Teaching African Peacekeepers How to Keep the Peace

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USIP is playing a vital and growing role in Africa by teaching peacekeepers negotiation and mediation skills they will use across the continent. Trainers from the Institute have completed 17 training workshops this year as part of the State Department’s African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program, or ACOTA. African peacekeepers’ mission is to prevent the outbreak or spillover of violent conflict. But often these military officers do not receive training in how to deal with conflict at places like checkpoints and roadblocks. USIP’s portion of the ACOTA training is distinct from the overall training which is typically more military-oriented.

“As peacekeepers, their mission is to use force as a last resort, but they don’t get training on other methods of non-armed reactions,” says Nina Sughrue, a senior program officer at USIP’s Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding who returned from training in Tanzania in November. “We provide the conflict analysis piece, the negotiation, and how to deal with conflict in a non-violent way – how to mitigate it.” The Tanzania training cycle was held in mid-November on a remote military base in the bush more than three hours from the capital, Dar es Salaam, Sughrue said.

USIP helps provide African peacekeepers with practical tools for negotiation and other skills to deal with possible conflicts that begin at a low-level but can easily escalate into widespread violence. They also provide an in-depth review of the peacekeeper’s responsibilities for the protection of civilians, now one of their most important missions. This is a vital part of the overall ACOTA training, a seven-week program the State Department has offered since at least the 1990s.

USIP’s contribution is a three- to five-day training workshop that focuses on negotiation and mediation skills. A typical training scenario might draw from the kind of real-world situation peacekeepers would encounter: peacekeepers manning a checkpoint as a hostile rebel group approaches wanting to pass. Students learn the ropes of how to defuse that potentially tense situation by learning how to seek out and recognize the rebel group’s leader and learning how to communicate with him using effective negotiation and mediation skills used, essentially, on the fly. Ultimately the training helps give African military officers the tools they need to successfully handle a broad range of problems they can expect to face in peacekeeping, says USIP’s Theodore Feifer, dean of students at the Academy who conducted four programs in Rwanda this year.

“USIP provides an important addition to the military skills that are the focus of the ACOTA program given that peacekeepers are supposed to seek to resolve conflicts first through non-military means, negotiation and mediation,” Feifer says.

By year’s end, USIP will have conducted 17 training sessions in seven African countries this year. That’s up from 13 iterations in 2010 and seven in 2009. This year, USIP conducted the training in Togo, Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria and Burundi as well as the one in Tanzania, according to Academy officials.

This story originally appeared on USIP.org on December 11, 2011. Learn more about the ACOTA Program