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Celebrating 75 Years of UN Peacekeeping: Acknowledging African Sub-Regional Powerhouses in Peacekeeping Efforts

On the 29th of May, the United Nations celebrated 75 Years of peacekeeping. The celebration is dubbed Peace Begins With Me to acknowledge and recognize peacekeepers from all around the world who have helped to save countless lives and restore peace in many countries around the world.  As the United Nations celebrates 75 years of peacekeeping, it is essential to recognize the significant role of African sub-regional powerhouses in these efforts.

 African organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have made remarkable contributions to maintaining peace and security in the region. In this piece, I will explore the origins of peacekeeping and the eventual inclusion of regional organizations in peacekeeping; highlighting their institutional development, resource mobilization, peacekeeping references, and long-term remedial investments of ECOWAS and the SADC.

In order to understand the significance of this third quarter, it is essential to understand what peacekeeping is and its origins. Following the Second World War and the Cold War, the most impactful global conflicts of the modern era, peacekeeping or maintaining international peace and security, as stated in Chapter 1; Article 1(1) of the UN Charter, became an increasingly important international goal. After both of those conflicts, countries realized that war creates extreme destruction and wanted a means by which they could collectively prevent and maintain peace and security. 

The United Nations created the notion of peacekeeping to satisfy this goal, where countries within the organization can engage in activities that range from conflict management on the ground—to the location of the conflict or peacebuilding activities which occur after the conflict. More recently, regional, and sub-regional organizations have had an increased role in peacekeeping.

    Peacekeeping encompasses a range of activities with the overarching goal of maintaining peace and security. This technique is specifically designed to safeguard fragile peace and facilitate the implementation of agreements achieved through the efforts of peacemakers. Alongside peacekeeping, there exist various related activities that include peace enforcement, conflict prevention, peacemaking, and peacebuilding. Peace enforcement involves the utilization of coercive measures, such as military force authorized by the Security Council, to restore or uphold peace when necessary.

 Conflict prevention, on the other hand, focuses on employing diplomatic or structural measures to prevent tensions from escalating into violent conflict. Peacemaking involves diplomatic efforts directed at addressing conflicts that are already underway. This approach seeks to engage all relevant parties in constructive dialogue and negotiation to find mutually acceptable solutions. By doing so, it aims to bring about a resolution and pave the way for sustainable peace. 

Peacebuilding is a complementary endeavour that aims to reduce the risk of lapsing or relapsing into conflict by strengthening national capacities for managing and resolving conflicts. It emphasizes the promotion of sustainable peace and development by addressing the root causes of conflicts and fostering societal reconciliation.

   Peace operations are no longer exclusively conducted by the United Nations. Several regional organizations, including the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the European Union (EU), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), have initiated significant operations of their own. Their eventual and continued role in peacekeeping has been somewhat triggered by the statements made by Boutros Boutros Ghali, the sixth UN Secretary-General in the Agenda for Peace published in 1992. In the document, he recognizes the proactive nature of regional organizations in peacekeeping and encouraged their involvement in peacekeeping initiatives, he states, “What is clear, however, is that regional arrangements or agencies in many cases possess a potential that should be utilized in serving the functions covered in this report: preventive diplomacy, peacekeeping, peacemaking and post-conflict peacebuilding.” Subregional organizations like the ECOWAS and the SADC have aided in seeing through the former Secretary General’s statements.United Nations Flag

Institutional developments and Permanent Structures formed.

ECOWAS, founded in 1975, comprises 15 member states, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo. Initially lacking the necessary structural provisions for peacekeeping, ECOWAS showcased its commitment to regional security by establishing the ECOWAS Standing Mediation Committee in 1990. Subsequently, the 1999 Protocol Relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping, and Security provided a formal mechanism for ECOWAS to engage in peacekeeping. This protocol paved the way for the creation of the Peace and Security Architecture, which includes institutions such as the Mediation and Security Council, ECOWARN (Early Warning System), and the ECOWAS Peace and Security Architecture.

     The SADC, established in 1992, consists of 16 member states, including Angola, Botswana, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In 1996, the SADC established the Organ on Politics, Defense and Security Cooperation (OPDS) to address regional security and peacekeeping. The OPDS serves as the foremost institution of the SADC, mandated to deal with conflict prevention, management and resolution, political instability, democracy, and human rights.

Resource Mobilization

    Both ECOWAS and the SADC have demonstrated their commitment to peacekeeping through the deployment of troops to conflict-stricken member states. Over the years, these organisations have deployed over 40,000 troops to countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Côte D'Ivoire, Mali, The Gambia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, and Madagascar. This significant contribution reflects the active role of subregional organizations in providing resources and support to restore peace in the region. Additionally, both ECOWAS and the SADC have contributed troops to United Nations-led peacekeeping missions, demonstrating their commitment to international peace and security.

Peacekeeping references

    ECOWAS and the SADC consistently demonstrate their dedication to peacekeeping through frequent summits, communique, reports, and press releases addressing regional peace and security. These references highlight ongoing efforts and initiatives to engage in peacekeeping activities. For instance, a press release from ECOWAS titled, “ECOWAS launches Plans of Action for its Conflict Prevention Framework”. 

ECOWAS detailed the launch of its Plans of Action (PoA) for the Conflict Prevention Framework (ECPF) on January 28, 2019. The ECPF has 15 components, including an Enabling Mechanism, aimed at improving peace, security, and stability in the region. The launch is followed by a retreat for ECPF Focal Point Directorates 2019, to strategize and enhance effective collaboration and capacity building. In terms of the SADC, in one of their press releases titled, “SADC commits to support efforts towards lasting stability in eastern part of DRC,” the SADC expressed its commitment to have continual support towards providing peace and security. By maintaining transparency and accountability, these subregional organizations foster trust and support from member states and the international community.

Long-term remedial efforts

Furthermore, ECOWAS and the SADC go beyond immediate peacekeeping operations and emphasize long-term remedial investments in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Notable examples include the establishment of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) in Ghana and the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) in South Africa. KAIPTC provides training for military, police, and civilian personnel, both within and beyond ECOWAS member states, demonstrating a commitment to capacity-building and sustainable peace and security. The institution has trained over 25,000 students in peacekeeping. ACCORD, operating as an NGO in agreement with the SADC, engages in peacekeeping training and policy development. ACCORD is entering the third year of its Capacity Strengthening Initiative, focusing on enhancing policy knowledge and awareness among South African women peacebuilders. The initiative aims to address the lack of accessible policy tools identified in the previous evaluation.

In conclusion, African sub-regional powerhouses have shown remarkable dedication and effectiveness in peacekeeping operations. By acknowledging their contributions, we can promote greater recognition and support for their ongoing efforts in maintaining peace and security both regionally and globally.



Map of ECOWAS and the SADC

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