0 Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire: 21st-century approach to maintaining peace in Africa - New African Magazine
Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire: 21st-century approach to maintaining peace in Africa


Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire: 21st-century approach to maintaining peace in Africa

Armed intervention in conflicts in Africa, carried out by the UN or AU or joint missions, have always been controversial because the rules of engagement have neither been clear or, more often than not, practical. How far should the mandate of the peacekeeping forces extend? When and how should actual combat be engaged? For what end? A classic example is the failure of the 1994 UN Mission to Rwanda, which failed to prevent the genocide. Clearly, a fresh approach is needed.

With Canada now committed to a three-year deployment of 600 armed soldiers and 150 police officers to train and support UN or AU missions in Africa, a new Joint Doctrine Note was established to train soldiers for the realities of dealing with child soldiers in new peacekeeping operations. One of the main architects of this doctrine is retired Canadian, Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire, force commander of the Rwanda mission, founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, and author of Shake Hands with the Devil and They Fight like Soldiers, They Die Like Children. In this exclusive interview with New African, he explains to David Meffe why this new approach is the correct one in the face of current conflict situations in Africa.

New African: What elements would the new peacekeeping missions bring to conflicts in Africa?

Dallaire: We’re really into peace support operations, we’re not into peacekeeping. And the sooner people start dropping the idea of “peacekeeping” the better it will be. Because we are not only keeping peace but we’re creating peace, we’re sustaining peace, and we’re preventing conflict. It’s far more complex and ambiguous than in the past. It is not Chapter Six – observing – but in fact Chapter Seven, where the use of force may be required to establish the atmosphere of protection for civilians.

The use of child soldiers is prevalent in some African conflicts, and their recruitment by ISIS, Boko Haram, and al-Shabaab is well known. They are finally starting to be recognised by troop-contributing countries like Canada, as not just a socioeconomic problem to be simply addressed by a humanitarian or NGO solution, since in fact, child soldiers are very much an operational threat.

They’re a threat to security and they have to be looked at as a military threat that needs to be rendered ineffective to be able to advance the peace process. Finally, there’s the realisation that you simply cannot throw troops into a Chapter Seven mission without insuring that we meet what the UN considers essential training.

What makes your new training doctrine different?

The difference is that we now give soldiers the tactical and organisational training that they need in order to face child soldiers without simply considering them a threat like any other.

These used to be the options: either back off from child soldiers, which was often the case in UN and AU missions, or consider them a threat. But you don’t have to simply use lethal kinetic force against them, treating kids as just another combatant.

There are variants in how you can de-escalate situations. You can manoeuvre by show of force, or use your ability to influence the children to actually make them ineffective.

So the whole construct of what we do is train military and police forces, firstly to work together, secondly to work with the NGO world, which we call strategic complementarity, and thirdly how to deploy
effectively and de-escalate conflict to the extent where the use of lethal force against children is minimised. This is going to reduce the scale of casualties, on both sides. These new guys will be trained in expecting what kids do and how enemy forces use them in a variety of functions.

We’re going to reduce the kids being killed, we’re going to reduce our soldiers being killed. We’re going to reduce the impact on the children psychologically, because we’re going to be able to get them out of those forces and into rehabilitation. Our soldiers will not be caught with the problem of having to use lethal force against children, which ultimately makes their return to normal life easier,
and avoids the horrifically complex and difficult moral problem of killing children, which often leads to post-traumatic stress disorder.

What is the difference between traditional peacekeeping and peacemaking in the 21st century? How do we avoid a repeat of Rwanda?

If there’s any country that has had the opportunity to dissect the old peacekeeping of Chapter Six – observing and reporting – and not putting [forward] the forces needed to be able to assist even at that level, it’s Canada. We learned that lesson seriously in 1994, which led to us pulling out of UNAMIR.

Now that we want to go back in, in this new era, we have to bring new tools to the table, new tactics for facing child soldiers, deploying trained women in the field, protecting civilians.


