By Bereket Gebru
Article 86 sub-article 6 of the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia deals with exerting efforts to solve conflicts between countries peacefully. Such efforts range from round table negotiations to military peacekeeping missions based on international law.
Even before the ratification and enforcement of the latest Ethiopian constitution that has been voluntarily formulated by its nations, nationalities and peoples, Ethiopia has long participated in international peacekeeping missions. However, the constitution has set up a system for this participation and ensured that it is based on international statutes.
Subsequently, the Ethiopian defense force has carried out its peacekeeping responsibilities in various countries with utmost bravery and competence under the motto “ensuring national security through competent participation in regional, continental and international peacekeeping work.”
The participation in peacekeeping missions, however, became the basis for the growth in the country after the army’s accomplishment of its mission during the Rwandan genocide in a popular manner after the fall of the Derg regime.
Although that mission was a maiden peacekeeping mission for the Ethiopian defense forces, it provided important experience for the missions they have been invited to take part in after the period of renaissance.
Hard work in these following missions has ensured expanded and mature participation leading to the country’s current international recognition in peacekeeping.
Accordingly, this article sets out to analyze the history, experience, performance, success, and ambassadorial role of the Ethiopian army in peacekeeping missions.
Ethiopian peacekeeping during Emperor Haileselassie and the Derg regime
Let’s start with Ethiopian peacekeeping missions during Emperor Haileselasie’s regime. Ethiopia first responded to common international security calls in 1951 when it availed its services for the Korean people.
The Ethiopian army of back then responded positively to the calls of the United Nations (UN) and carried out its duties readily. Thus, it was presented with recognition awards and medals from numerous members of the international community and the Korean Democratic Government.
Ethiopia also extended its prompt response to the call by the Security Council of the UN in the Congo. Ethiopia’s strong commitment to peace and common international security saw it deploy four brigades in the Congo and carry out its mission competently.
The extreme stands of the Derge regime meant that the country could not participate in peacekeeping missions.
Ethiopian peacekeeping during the EPRDF
However, the peace loving current government that toppled the Derge regime has more than ever carried out its peacekeeping African responsibilities.
Accordingly, its first peacekeeping mission in Rwanda took place a year before the ratification of the constitution.
Therefore, the mission took place while the constitution was still under formulation. The time was one in which the ethnic cleansing of Tutsis was raging in Rwanda. At the time, there was no power managed to put a stop to the horrific genocide.
Then the UN Security Council deliberated on the issue and put forward a request for the transitional government of Ethiopia to operate under the United Nations Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) to take up the responsibility as the Council believed that the army was up for the task.
The peace loving nature of the government and the social viewpoint of the army led to the government accepting the mission. The Ethiopian defense force then opened a new chapter in Ethiopian peacekeeping history after a long period of absence during the Derge regime by effectively carrying out its duties in a condition some analysts claimed was a fundamental mistake to send a UN peacekeeping army under impossible conditions for peacekeeping.
The Ethiopian army saw through an impartial peacekeeping work in the zones it was deployed in. The place is called “Changugu.” It was feared for hosting a large concentration of notorious people and terrorists.
The impartial activities of the Ethiopian army in that place won it the adoration of both the contending ethnic groups – Hutu and Tutsi. The fact that it managed to ensure peace with social affinity instead of force shocked various peace loving forces including the UN.
The secret behind the Ethiopian army’s success in Rwanda was its ability to give and receive love with the Rwandan people. Its fundamental character of standing as a vanguard of the people helped it assimilate with the people quite easily and expose the anti-peace rhetoric of those who want to see the continuation of the genocide.
Accordingly, the Rwandan people saw off the Ethiopian army brigade in tears as it was replaced by another Ethiopian brigade. The replacing brigade also concluded its mission earning great respect through impartial loyalty to all sides.
As a result the Ethiopian peacekeeping force gave a lesson to the world that the solution for turmoil and chaos is not lining up a great deal of weapons but serving the people positively with tremendous social affinity.
In general, the successful completion of the Rwandan mission by the Ethiopian army led to the UN handing out medals to Ethiopian soldiers in recognition of their effort. Long after Rwanda has been stable, it awarded the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi with the country’s greatest Medal of Honor for his government’s and army’s commitment to peace at its 15th victory day celebrations.
Another peacekeeping mission under the current government was in Burundi. The Ethiopian army was deployed to Burundi under the African Union Mission in Burundi (AMIB). At the time when the African Union decided to deploy Ethiopian defense forces for peacekeeping in Burundi, Ethiopia responded positively by sending its troops.
