Africa: Peacebuilders

Ugandan soldiers serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) prepare to deploy near the Somali capital of Mogadishu in an area that became home to a large refugee population.

For Rashid Abdi, Horn of Africa project director for the International Crisis Group, large missions like AMISOM are doomed: "We’re disillusioned with the big peacekeeping," he says, "and going individual, bilateral."

As the Somali lawyer (and former government advisor) Sagal Abshir points out: "The international community of the ’90s was hopeful. The Cold War had ended, anything was possible." Since then, she says, "The international community has changed. Some of these countries that used to seem all-powerful have their own problems."

If large missions are not working, then their absence might not be much of a loss. The podcast episode features Séverine Autesserre of Barnard College and Susan Woodward of CUNY Graduate Center, both harsh critics of international peacekeeping and what Woodward calls "the ideology of failed states."

They have both worked in what Autesserre calls the "expatriate bubble" of peacebuilding. "I worked for a couple of years 'in the field,' and I felt that we were addressing the consequences of the problems but never the causes. And I started being really fed up. I was very uncomfortable with the entire expatriate bubble, with the way my colleagues were talking about local people, about even their local colleagues."

" People learn what their functional expertise is," Woodward adds, "they don’t learn about the country, nor do they really care about their country, because they’re convinced they’re right."

But what will the consequences be for the region when large peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations are phased out?

" What happens when a major actor like the United States begins to recede from the world, begins to retreat?" Abdi asks. "You create a space for other regional actors to step in, and that is the process that’s happening."

" I definitely do foresee a redefinition of what the international community is in Somalia," Abshir says. For example, she foresees a shift in the EU's focus from East Africa to the francophone West as, thanks to Brexit, the U.K.'s influence on European foreign policy continues to diminish.

Somalia was once a laboratory for post-Cold War liberal interventionism, then for post-9/11 counter-terrorism, and then for African Union attempts at taking up the burden of peacebuilding. Today it is a site for both reluctant great powers and ambitious regional players - such as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates - alongside Kenya, Ethiopia, Burundi, Uganda, and Djibouti. The situation is both extremely dynamic and fundamentally static. According to Abdi: "Nobody is under any pressure really to wrap up AMISOM, because it has become too comfortable for many people. It isn't effective on the ground, but that has ceased to be a point." Yet Abdi also believes the Somalia-based Muslim insurgency Al Shabaab is again on the rise: "It knows that the clock is running out on AMISOM."

If international interventionism is destined to draw down, Woodward believes, there nonetheless may be useful roles for international organizations and major powers like the U.S., UK and Germany in development, if not in hot conflict. "The logistical part is really important," she says, "and that’s something outsiders can do, but at the moment the only people who seem to be thinking that’s in their interests are the Chinese."

Peacebuilders features nine episodes from East Africa. The seven remaining episodes, tackling everything from the future of the African Union to immigration to media and elections in Kenya, will be published weekly on Tuesday mornings. The interviewers are Aaron Stanley, a program assistant with Carnegie Corporation’s international security program, and Scott Malcomson, an author, journalist, and former government official and NGO executive. Malcomson was a Carnegie Corporation media fellow from 2015 to 2018 and is currently a fellow in international security at the New America Foundation and director of special projects at Strategic Insight Group. #Peacebuilders.

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