In the last two years, there has been a surge of military interventions in Africa including the deployment of new peace operations. It is part of a growing trend in the militarisation of civilian protection and even a shift from peacekeeping towards peace enforcement. Some African states and the African Union (AU) have pushed for more muscular peace operations, for at least three reasons: to fight Islamist insurgencies and prevent terrorism; to neutralise their political enemies; and to address growing frustration that traditional United Nations (UN) peace operations, even under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, have proven incapable of resolving African crises. Another important undercurrent is the desire, especially within the AU, to take the lead in responding to African crises. The international community (particularly the West) reluctant to deploy troops in Africa, has supported and even financed this more robust approach, especially when it has helped address its own security concerns. In other cases, Western countries have intervened directly in some crises, with or without the backing of African states, when they considered their national security to be directly threatened.
Whatever the ultimate objective, this willingness to use force raises fundamental questions about its utility and how to appropriately balance it with the more important goals of mediating and building sustainable peace. Tensions between the use of force and mediation have long existed, but can the use or threat of force work as a tool to promote peace or does it always act as an impediment to it? Should we acknowledge that, in some cases, the threat or even use of force is needed to stabilise the situation and create space for dialogue, to encourage factions to respect the provisions of a peace deal, or to protect civilians? What are the dangers associated with using, or threatening to use, force? Is enough done at the political level to complement or shore up military interventions? Do such interventions lay the foundations for sustainable political solutions or are they no more than containment strategies? Tied to these questions is the challenge of resolving conflicts in such a way that external actors, particularly the UN and AU, do not become substitutes for the security services of weak governments, especially those with authoritarian tendencies.
This paper addresses these issues, drawing on several specific cases: the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mali, Somalia and the Central African Republic (CAR).