Mon, 22 May 2000

Money woes bedevil UN peacekeeping efforts

By Pierre Simonitsch

FRANKFURT (DPA): The United Nations' decision to impose a weapons embargo on Ethiopia and Eritrea comes far too late -- the two warring African nations have long since stocked up on all the tanks, artillery pieces and warplanes they can pay for.

The wars flaring up all over Africa do nothing but confirm old prejudices. The renewed fierce fighting between Ethiopia and Eritrea on the Horn of Africa comes in the middle of a drought. Taken together, the two threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Farther south, warlords vying for control of Sierra Leone's rich diamond fields have again begun bleeding the people there dry. The civil wars in Sudan and Angola still rage on with no end in sight. The butchery around the Great Lakes region continues unabated too. The only change has been that yesterday's friends have become today's enemies.

That slaughter goes on right under the nose of the United Nations -- which doesn't have a clue about what it can do to stop it. In Sierra Leone, a motley band of UN peacekeeping troops has even suffered the humiliation of being disarmed, taken prisoner and stripped of their uniforms by a gang of marauding rebels.

In today's Africa, HIV is spreading faster -- and economic growth is more sluggish -- than anywhere else in the world. In African countries with substantial mineral resources, a tiny and unscrupulous native upper class share control of the buried wealth with foreign corporations.

Of the world's 35 least-developed countries, 29 are in Africa. Their only chance of survival is with international aid, but the amount of aid the developed nations are willing to send gets smaller and smaller every day.

Liberalized world trade has resulted in African nations earning more through their exports, which in turn has led to reductions in the foreign aid they receive.

But the new private income has been too small to make up for the foreign aid cuts, especially in the poorest countries. Without trying to pin the blame for all the world's evils on globalization, says the United Nations' development agency, brutal competition has replaced the international solidarity that once united those countries, a competition that leaves the weak behind.

Every conflict in Africa has its own unique complex of causes, some of them rooted in the distant past. Despite that, the current rash of brush-fire wars plaguing the continent is more than just coincidence.

The smaller the pie to be shared, the bigger the fight over who gets to share it -- and the pie of wealth to be shared in Africa has been getting smaller for quite some time now. Beyond that, the governmental structures that European colonial powers left behind when they pulled out of the continent have almost completely collapsed now.

The ongoing African crisis has caught the UN at a time when it can do next to nothing effective. Its bank accounts are empty, especially when it come to funding peacekeeping or peacemaking operations.

The United States still owes the UN around US$1.5 billion in dues and wants to participate only in peacekeeping and peacemaking missions that serve its own interests. As a result, the American-dominated Security Council rarely approves any sort of operation likely to require military intervention.

Even the rare occasions when the five permanent Security Council members do approve deploying troops as peacekeepers, no one wants to pay the bill.

That leaves the UN little choice other than to deploy bargain- basement troops from eastern Europe or Third World countries. Now even those sources are running dry.

Countries like Fiji or Bangladesh, which have traditionally supplied peacekeeping forces, have grown fed up with waiting years on end to be reimbursed for their out-of-pocket expenses.

Under those circumstances the capture of several companies of UN peacekeepers in Sierra Leone by rebels without a shot being fired seems less surprising than it otherwise might. The UN troops, with neither the weapons nor the training to resist, only had a chance of doing their job as long as the hostile parties were willing to stick to their agreements and let them do it.

"What am I supposed to do when the only soldiers I have available (for peacekeeping operations) are obviously unfit for the job? Should I refuse to accept them?" an exasperated UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan Monday during a working dinner with the ambassadors from the members of the Security Council.

Plans for the next UN peace mission -- also likely to turn into a debacle -- are already well underway. Soon, a 5,500-troop force of UN peacekeepers is scheduled to deploy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which not too long ago was known as Zaire.

A dozen armed groups with very elastic and changeable allegiances are fighting for power there, among them regular troops from Uganda and Rwanda, which, in addition to backing rival Congolese rebel groups, are also themselves fighting.

Under the UN charter, the Security Council is responsible for restoring peace in the Congo -- just as ending the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea is its job.

Instead, some of the UN's most important members have helped arm both countries to the teeth while international aid organizations help rescue the victims of the drought gripping the area.

Both directly and indirectly, that helps keep the war going -- leaving the UN the job of smoothing over the results of the failure of earlier policies with its current good deeds.

Annan himself has hit on two of the basic problems tormenting Africa -- mismanagement and a pronounced tendency of some African rulers to regard their countries as their personal property. That statement cost him a few friends in Africa, just as his predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali lost favor with the big powers when he began campaigning for establishing a standing UN rapid intervention force.

But passing dime-a-dozen resolutions and sending out cut-rate troops won't bring -- or keep -- peace in Africa or anywhere else.