The history of United Nations peace operations in Africa: The emergence of civil-military coordination in national-level state-building

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University of New Brunswick


Over five centuries modern Africa was colonized, decolonized, and embroiled in a Cold War rivalry imposed by external imperial powers. After 1945 deeply rooted armed conflicts plagued state-building in newly independent African countries left with weak state structures. The United Nations (UN) stepped in to help maintain peace and stability first during the era of decolonization, and again after the Cold War ended. Scholarly attention to those UN efforts has typically highlighted security aspects and paid little attention to state-building activities such as governance, the rule of law, education, and health. This dissertation explores early UN strategic level state-building efforts in the Congo from 1960-67. These efforts resulted in “top-down” strategies, instead of partnership with the host government. Since then the UN has faced major challenges in conflict-affected African states. If peace was to be achieved, it was recognized that civilian and military components, UN agencies, development and humanitarian partners needed to unify their efforts. To bridge the gap between humanitarian and development agencies, and UN military components, Civil-Military Coordination (CIMIC) emerged as one of the vital tools to assist in national-level state-building. This dissertation examines how CIMIC endeavours have delivered positive contributions towards state-building. Unfortunately, these have been applied unevenly depending on the commitment of troop contributing countries, and civilian and military leaders involved, and still face resistance especially from NGOs because of military involvement in humanitarian assistance. Regardless of these limitations, case studies considered here from 2005 to 2011 suggest that CIMIC efforts an offer a “bottom-up” solution to delivering state-building programmes at the country-and community-level. The dissertation considers the broad problem of modern conflict in Africa before focusing in on two conflict-ridden African countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan, where state-building apparently failed. It identifies that strategic direction to CIMIC activities at the national level was missing due to lack of a dedicated CIMIC structure at the UN headquarters in New York. Nevertheless, in country- and community-level practice, the bottom-up approach of UN-CIMIC activities and projects especially in Sudan can contribute to national-level state-building and helps to build trust and confidence of the host government and local populations that is vital to long term peace and stability.