On a visit to the Central African Republic in April 2014, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had three messages for the country. "You are not alone. The UN has your back," he said to the people. Secondly, he warned the world not to look away and thirdly he said he believed that there was still hope for the war torn nation.
These words must now be followed with action, as the UN took over the country's peace keeping mission. MINUSCA will include a total number of 12,000 soldiers and police forces. MINUSCA mission chief, General Babacar Gaye from Senegal on Monday (15.09.2014) summarized the mission's aim to: "Protect the population, back the political process and contribute to the restoration of the authority of the state".
Yet the start of the mission, by no means signifies the full deployment of the troops. The force will be made up of nearly 5,000 African Union (AU) peace keepers, who are already in the country and will now exchange their AU camouflage helmets for blue ones. The soldiers from Burundi, Rwanda, Guinea and Cameroon spent their last few weeks receiving training in UN standards, such as the protection of civilians and the prevention of sexual abuse. The African troops will be boosted by additional troops from blue helmets from Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Morocco.
"It's going to take a long time, if ever, to get up to the full amount mandated by the Security Council," explained David Smith, the director of Okapi Consulting, a group which advises international organizations on their activities in the Central African Republic. "There is not a single mission in Africa, that has a full complement," Smith told DW.
One reason is that many African states simply lack the capacity to provide more personnel. Apart from the CAR, the UN currently has nine other peace keeping missions on the continent. Western nations on the other hand are often not willing to send their troops to potentially dangerous missions in Africa.
"One of the reasons they hesitate, is because it is not popular at home with their own constituency," Smith explained. "It is very difficult to justify, whether it be in Berlin, London, Paris or Washington, when body bags of soldiers who have gone to peace keeping missions in Africa, come home," he added.
12,000 troops too little
According to Smith, even the full MINUSCA mission would not be able to secure peace in the Central African Republic. "The country is one-and-a-half times the size of France. In an area without a proper transport infrastructure, without a proper communications infrastructure, even 50,000 troops wouldn't be enough."
The Central African Republic's President, Catherine Samba Panza welcomed the UN mission and insisted that the country's police and armed forces needed the international support. "The security situation has improved, but it is still fragile," she noted. "We no longer have fighting in Bangui, but we still have some armed attacks. This is why we need the police."
What the people of the Central African Republic expect from the UN troops, explained Smith, is disarmament of the militia. The fight between the two warring Seleka and Anti-Balaka militia broke out into a full scale civil war after a coup in March 2013. Up to 6,000 civilians have been killed in the fighting and over one millions people have fled their homes.
State rebuilding against all odds
Apart form the protection of civilians, the UN mission hopes to steer the Central African Republic back to becoming a functioning state. The transitional government which came into power a few weeks ago is weak and vast parts of the country are not under government control. The UN mandate is due to end in April 2015, which according to Smith is much too early. "To build the institutions, it is probably going to take a generation. Does the UN and the international community have the stomach, the finances and the resources to do that? Probably not."
The Central African Republic has been plagued by bloodshed, powerless governments and coups since its independence in 1958. One major task of the UN mission will be to prepare the country for elections, which are currently set for February 2015, but will probably be postponed to a later date. The UN is well versed in setting up voting booths, sending election observers and preparing ballot papers. In 1999, they successfully organized elections in the Central African Republic under the UN mission, MINURCA. Only a year later, the country sunk into chaos following a renewed coup.