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India: Providing for Peace in Africa

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  • October 26, 2015

    What do Dewan Prem Chand, Vijay Kumar Jetly, Rajender Singh, Jasbir Singh Lidder and Chander Prakash have in common? Apart from the fact that they are Indian, they were all deployed as Force Commanders for various United Nations Peace Keeping Missions in Africa. Over the years, India has played a significant role in ensuring peace on the African continent. This has been mainly through its participation in UN Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO) and lately through its support for the African Union (AU) Peacekeeping Missions in the region. The forthcoming third India Africa Forum Summit offers us an opportunity to examine India’s engagement in peacekeeping in the region.

    India has contributed nearly 185,000 troops, the largest by any country, for 48 UN peacekeeping missions across the world. As approximately 70 per cent of UN peacekeepers worldwide have been deployed in Africa, and more than 50 per cent of the UN peacekeeping operations in the post Cold War era have been undertaken in the continent, it can be argued that its Indian peacekeepers who have been mostly engaged in reducing conflict in this troubled region. India has participated in most of the UN peacekeeping missions on the continent, beginning with the Congo (1960-64). Subsequently India participated in missions to: Namibia (1989-90); Angola (1989-1995); Mozambique (1992-94); Somalia (1991-94); Rwanda (1993-96); Sierra Leone (1999-2001); and Ethiopia- Eritrea (2006-08). Currently Indian peacekeepers are deployed in UN peacekeeping missions in: Liberia (since April 2007), Ivory Coast (since April 2004), the Democratic Republic of Congo (since January 2005) and Sudan/South Sudan (April 2005 onwards). Moreover, Indians have also taken leadership roles as force commanders, police commissioners as well as military and police advisers in various UN Missions.

    India’s involvement in peacekeeping operations in Africa has been based on the principle that these operations should be UN led and conducted strictly in adherence with the "bed rock principles” i.e. consent, impartiality, non- use of force. To a large extent India has provided peacekeepers to promote global peace and security. Moreover India’s participation in peacekeeping operations denotes its solidarity with the African countries. Partnering for peace and security in the region is a constant in India’s sustained engagement with Africa. India’s ties with Africa are time tested and go back a millennium. The last decade and a half has seen increasing levels of contacts between the two regions. This closeness is visible in the rising number of official visits between India and the African countries and the rapid growth in trade that was pegged at $71 billion in 2014-15.

    India's contribution towards keeping the peace in Africa is unique in terms of its professionalism, humanitarian concern, and promotion of gender equality. In recent years India has been applauded as a reliable peacekeeper because of its willingness to take risks and its capacity for sustained commitment in spite of the perilous nature of operations in Africa. In Somalia, which was one of the most dangerous UN operations, India did not withdraw its troops till the end despite suffering casualties on ground. India has drawn on its domestic counter insurgency experiences in the Northeast, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir while keeping the peace in Africa.

    One of the noteworthy aspects of Indian peacekeeping in Africa is its role in humanitarian activities, that form part of the Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) programme of the peacekeeping force. While a Civil Affairs programme is not unique to the Indian army, Indian troops in various UN peacekeeping operations have focussed on building strong community relations through their humanitarian activities. For instance thousands of Congolese, men, women and children have been treated for illness and injuries at the Indian hospital of the United Nations Organization Mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC). Indian doctors have also provided vital assistance by performing eye surgeries at the hospital.

    India has also been lauded for promoting gender equality and sensitivity. It led by example, and sent 125 female personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) to Liberia in January 2007. It was the first time that an all women unit was sent for a UN peacekeeping mission. The presence of an Indian female police unit inspired several Liberian women to come forward to join the police force and participate in maintaining law and order.

    However there is also a flip side to India’s involvement in UN peacekeeping in Africa. In 2013, two Indian peacekeepers Dharmesh Sangwan and Kanwar Pal Singh were killed in South Sudan while trying to protect civilians. Sangwan and Singh were among the 2000 Indian troops deployed as part of the 7000 strong United Nations Mission in South Sudan. Over the years India has paid a heavy price for peacekeeping losing 161 peacekeepers which is the highest number of fatalities amongst the troops contributors. The casualties taken by Indian peacekeepers in the line of duty, underscores the risks inherent in UN peacekeeping operations in Africa. These concerns may get aggravated as the UN pushes for more robust mandates for the peacekeeping missions.

    Indian officials at the United Nations have sought to draw attention to the rising numbers of casualties in the conflicts in Africa and beyond. One reason for this development is the lack of consultation between troop contributing countries and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). A large number of African countries, particularly those that contribute troops for the UNPKO, share India’s concerns. India has also called for greater cooperation between the United Nations and regional organisations such as the African Union.

    Apart from its involvement in the UNPKO, India has also extended its support to the efforts of the African Union to maintain peace and security in the region. The African Union is developing an African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) for the continent which involves, amongst other things, raising an African standby force of 25,000 troops. This force is expected to become operational by the end of 2015. The AU is currently leading the African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). India demonstrated its support for the AU initiative to bring peace to the war torn country by contributing US $2 million in 2011 for the peacekeeping mission. Similarly the rise of militancy and terrorism in Mali, was condemned by India and it contributed a million dollars at the AU led donors conference held in Addis Ababa in 2013.

    In recent years African countries have made efforts to find "African solutions” to ensure peace in the region, but violence continues to manifest itself in many countries. India through its involvement in the UNPKO in the region and its support for African led peacekeeping initiatives has shown its willingness to be a partner in this endeavour. Future cooperation in this sphere will depend on India and Africa making efforts to understand each other’s security concerns. It is hoped that the forthcoming summit will provide a platform and an opportunity for an exchange of views on this crucial area of engagement.

    This article was originally published in In Focus Article, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.