The issue of walking away from the U.N. is an isolationist move which will bear more ills than good. In the world we live in, we need more alliances than segregation. When a system is not working as expected it is better to work trying to change it from within. Every member of any team has some leverage he can use in any organization to sway things a certain way. Africa does have that leverage and can use it effectively and in the process make this important institution more viable for the many vulnerable citizens of the world.
Africa indeed has a genuine reason to be wary of the U.N. and Africa’s role in it. The devastating effects of war and the drive to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” Made the U.N. a welcome idea among nations of the world, it cannot be made to lose that relevance. But on that promise, which is part of the U.N. charter, Africa has been failed miserably, so miserable that the Brahimi report was commissioned in 2000 to review U.N. peace keeping missions, a lot of which was in Africa in the 1990s. The report concluded that “the U.N has repeatedly failed to meet the challenge” outlined in its charter.
Africa witnessed devastating conflicts in the 1990s that resulted in the deaths of over a million people partly due to the failures of U.N peacekeeping missions; the notables being Rwanda and Somalia. The mission in Liberia, which started in 2003, is often cited as a success. In fact, the intervention of the Nigerian led ECOWAS force supported by the U.S., as well as President Obasanjo’s team of African diplomats that resulted in Charles Taylor’s relinquishing of power deserve more credit. Africans resolved that conflict through their own efforts. The U.N. facilitated the peaceful transition to elections.
Between 1992 and 1994, there were over 30,000 U.N. peacekeepers deployed in Somalia; the period during which 800,000 Somalis were massacred. This was such a huge failure that President Clinton announced U.S. troop withdrawals followed by a highly restrictive policy of deploying U.S. troops on future U.N. peacekeeping mission. This after 18 U.S. soldiers were killed, dismembered and dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, 75 injured as well as 25 Pakistani soldiers killed and another 54 injured. The U.N.’s own Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate that specific peacekeeping mission recommended “the U.N. should refrain from undertaking further peace enforcement actions within the internal conflicts of states.” <!–[if supportFields]> CITATION Tho12 \l 1033 <![endif]–>(Jacobson, 2012)<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>. But a body as relevant as the U.N. shouldn’t be reduced to just monitoring ceasefires and elections
In spite of such a recommendation, then came the case of the genocide in Rwanda. Prior to the swiftest and most systematic genocide, there was the Arusha Accords signed between the Rwandan government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) that saw an end to a three year civil war and brought much needed stability. Many factors could be cited as to having led to the breakdown of the peace accord and the beginning of the infamous Rwandan genocide. Some of the points raised by international diplomacy and public policy experts included the failure of the U.N. body to give Rwanda a permanent membership on the Security Council amongst other issues. In the 104 days of violence start started after the peace accord broke down, almost 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred. After the massacre started, the U.N. peacekeepers disgracefully abandoned the thousands of civilians who sought refuge in the places the U.N peacekeepers were stationed knowing full well that the militia will kill these vulnerable civilians, which they did. They chose to focus on evacuating their own expatriates, government officials and foreign nationals leaving the Rwandans to fend for themselves.
Two weeks after the massacres started, which the U.N. failed to recognize as genocide, it went ahead to reduce its peacekeeping troops by almost 90 per cent. This move was, made contrary to the recommendations of Nigeria, the African representative on the Security Council at the time that civilians were in grave danger and that U.N. peacekeepers should be mandated to protect them.
A U.N. commissioned report in December 1999 assessing the organization’s involvement in Rwanda stated that “member states failed Rwanda in deplorable ways; ignoring evidence that genocide was planned, refusing to act once it was underway and finally abandoning the Rwandan people when they most needed protection.”
However one chooses to look at it, it was a lack of will, more than anything else that prevented the U.N. from acting in saving many Rwandan lives. An assessment by the U.N’s own human rights investigator for Rwanda in August 1993 cited the possibility that genocide might occur. That following January, Canadian Lt. Gen. Dallaire sent a cable warning of the risk of genocide which was received by Kofi Annan but never shared with the Security Council as should be the norm. These two assessments should have been enough to compel the U.N. to act and prevent the genocide from reaching the scale it did in 1994.
There is the current case of U.N peacekeepers sexually abusing women and children in their assigned countries like Congo and Sudan adding to risks of increased HIV/AIDS cases.
Despite some success, the failures of the U.N. are many and cannot be ignored. So Mugabe can be forgiven for taking the stance he took on the U.N. and her role in Africa, but most importantly on the failures of the body to give the African voices the attention they deserve. It is a tragedy that in a body as important as the U.N. non-African voices prevails over African voices on matters regarding Africa.
If you are tempted to argue that African leaders need to get their collective acts together in order to be heard or respected, the fact that their various countries are accepted as members of the U.N. counters that position. If they are not good enough to be listened to, then they shouldn’t be accepted in the organization. Which ties back with Mugabe’s point that reforms are needed at the U.N to reflect Africa’s representation as viable.
But in typical fashion, since Mugabe has been labelled a tyrant and undemocratic, that suffices for him not to be heard and his message, regardless of its relevance can be ignored. A typical case of shooting the messenger
Bob Marley’s famous line that “How long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look…” can be relevant in the case of dealing with Mugabe.
Despite what is being portrayed in the media, Mugabe command respect among his peers, but most importantly, a vast majority of ordinary Africans and people of African descent view him as a hero, a defiant hero who has Africa’s interest at heart. A view not shared by Africa’s so called intellectual class. In many cases, with the exception of a few, most of their assessment of African affairs are viewed as extensions of imperialist views.