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The motivations behind African peacekeeping contributions

A Nigerian United Nations (UN) Peacekeeper at a checkpoint in Liberia / Tim A Hetherington - Panos Pictures

A new report which seeks to identify what motivates African nations to contribute to regional peacekeeping operations suggests that states that are poorer, have lower “state legitimacy” or lower levels of political repression, contribute higher number of troops.

Previous studies have suggested that states in Africa with higher levels of political repression deploy more troops for peacekeeping missions as a means of diverting attention from their internal affairs.

Author Dr Jonah Victor told Panos: “Academic case studies of African leaders deciding to deploy peacekeepers often paint a picture of an unsavoury, authoritarian ruler attempting to ingratiate himself with Western powers by helping to promote regional stability.”

One example he highlights is Cedric Jourde’s study of Guinea’s contributions to West African peacekeeping missions. Jourde argues that former Guinean president Lansana Conte saw peacekeeping as a means of presenting Guinea as a “good regional citizen”. The report claims that President Conte hoped to quieten Western governments’ demands for democratisation in Guinea if his regime were seen as effective in promoting stability.

However, Dr Jonah Victor has found no evidence that states with higher levels of political repression deploy more troops for peacekeeping missions than those that are more democratic. Instead he claims that there are other, more significant, state characteristics that determine levels of peacekeeping deployments.

“I assumed… the most oppressive African regimes [would] contribute the most to peacekeeping”, says Dr Victor, an employee of the US State department. “When you look at the statistics, it simply is not true.

“It also surprised me that trouble at home – civil conflict or insurgency – seems to have little impact on a country’s likelihood of deploying peacekeepers. Nigeria, for instance, can battle militants in the Niger Delta and sectarian unrest in the north and still be one of the top ten peacekeepers in the world.”

In the report, published this month in the Journal of Peace Research, Dr Victor claims that African peacekeeping efforts have become vital to Africa’s stability since the end of the Cold War. In 1989 Africa only accounted for 8 per cent of UN peacekeeping operations. Yet a decade later this figure had surged to 41 per cent. According to Dr Victor’s study, Western governments have come to depend on African peacekeepers such as the African Union (AU) Mission in Sudan, “to manage and resolve conflicts in the region”.

Dr Victor believes it is important to understand the motivations behind peacekeeping contributions so that the UN and Western governments understand how to encourage more nations to participate.

Low state legitimacy

Dr Victor defines a state with high “legitimacy” as one with “a long history of static borders, a common culture and language that make that state’s unity and existence less contentious to its residents and neighbours.”

He adds: “The borders of some African states were drawn in a more arbitrary fashion, splitting a homogenous ethnic group into different states or grouping previously distinct communities into one.

“The most arbitrary/least legitimate states seem to be … the ones I found most involved in peacekeeping.”

He argues that leaders of states with low legitimacy may have a greater need to maintain current borders and regional stability – and one of the ways they can do this is through regional peacekeeping.

“Perhaps these states value international peace and stability the most, as they are most susceptible to turmoil,” Dr Victor suggests.

Poor states

Money can be a major incentive for developing countries to participate in peacekeeping operations, the report suggests. The UN peacekeeping operation department gives a monthly stipend of US$1,000 per soldier. Western countries  also give stipends for non-UN missions. The money is not given directly to the soldiers but to governments, which can use it at their discretion.

“For poorer countries this money can be highly attractive to leaders – both autocratic and democratic,” the study found.

Technology and training as a ‘reward’

Apart from financial incentives, major powers provide technology, equipment and training to countries that support peace-keeping operations. Dr Victor suggests this is attractive to leaders because “a better funded military and government can help a leader to maintain regime stability and promote their own political prospects”.

“My study shows that there is a potential for donor states to ‘reward’ the more democratic countries with this assistance as [democratic countries] will be as much or more willing to deploy peacekeepers as authoritarian leaders,” says Dr Victor.

Dr Victor studied levels of political repression, GDP (gross domestic product) and levels of state legitimacy in 47 states of sub-Saharan Africa between 1989 and 2001. He compared his findings with the number of peacekeepers each sub-Saharan African country deployed abroad each year.

The views expressed in this article are the researcher’s, and not the views of the US State Department.

Further reading

Title: African peacekeeping in Africa: Warlord politics, defence economies and state legitimacy

Author: Jonah Victor



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