United Nations Peacekeeping in Africa Since 1960

UNITED NATIONS PEACEKEEPING IN AFRICA SINCE 1960

BOOK REVIEW BY A. WALTER DORN

Originally published as “Review of ‘United Nations Peacekeeping in Africa Since 1960′”, Political Studies Review, Vol. 1, Issue 3, September 2003, pp. 479-80.

Remarkably, in its first four decades, the United Nations sponsored only one peacekeeping operation in Africa: the UN operation in the Congo (1960-64). This was the UN’s baptism by fire in the difficult and often tortuous task of keeping peace in the troubled continent. It was not until 1989 that the UN again sent military personnel to the continent, in this case to help oversee the birth of an independent Namibia. Encouraged by this successful outcome, more than seventeen operations were launched in Africa in the 1990s, making the story of African peacekeeping—as engagingly told by MacQueen—rich in diversity and full of adventure, with plenty of successes and failures, some victories (for example, in Namibia and Mozambique) and several great tragedies (Rwanda and Somalia being the most notable).

In analysing the various UN interventions in Africa, MacQueen makes an interesting though tenuous link between the geographical sub-regions of Africa, the types of conflict and the functions of the UN missions, as shown in the chapter titles: ‘Central Africa: patrolling the ethnic frontier’; ‘Southern Africa: managing delayed decolonization’; “West Africa: controlling the warlords’; ‘The Horn: reconstructing/defining the post-Cold War state’; ‘Trans-Saharan Africa: making borders’. After the introductory analytical chapter (‘The Setting’), the book gives mostly a historical (chronological) description of the missions and the political backdrop in the field. Any criticism would have to be of the omissions in the book: no definition of peacekeeping (an ‘elusive concept’); few direct comparisons between missions; meagre conclusions and few lessons to guide future operations; no tables to overview and compare missions; no mention of the Stand-by High Readiness Brigade (SHIRBRIG), one of the most significant recent developments in peacekeeping, whose successful debut was in the Ethiopia-Eritrea mission; nor any mention of the peacekeeping aspiration of the new African Union. Overall, MacQueen has written a readable and lively survey of the UN peacekeeping experience in Africa. No doubt, given the situation described in the book, the UN will continue to be engaged in Africa for decades to come in the vital but difficult task of peacekeeping.