NAIROBI, 16 December (IRIN) - African nations sent a very clear message to the United Nations on Wednesday that it was not responding quickly or effectively enough to meet Africa's peacekeeping needs.
In an open session on how the Security Council could help resolve conflicts and maintain peace in Africa, there emerged a clear message that debates and resolutions were not enough. African countries demanded more action and considered the Lusaka peace process for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) a litmus test of UN resolve.
South African delegate Dumisana Shadrac Kumalo said the DRC conflict affected one in five African countries and constituted a fundamental test for the UN's relations with Africa. "If the Congo were to fall apart, it would not be an African failure: it would be an international failure," he said. The international community had told Africans to get themselves together and, after serious negotiations, they had come up with a peace treaty. Yet, the fragile peace process had not received adequate support, he said, adding that "if things had been ignored in Kosovo in the same way in which they have been ignored in the DRC, that peace process would be fragile too".
Rwandan representative Joseph Mutaboba said the DRC conflict was a legacy of the international community's failure to intervene in Rwanda. The Security Council should intervene now to get the Lusaka Agreement implemented, he stressed. "When the international community comes to terms with its past failures, it will be able to prevent the occurrence of future conflicts," he added.
Andre Mwamba Kapanga of the DRC said his government had been "surprised at the contradictions that had arisen" at Security Council level in relation to the conflict, and at how slow some members had been to act. He said the UN and its Security Council needed "in-depth reform". In particular, the Secretary-General should no longer be a "chief administrative officer" but should instead work more closely with regional organisations "to define and apply preventative diplomacy".
The UN "had a problem reacting quickly and effectively to conflicts in Africa", partly due to ignorance and conflicting information about given situations, according to Burundi's representative, Marc Nteturuye. The "wait and see approach", coupled with competition between the actors involved, sometimes hindered the resolution of conflicts in Africa and led to "a vicious cycle of progressive deterioration", he said.
The Great Lakes had been hit by problems of genocide and must be approached with "discreet diplomacy", including UN mediation mechanisms, Nteturuye stated. "The region itself wants to play the primary role, and it should be encouraged to do so until other international actors can enter the stage," he said. The UN must remain vigilant and, through the Security Council, endorse all major actions taken, but must also address the social and economic rehabilitation of the region, he added.
The DRC conflict was but one of a "continuing crisis of conflicts in Africa" because Security Council actions had failed to live up to its debates and resolutions, Ugandan delegate Matia Semakula Kiwanuka told the session. He said Africa needed the rapid deployment of peacekeepers, without which "the various components of peace had the potential to disintegrate". The UN had not insisted that combatants should stop fighting before intervening in East Timor or Kosovo, and "the conflict in the DRC should be addressed in the same way", Kiwanuka noted.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan replied that while the "disappointing results" in the implementation of the Lusaka accord were "partly due to lack of clear will to implement the accord among the parties", there was also a question of resources. The most immediate and practical need was for the Security Council "to act promptly in the case of the DRC before the fragile ceasefire is further eroded".
Participants in the debate made clear the limitations of the UN's financing mechanisms for peacekeeping operations, and stressed the crucial need to match adequate resources and peacekeeping mandates, said British Ambassador to the UN Peter Hain, who chaired the Security Council session. Many speakers also cited the importance of early warning systems, and preventative action to address the root causes of conflict.
The relationship between conflict and poverty was crucial, said Tanzania's Daudi Nhelautwa Mwakawago. "That has to be taken into account when urging Africa to resolve its problems." In a context where Tanzania alone had some 800,000 refugees and development aid was declining, "there is much more rhetoric about helping Africa than substance", he added.
In his address to the Council, Kofi Annan admitted the UN needed "more effective engagement" for conflict prevention and resolution. He put forward a number of specific proposals which he maintained could make "a real and perceptible difference", including: joint envoys and missions, especially "goal-oriented missions" along the lines of the mission to Jakarta and East Timor in September; exchanges of staff, working groups, and more regular meetings between the Security Council, the OAU and subregional bodies.
Perhaps the clearest message to emerge from Wednesday's debate was that there was "no substitute for greater political engagement from the Security Council", Peter Hain concluded. "Only with that will there be greater engagement by the UN in peacekeeping in Africa, and with greater success too."
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