In many African countries, peacekeepers are all that stand between warring groups. At a training center in Accra, Ghana, tomorrow's peacekeepers are getting the preparation they need - with help from Germany.
The Peacekeeping Training Center in Ghana guides future blue helmets
A tense silence fell over an auditorium in Ghana's capital city, as haunting scenes from a documentary on Sierra Leone's civil war flashed across the screen. This film screening marked the start of a two-week crash course in peacekeeping for 90 police officers from around Africa.
These men and women were scheduled for deployment to Darfur as part of the United Nations African Union Hybrid Mission in Darfur, or UNAMID. To prepare them for their mission, the group received training here, at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center, or KAIPTC.
One of the trainers of the current class was Fanny Aboadje. The young Ghanaian police officer recently returned from an 18-month posting in Darfur. She had gone through a training course at KAIPTC herself before going on her mission.
"Darfur is a very complex and complicated mission, and so the training kind of helps you to settle down, and to know what you are about," she said. "If you compare us to other officers who probably didn't have any training there were lots of gaps."
First-hand experience is invaluable in training future peacekeepers, according to Colonel Leo Hirschmann, who heads the training department at the KAIPTC.
Colonel Leo Hirschmann heads KAIPTC's training department
"In an ideal setup, we send a student who has participated in the preparatory training to the particular region we prepared him for," he said. "And when he returns from that mission, he's available for us as a facilitator."
Trainers are able to pass on their impressions of the mission to participants in the preparatory course - while the experiences are still fresh in their minds.
Gerhard Schroeder Hall at the center of things
As the program's main sponsor, Germany has played an instrumental role in establishing the KAIPTC and has provided some 10 million euros in funding for the center so far.
When KAIPTC opened in January 2004, even then-German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was on hand to mark the occasion. Today, the auditorium that houses training sessions bears his name.
The KAIPTC facility has trained several thousand participants
The center stands on a site about the size of five soccer fields, not far from the Atlantic coast. Blue buildings stretch skyward under the tropical sun. With its well-groomed grass pitches, the center looks like a cross between a training center and military barracks. The equipment is state of the art, featuring high-speed computers, a first-class canteen and a gym that trainees can use to stay fit.
Almost 6,000 participants from more than 70 countries have participated in some 170 courses offered by the KAIPTC since 2004. These two-week training courses for police put human rights, protection of women, and basic medical knowledge at the top of the agenda.
Trainees can also participate in practical exercises, from role playing to driving instruction. The latter course is designed to prepare participants for more than just road blocks and attacks: 80 percent of accidents that occur during peace missions are, in fact, traffic-related.
Policemen and -women must also be mindful of how they are perceived by people living in war-ravaged areas. Refugees, in particular, often have painful associations when it comes to officers in uniform.
Amadu Fofana, a KAIPTC facilitator from Mali, said trainees must keep this in mind when dealing with people they meet during their mission.
Fofana visited the center to share his experiences from Darfur, where he was posted for two years. During his time there, he worked in communities where policemen had previously committed acts of rape and unprovoked attacks.
"The population loses all confidence with the police," Fofana said.
Many refugees have lost faith in the authorities
Fanny Aboadje said the reality for peacekeepers on the ground often varies from place to place. Before her posting in Darfur, she was stationed in East Timor, a country in Southeast Asia. She says one of the biggest problems facing the UNAMID forces in Darfur is communication.
"In East Timor, it looks to me that the people - the civilians - understood the role of the UN," she said. "But in Darfur, it looks to be that they don't know why we are there, for various reasons. So communication to get them to understand your mandates and your mission is very difficult."
Working toward conflict prevention
Communication is also a key discussion topic back at the training center, where 30 participants from across Africa are learning about the art of negotiation. This course was developed by KAIPTC's research department.
"Our main objective is to give basic mediation and negotiation skills to them so that they can apply them in resolving basic conflicts that come up during peacekeeping operations," said Samuel Atuabi, who works in the research department. The team is instrumental in shaping the second main focus of the KAIPTC: conflict prevention.
Most trainers at the KAIPTC have just returned from peacekeeping missions
In addition to the KAIPTC, there are six peacekeeper training centers in Africa. Ghana has participated in peacekeeping missions since the 1960s. A local KAIPTC chapter was launched in 1998 to take advantage of more than four decades' worth of collective experiences.
Each year, much of the Ghanaian army is involved in peacekeeping missions abroad. There are also financial incentives: Soldiers and police officers themselves are enthusiastic participants in the peace missions – in part because they earn more wearing the UN's blue helmets abroad than they do without them at home.
Author: Matthias von Hein (skt)
Editor: Anke Rasper