Ethiopia was the deputy commander of the African Union mission in Burundi. The mission of the Ethiopian army in Burundi was to control the implementation of the cease fire agreement reached between warring sides, disarming, creating a suitable environment for reconstruction and restoring the political, social and economic status quo to pre-conflict conditions.
In addition to undertaking these responsibilities capably, the Ethiopian army earned the respect and love of the people and government of Burundi for its humanitarian activities.
The army shared the troubles of the people of Burundi in the spirit of African brotherhood. Two of the army’s such conducts include the assistance it provided to children who lost their parents for HIV/AIDS and its support for people displaced by war.
The Ethiopian army deployed in “Gitega”, a state that is host for a large number of displaced people fleeing the civil war, showed it African solidarity with the people by providing them with food worth 62 thousand birr deducted from its daily budget.
The army’s such charitable acts have touched the feelings of the people and the government of Burundi. The then governor of “Gitega”, Tersis Tibararana, enthused that the Ethiopian army’s brotherly and friendly gesture of deducting its food budget to help out Burundians in need has touched their hearts.
He further pointed out that the act is exemplary to peacekeepers from other nations. These feedbacks on its activities from local officials indicate the positive contribution perceived by them about the Ethiopian peacekeeping force.
Generally, the mission that started on September, 1994 and went on to August, 1996 saw the Ethiopian army contribute a great deal for the peace and stability of Burundi.
The peacekeeping mission that followed that of Burundi was in Liberia. The time spelt a difficult moment in the country that transpired because of the conflict between the government of Liberia and opposition forces.
The Ethiopian government once again provided a steadfast response to calls by the UN to deploy a peacekeeping mission under the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). In solidarity of its African brothers, Ethiopia sent a 1784 peacekeeping force to Liberia in the first round of the mission in 2004.
The Ethiopian army was assigned for peacekeeping in the vast area called sector 4 that incorporates over six states. Despite the area being one feared by other peacekeeping forces for harboring a large amount of rebels, the UN made the decision with the army’s track record of quality and strength in peacekeeping along with close affinity to the people on the ground in mind.
However, the army unfazed by the complexity of the situation used its vast experience in peacekeeping and its trait of social affinity to ensure peace and stability in Liberia, disarm the opposition, protect the natural resources of the country and make direct participation in reconstruction activities. The army, therefore, accomplished its mission working hand and glove with the people and discharging its duties honorably.
Even the rebels who boasted of their unmovable status in the dense forests they used as a hideout and committed horrific acts of crime against the people joined the community after bearing witness to the social goal and love portrayed by the Ethiopian army.
The Ethiopian army proved its solidarity with the Liberian people by deducting its food budget to help out Liberians in need and by participating in road and bridge construction etc. Besides its participation in developmental endeavors, the army contributed a lot towards political election in that country.
In general, the Ethiopian army accomplished its peacekeeping missions in nine consecutive rounds from 2003 to 2011 by deploying 17, 434 peacekeepers and 312 military observers and staff officials. It has also currently carried on with its military observer and staff officer roles.
The UN extended its recognition of the efforts of the Ethiopian army in stabilizing Liberia by awarding it medals and ribbons in every round of the mission.
In addition, Ethiopia was also selected in the peacekeeping mission in Western Sudan. The conflict between the Sudanese government and rebels in Darfur has reportedly claimed the lives of about 70 thousand people while upwards of 2.3 million people have been displaced.
Following such developments, the UN Security Council passed a decision to deploy a UN-AU Hybrid force in Darfur. In its ever positive response to help out Africans in need, Ethiopia progressively deployed military personnel of 5 thousand in strength along with 5 tactical helicopters.
In line with the decision, the first round of the Ethiopian peacekeeping force was deployed to Darfur in 2008 with it still carrying out its mission in a brotherly manner. Two factors make the Darfur Ethiopian peacekeeping mission different from previous missions.
The first factor is that the deployment is in neighboring country Sudan with which Ethiopia shares a long border, natural resources and similar ethnic groups and religions.
The second factor is that the army has taken up transport, all rounded logistics, reconnaissance, air force and deep water drilling in addition to its previous roles in deploying ground forces and staff and military observers. These additional responsibilities are clear indicators of the acceptance and trust the army has won in conducting its peacekeeping mission under UNAMID.
The capacity of the army in peacekeeping has shore up tremendously with it becoming more competitive with time. The major reasons behind are the institutional change the defense force is trying to achieve and the international attention the social affinity it has exhibited has received.
Equipped with its strong discipline and key values, the Ethiopian peacekeeping force has been carrying out its duties amid the complicated situation in Darfur with 7,384 personnel including 132 military observers and staff officers between 2008 and 2013.
