployment and identification of expertise. Peacekeepers are increasingly expected to transfer skills, rather than just implementing particular tasks. As a result, this transfer approach requires an entire different skillset for peacekeepers, as well as different structures that can assist in supporting development of local capacities. For instance, peace operations are often criticized for not possessing enough capabilities to perform this role, including through the lack of programmatic funding and capacity.

More broadly, there is generally a weak connection between UN peacekeeping structures and other peacebuilding actors, including those within other parts of the UN system. In particular, there is a weak systematic connection between peacekeeping operations and the UN peacebuilding architecture, UN agencies, and the various bilateral engagements of member states towards state building and peacebuilding. Evidence shows that while there is an interaction between political arms of peacekeeping operations and UN agencies, for instance, this interaction often is punctual and ad hoc; rather than as an integral part of a systematic “One-UN” approach. The development of systematic strategies towards countries, that include a variety of actors, including within the UN system is imperative in the definition of what type of support peacekeeping can provide in wider peacebuilding environments.

Multilateral Cooperation and Collective Security in Africa
For South Africa, the role played by regional actors in assisting peace and security challenges in Africa is of critical importance. AU missions are increasingly deployed in complex contexts, requiring a broader coordinated process of identifying the different levels of capabilities, expertise and structural demands. As the AU still faces challenges in the operationalization of its peace support operations structures, there must be a concerted effort to build the capabilities of the AU Commission. This coordination between UN and AU missions has become an important aspect for South Africa, not only to increase the interaction and support that one gives to another, but also the understanding of different roles that are played by each of the institutions.

This has critical implications for how peacekeepers are trained and the level of equipment required. Financial, logistical and operational challenges are challenges not only presented at the continental level and sub-regional levels. Member states, responsible for increased amounts of training and provision of capabilities, require stronger support in the development of peacekeepers on all aspects of skills, and also in the development of structures that enable its participation at peacekeeping operations. It is imperative that both the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at the UN and the Peace Support Operations Division at the AU better coordinate in identifying common standards that can guide their processes of coordination at different training levels. The training architectures, currently being developed both at the UN and AU, are critical, and coordination of appropriate best practices is further required for the success of actions.

The focus on cooperation between the AU and UN needs to move beyond the modalities of support that the UN provides to AU missions. A stronger collaboration between the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council is thus also required. This will assist in identifying solutions for some of the challenges currently faced in the engagement between the two organisations. At present the key centres of discussion around collaboration between AU and UN relates to the different modalities of deployment of AU and UN, including views on re-hatting, hybrid missions, support packages, etc. There must be increased shared views on political responsibilities and roles, creating more clarity around the division of labour that exists among different international organisations when deploying peace operations.

Financial constraints within South African budgetary frameworks directly impact upon the way in which South Africa implements its priorities on peace operation efforts. While South Africa is one of the larger African contributors to the AU’s budget, the institution is still largely dependent on external funding for its operations. As such, while AU operations are deployed in contexts where the UN is not capable or willing to deploy, new models of assistance have to be developed.

Rapid response capacity though is of critical importance in this process. The AU is developing the African Standby Force (ASF), and more recently the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC). Those developments are not only important for the AU only, but it can, with increased collaboration with the UN, also assist the global institution in addressing its own challenges of deployment. The UN has seen critical challenges in rapidly and effectively deploying missions such as Mali, where full deployment in needed areas have not been met, indicating the challenges the UN face in this regard.

South Africa faces challenges in enhancing its peace operations engagements with the current changes in the context where peace operations are being deployed,. There is a wide range of expectations of what South Africa can contribute as an African regional power (see Lucey, Amanda; de Carvalho, Gustavo; Gida, Sibongile. South Africa and the United Nations: Strengthening opportunities for effective peacebuilding. ISS Paper 268, September 2014. Also Lucey, Amanda; Gida, Sibongile. Enhancing South Africa’s post-conflict development role in the African Union. ISS Paper 256, May 2014). Othieno and Smasuwo argue that regional powers can create a situation of political willingness, institutional strength and resource availability, that is essential to the success of the operations (see Othieno, Timothy; Samawuwo, Nhamo (2008) A critical analysis of Africa’s experiments with hybrid missions and security collaboration. African Security Review, 16.3, p. 31). With the current review of peacekeeping efforts in the UN this provides an opportunity for South Africa to bring to the forefront its own views and objectives including continuing the process of strengthening African efforts. Internally, however, it is important that South Africa identifies its own comparative advantages and presents its views pro-actively in the international domain. This will only occur when the country is internally able to consistently provide the necessary means to contribute to international peacekeeping.


Gustavo de Carvalho is a Senior Researcher at the Peace Operations and Peacebuilding Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa