A Recipe for Peace: US Know-How, Local Troops
US trains Africans as peacekeepers in effort to help them control own future.
THIES, SENEGAL — The American Green Beret stands on a tower in the sweltering scrubland, surveying the Senegalese soldiers wandering with compasses below.
He makes notes as the uniformed men weave their way like lost hikers, evaluating their progress as policemen of peace on a troubled continent.
This exercise is not just about finding one's way in the wild. It's about plotting a new path of peacekeeping. "It's increasingly clear that peacekeeping in Africa is becoming the responsibility of Africans," says Col. Meissa Tamba, information director of Senegal's Defense Ministry. "This kind of training will make us better prepared to carry it out."
The idea of an all-African peacekeeping force has grown for two years, largely in response to ethnic strife in Central Africa.
It also stems, Western diplomats say, from the Clinton administration's reluctance to get directly involved in Africa after 18 US soldiers were killed in Somalia in 1993.
Last month, theory translated into action. Several hundred US Army Special Forces trainers arrived in Uganda and Senegal for two months to train battalions of 500 to 800 men in peacekeeping.
Missions are planned for five other African countries - Ethiopia, Mali, Malawi, Ghana, and Tunisia. The idea behind the $15 million program is to create forces with similar skills and equipment so that they can act as a cohesive unit if called on by the United Nations or Organization of African Unity to intervene in trouble spots.
Most observers welcome this new emphasis on local responsibility, especially as the US and France distance themselves from the continent. France, which in the past has actively intervened in Congo, Central African Republic, and Rwanda, plans to cut its military presence in Africa over the next two years from 7,390 to 5,000 men, diplomats say, reflecting its decreasing influence on the continent.
But the burning question for many is whether Africans can keep the peace any better than foreigners - and whether peacekeeping works anywhere.
Surely if anyone can pull it off, it would be Senegal, one of the region's most stable countries. It boasts one of the continent's most disciplined armies and has taken part in peacekeeping before, in Liberia and Bosnia.
The 799 trainees at this military base are highly motivated. For many, the skills of peacekeeping are new - handling unruly crowds, manning checkpoints, and above all learning the patience needed for long missions and dealing with civilians.
Sgt. Cassius Williams, one of the trainers, says, "The Senegalese seem to be most prepared and very receptive to receive training. They are very disciplined, willing, and have a good esprit de corps."
But skeptics say more than enthusiasm is needed to police the earth's most conflict-ridden continent. They point to the world's inability to prevent genocide in Rwanda in 1994. They note that Angola still hovers on the edge of renewed civil war despite a two-year, $1 million-a-day UN peacekeeping mission.
"Peacekeeping in Africa only works when both sides have fought themselves into exhaustion, like in Mozambique," says one Western diplomat based in the region who requested anonymity.
In addition, the motives of some African countries for volunteering for the training have little to do with peacekeeping, according to Mamadou Diouf, a political analyst at Dakar's independent social sciences research organization, CODESRIA. "Many of these countries can use peacekeeping to modernize their armies," he says. "For Senegal, it is a way to make money and assert this poor country in the world. It shows that Senegal has a very professional army and can say it is a democracy."
The peacekeepers are welcomed in Senegal, but in Uganda several legislators have objected to the Americans as an invading force that might further destabilize the region. South Africa, which has the continent's most sophisticated Army, is deeply suspicious of any US attempt to dictate and has refused to participate.
Skepticism is also present in Washington, where the Senate has so far declined to renew the program for 1998.
Detractors in Africa question whether improved marksmanship and supplies of ammunition will be used to keep the peace or to put down internal rebellions, such as in Senegal's south.
But the Green Berets defend their mission, noting that only countries committed to democracy are participating. By teaching about proper rules of engagement and human rights, the United States hopes its pupils will not repeat the experience of Nigerian "peacekeepers" in Sierra Leone, who intervened militarily in June after a coup, sending troops into the capital and shelling it. Along with eyebrows, the incident raised questions about sovereignty and whether the loss of life was worth the limited chance of restoring democracy.
"We are simply helping them become effective peacekeepers by training them to use their skills properly," says Major Terry Baldwin, from Fort Bragg, N.C. "If a soldier can use his weapon properly, he can move onto the other tasks such as managing checkpoints."