For tiny Burundi, big returns in sending peacekeepers to Somalia
For poorer countries like Burundi, sending soldiers to join a UN or African Union peacekeeping mission offers financial and political benefits, as well as better arms and training.
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Rewarded for risks
How Burundi ended up in Somalia is just one example. Bujumbura sends its young men to battle because doing so has allowed the country to build, equip, and train a stronger army – and to do it on someone else’s tab. The United States is training the country’s army; the African Union (with European support) pays soldiers’ salaries while they are in theater. Those savings, plus compensation for troops and equipment, mean that Burundi earns about $45 million annually from its participation – and to boot, the country’s fractured military is finally faced with the most uniting force of all: a common enemy, one that isn’t at home in Burundi.Skip to next paragraph
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“[Participating in AMISOM] has helped us to create a strong national force – and a professional one,” explains Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, a former head of state and now a senator in Burundi who advocated for sending troops to Somalia.
Financial incentives are among the most alluring and hotly contested aspects of UN peacekeeping missions. As standard UN procedure, countries are reimbursed $1,028 per soldier per month of operations. Equipment is also paid for, meaning that any guns, ammunition, tanks, or other logistics that a country carries in will be reimbursed by the international community.
“What motivates potential troop contributing countries is the availability of logistics … assurances about compensation for personnel and equipment [as well as] deaths [suffered in theater,]” said Capt. Paddy Ankunda, AMISOM force spokesman in Mogadishu. “Obviously, contributions by the United States and a couple of other countries, the EU [countries], France, have been very key.”
In a country like Burundi, finances can easily tip the scales toward sending troops overseas. Around the time AMISOM was first pieced together in 2007, Burundi’s army was bloated and struggling to stick together. The peace accords that ended the country’s strife in 2000 mandated that rebel forces be integrated into the national army. The cost of maintaining this larger force – $191 million in 2007 – was a stretch for a government with a strapped budget, half of which was already funded through international aid. (In 2010, the government had $802 billion to disperse, an amount equal to approximately how much Americans spend buying Christmas trees every year.)
The African Union force was offering to pay troops $750 each per month, through funding from the European Union – significantly more than the soldiers would make at home. “When you ask [the soldiers] to go, almost all of them are ready to go, because it’s a financial windfall,” said Ntibantunganya. Of that $750, the government would tax $100 – and deposit the rest directly into the soldiers’ bank accounts, according to a January 2010 diplomatic cable released on WikiLeaks.
Burundi’s government came out well too. Cash from the salary taxes and the relief from paying the human resources of thousands of soldiers a month were enough to inject 6 billion Burundian francs (about $45 million dollars) into the annual budget, according to the senator.