Is peacekeeping being used by African states to deflect criticism?
Nairobi: Troop contributions for UN peacekeeping missions are helping African nations build a buffer against criticism over democratic and human rights failings, analysts said Monday.
Reacting to a leaked United Nations report last week that its forces committed war crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda threatened to pull out its soldiers from Darfur if the document is published.
Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said the UN cannot have it both ways: “You cannot accuse our army… and want the same army to be a disciplined moral army to protect civilians around the world.”
Providing some  peacekeepers for the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur and the United Nations Mission in Sudan may be spreening Kigali’s international image, but could also be providing a shield against scrutiny, observers said.
“It’s clear that by contributing troops to peacekeeping missions, Rwanda wants to get a positive image at the international level,” said Carina Tertsakian, a Rwanda researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“I do think they hoped that because they are appreciated at the international level it may mean they get less criticism of their human rights record back home or elsewhere,” she told AFP.
Not only does withdrawing troops fail to address the allegations of crime, but it would portray Kigali as attempting a cover up.
“We can understand that Rwanda is sensitive to the allegations that crimes were committed by its troops in DRC, but we think that this kind of threat and intimidation is really not helpful and even counterproductive.
“It would give the impression that Rwanda has something to hide by preventing the publication of this report,” said Tertsakian, whose visa Rwanda refused to renew in April.
While on her first tour of sub-Saharan Africa in 2007, German Chancellor Angela Merkel asserted the need for political freedom and respect for human rights in Ethiopia, which has been criticised for such failures.
Instead of tackling Merkel’s concerns, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who addressed a joint press conference with his guest, pledged to send 5,000 troops for the Darfur mission.
Uganda, which provides the bulk of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia, had come under stinging attack in 2005 by Johnnie Carson, the current US assistant secretary for Africa.
Carson lambasted President Yoweri Museveni for clinging to power.
But five years on when he attended the African Union summit in Kampala in July this year, just days after Somalia’s Shebab militia claimed a suicide attack there, Carson said Museveni was no dictator but “duly elected in a free and fair elections” in comments in Uganda’s state-run daily New Vision.
Despite lamenting the opposition boycott of Burundi’s June elections, European Union monitors however praised their conduct. The opposition had stayed away in protest over alleged goverment rigging of previous local elections.
Like Uganda, Burundi has also deployed troops to Somalia, although its security forces have repeatedly been blamed for arbitrary arrests, torture and other violations.
“We have noted that the United States, and more so the EU are turning a blind eye regarding the numerous political and human rights violations as well as corruption in Burundi,” said an official with the Great Lakes Human Rights League.
“Is this linked to Burundi’s troop deployment in Somalia? I cannot affirm that, but it seems very possible,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But seeking to deflect international criticism may not be the key reason states deploy peacekeepers, said Ej Hogendoorn, a Nairobi-based analyst with the International Crisis Group.
Financial benefits and military experience are among other the motivations, he added.
“Countries contribute forces for a variety of reasons,” Hogendoorn told AFP. “One of them is to generate goodwill with the international community.”