But also, new thinking. That is to say, the era of the peacekeeper standing there and observing is over. We’re engaged in helping establish peace or supporting a newly established peace, and engaged in helping to build the capacity for reconciliation.

We’re into civil wars now, it’s not the old days where countries fought against countries. We’re now seeing imploding nations and failed states. So it’s not surprising that we looked at bringing new skills
to the officer corps like philosophy, anthropology, and sociology, so we can understand these complex situations on the ground and be part of the innovative solutions for them, instead of simply standing there with our rifles waiting to shoot someone.

A far more intellectually-referenced peace support operation construct is what we strongly believe in, and what I think is going to be a major new dimension to these conflicts. What they’re looking for is help building capacity to understand the mess they’re in, and how they can find solutions.

How do you convince a public in a faraway country to support peacemaking operations in Africa when there’s no concrete endgame in sight?

I think that when we talk about endgames, about exit strategies – that is 20th-century crap. By the last decade of the 20th century, we were into operations where there was no end, because we never really solved the problem, like in former Yugoslavia – we just left it hanging there, hoping that something would stick.

“The global village is deteriorating at a rapid pace, and in the children of the world the result is rage. It is the rage I saw in the eyes of the teenage Interahamwe militiamen in Rwanda, it is the rage I sensed in the hearts of the children of Sierra Leone, it is the rage I felt in crowds of ordinary civilians in Rwanda, and it is the rage that resulted in September 11. Human beings who have no rights, no security, no future, no hope and no means to survive are a desperate group who will do desperate things to take what they believe they need and deserve.”

Roméo Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil

We stumbled into the 21st century without the knowledge or tools on how to end these conflicts. In the last decade, [with] the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, we realised that we need to go in early, separate forces, and assist them in finding solutions by protecting civilians. There is no such thing as an endgame.

What’s the endgame for international development? What is the criteria to say that now a country is completely out of poverty and stable? Or, perhaps the better question to ask is: when do we enter the reconciliation phase?

Now that’s pertinent because that means we can then move to helping build capacity, building professionalism, institutions, whether it be from a civilian side or the military. Help them write their own doctrine, help them to build an ethos in their forces, have them recognise the ethics of the use of force in democracies. That’s what we’re into. And to that, there is no end. Not for decades to come.

How do you maintain public support over decades of prolonged peacebuilding?

Public support is maintained by governments getting out of the soundbite scenario and media scrums, and starting to clearly articulate the complexity and ambiguity of conflict, and the fact that if we don’t go to countries and help them stabilise, that stuff spreads.

We’re not isolated any more. The rage of countries that are hurting and under economic duress will in turn spread. And so we can be caught up even at home, as we see with violent extremism from ISIS. The aim is to go where the conflicts are and to prevent them from happening, assist them in transitioning from solution to reconciliation.

That’s what we need to be involved in. And yes, if you’re going to send soldiers, it’s because you expect the potential for circumstances where the use of force will be essential. If this happens, you need to be prepared for the reality of casualties.

The essence of the future is trying to push the use of kinetic force back, and the ability to participate multi-disciplinarily, with different agencies and capabilities, into innovative solutions.

We need a new fundamental conceptual base to the establishment of peace and security, and in fact to move into a realm of prevention versus simply the resolution of conflicts. Then what we need is a bevy of statesmen – and what we’re stuck with is a gaggle of politicians who just don’t have the depth, risk-taking flexibility, or even the humility, let alone the ideas, to take on these complex and ambiguous problems.

After all our research, we have moved the solution to child soldiers away from the back end, where it was all concentrated on rehabilitating and reintegrating, into the front end where we prevent them from being recruited and we make them less effective as an opportunity for recruiters because we’re better trained at handling them.


Rate this article

Author Thumbnail
Written by David Meffe

David is a Canadian freelance journalist, photographer and blogger from Montreal – his work focuses on human rights, development and music in Africa. He is currently based in Aarhus, Denmark, completing a master’s degree in war & conflict reporting.

Related Posts

Unmissable Past Stories