In its deployment area, the army has provided the brotherly people of the Sudan with free medical services and protected internally displaced people (IDPs) from attacks by armed groups. In the largely desert area of Darfur, the Ethiopian peacekeeping mission dug water out to address water problems for the society and animals.
It also deducted budget from its daily food expenses to help out those in need. The army has conducted other numerous social activities that have won it acceptance by the community and government officials alike.
The other noteworthy peacekeeping operation is that of Abiye where the Ethiopian peacekeeping force is unilaterally carrying out the task. Following the self-determination of South Sudan, the governments of the North and the South have not managed to agree over the oil reach region of Abiye.
The conflict that ensued subsequently claimed the lives of numerous people with others resorting to displacement.
After carefully analyzing the situation, the UN proposed for the deployment of a peacekeeping mission in Abiye. The 15 members of the UN Security Council then unanimously decided to deploy 4,200 Ethiopian peacekeeping forces to unilaterally take on the challenge.
The astonishing thing about the decision was not just the unusual unanimous decision by the members of the Security Council but the fact that both sides of the conflict, the North and South Sudan, expressed their desire to have the Ethiopian peacekeeping force as the unilateral force in Abiye.
This situation was the first time in the history of the UN in which all three bodies involved, the Security Council, the North and South Sudan, decided to deploy a country as the unilateral peacekeeping force.
There are concrete reasons for the Ethiopian army to be trusted by all parties in taking up the peacekeeping mission. The Ethiopian government’s policies and strategies of peace and the impartial foreign policy and diplomatic activities are all behind the collective approval.
Then the first round of the Ethiopian peacekeeping force led by Lt. General Tadesse Werede who was appointed by Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon, went to Abiye on July 17, 2011. Since then, the peacekeeping force has been carrying out its duties in collaboration with the local community.
Yet another peacekeeping mission the Ethiopian army is participating in is the one in Somalia under the umbrella of AMISOM. Ethiopia received an invitation to join the African peacekeeping force in Somalia and strengthen the AMISOM mission in 2014.
Accordingly, 4,403 members of the Ethiopian defense force were deployed in Somalia. After being assigned in sector 3 and 4, the Ethiopian peacekeeping force has been discharging its duties responsibly. The army is thus accomplishing the mission it has been assigned with by AMISOM in its endeavors as an ambassador of peace in Somali. The army is, therefore, working on sustaining peace in the sectors it has been assigned to, destroying and annihilating terrorists based in Somalia in collaboration with other parts of the peacekeeping force and creating stable administrative structures along with the people.
In line with the activities of other peacekeeping missions by the Ethiopian army, the force in Somalia has helped create conducive environment for the people to administer themselves and claim back ownership of the security structure. It has also trained, armed and organized the security forces of the Somali government to build their capacity.
Beside the above mentioned activities, the Ethiopian peacekeeping forces has also worked hard to expand social services in the sectors it has been assigned to and created suitable conditions for emergency and humanitarian aid to reach the people.
The Ethiopian force is also building social institutions for the local community by raising budget allocated by the Ethiopian government and tying it up with the human labor and knowledge available.
All these socially viable activities have helped the Ethiopian force forge a considerable alliance with the people of Somalia making its task of destroying terrorists much easier. The army has, accordingly, freed vital areas controlled by Al-Shabaab rendering the terrorist group very weak. With the level of success the force has gained in crushing Al-Shabaab out of its strongholds, it will not be too long before the brotherly people of Somalia are rescued from the jaws of terrorists.
As has been evident in various places around Africa, the main ammunition of the Ethiopian peacekeeping force is its respect for local people and the reciprocation they bestow up on it.
Their active collaboration in realizing the peacekeeping force’s missions has always been indispensable. The other factors that aid its high rate of success in such missions are its mission accomplishment capacity and discipline.
With peace at the center of its goals, the Ethiopian peacekeeping force has managed to win the trust of various African people and governments within the last 25 years. Always updating its capacity to become a more competitive peacekeeping force, the army has nowadays attained a glittering reputation in Africa and the world in general.
The assignment of Addis Ababa as the headquarters of the Eastern Africa emergency brigade and the appointment of Ethiopia as the first round commander of the regional force established by the AU Peace and Security Council is an instance of the confidence of African countries in the Ethiopian army.
In all peacekeeping missions the Ethiopian defense forces participated in, every member of the military introduced Ethiopian culture, values, nationalities and the realities of the new Ethiopia besides carrying out the international mission.
The force further plays an ambassadorial role in familiarizing other peacekeepers and the people and government of the host country with the developmental achievements in Ethiopia, the sustainable peace and deep rooted process of democratization in the country.