The United Nations (UN) on May 25, at its headquarters in New York, celebrated the International Day of Peacekeepers and the 75th anniversary of UN Peace Keeping Operations (PKOs). The first UNPKO was the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), founded on May 29, 1948, in the Middle East to monitor the Armistice Agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours.
The ceremony, held on May 25, as May 29 was Memorial Day public holiday in the United States, was used to pay tribute to the Blue Helmets’ invaluable contributions and to honour peacekeepers who lost their lives serving under the UN flag.
At the event, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres laid a wreath for the over 4,100 brave men and women who lost their lives in PKOs since 1948. He also presided over the Dag Hammarskjöld medal ceremony at which 103 military, police and civilian peacekeepers who died in 2022 were honoured posthumously with the medal.
Altogether, since 1948, 71 PKOs have been deployed around the world with 12 ongoing, including five in Africa. They include MINURSO in Western Sahara; UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone; UNMEE in Eritrea and Ethiopia; MONUC in Congo Democratic Republic; and UN Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA).
Statistically, half of the post-Cold War UN missions have been in Africa, while 84% of its peacekeepers are currently deployed on the continent.
Over two million uniformed and civilian personnel from 125 nations have served since inception and currently, there are more than 97,000 UN uniformed personnel from over 120 countries serving under the UN flag. As at December 2022, Bangladesh was contributing 7,233 soldiers to UN peacekeeping missions, the highest number by any country.
UN’s peacekeeping operations have grown dramatically from 11,000 peacekeepers at the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s to 130,000 from 16 operations by 2014. Today, 97,000 men and women serve in 12 conflict areas in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, including 9,000 police officers from at least 90 countries.
UNPKOs have evolved from the “first generation” of traditional peacekeeping between 1948 and 1988 in which both superpowers supported local proxies; to the “second generation” that contributed in thawing the Cold War (1988-1999); the “third generation” from 1999 which ended with the NATO-led intervention in Libya and the outbreak of Syria’s civil war. In the “fourth generation” (2012-2023), many troop-contributing countries are now avoiding putting their troops in harm’s way.
There is no doubt that Nigeria has played significant roles in global peacekeeping. But due to the war against terrorism, Nigeria, in 2013, withdrew its troops from UN missions to beef up security at home. But it rejoined the UN peacekeeping operations when its Base Defence Company deployed to UNISFA was inducted on March 15, 2023. The Acting Head of Mission and Force Commander of UNISFA, Major General Benjamin Olufemi Sawyerr, is a Nigerian.
Altogether, Nigeria participated in 17 peacekeeping operations, namely Congo (UNOC) 1960-1964; New Guinea (UNSF) 1962-1963; India-Pakistan conflict (UNIPOM) 1965-1966; Lebanon (UNIFIL), Iran-Iraq conflict (UNIMOG) 1988-1991; Iraq-Kuwait (UNIKOM) 1991; Namibia (UNTAG) 1989-1990; Western Sahara (MINURSO) 1991; and Cambodia (UNTAC) 1992-1993.
Others include Somalia (UNOSOM) 1992-1994; former Yugoslavia (UNPROFOR) 1992; Mozambique (ONUMOZ) 1992; Rwanda; (UNAMIR) 1993; Aouzo Strip (UNASOG) 1994; Israel (UNTSO) 1995; Darfur (UNAMID) 2003; and UNISFA (2023).
Between 1960 and 2012, Nigeria had a total of nine force commanders of UN Missions with the highpoint being 2022-2012 when it had five.
At a point, Nigeria was ranked the fourth highest troop-contributing country to UN missions and the nation’s strides in global peacekeeping were a major foreign policy plank.
These operations have helped countries to return to a reasonable degree of stability, including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Angola and Cambodia. And UN peacekeepers are still monitoring and preserving ceasefires in Southern Lebanon and Cyprus.
There have been failures, notably, the inability of UN peacekeepers to prevent the 1994 Rwanda genocide that killed at least 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and Hutus and the 1995 massacre of at least 8,000 mostly Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica during the war in Bosnia. And UN peacekeeping reputation was also bruised by allegations of peacekeepers sexually abusing women and children, especially in the Central African Republic and Congo. Another high-profile blunder was the cholera epidemic in Haiti in 2010 after UN peacekeepers introduced the bacteria into the country’s largest river by sewage runoff from their base.
Despite all these, UN peacekeepers have been commendable agents of peace and stability. More than any other global institution, UNPKOs has recorded remarkable success in preserving ceasefires, protecting civilians from armed attacks and supporting political efforts.
Daily Trust joins the world in saluting the peacekeepers’ focus on fostering international security, peace and progress for all peoples, protecting vulnerable communities, strengthening the security sector and rule of law, and building the foundations for inclusive, effective, and accountable services.
We urge the UN to do more to resolve conflicts like those in Libya, Syria, Myanmar and Ukraine. Though the UNPKOs may not have a perfect track record, no other global institution has come close to it in working to bring stability in turbulent regions of the world.