19 May 2007 04:15


  • Title: [SW Country] (Amb. Frank Crigler) African Crises: A Continent in Continuing Trouble
  • Posted by/on:[AMJ][Saturday, October 14, 2000]


ERIC JENSEN’S INGENIOUS DESIGN for the structure of this conference afforded us a look, first of all, at areas closest to the United States and has now widened our focus to deal with the earth’s remotest places and broadest issues. It is indeed in Africa, with its “continuing crises,” that this conference’s central question is posed most clearly: How is the United States to respond to the new century’s political and humanitarian challenges — as a member of a multinational community, a pick-up posse, or as the global cop on the block?

Let me warn you, however, that I’m uncomfortable with a premise that seems implicit in Dr. Jensen’s question — that dealing effectively with such crises implies the use of some sort of coercive force, whether unilateral or multilateral, by outsiders. In my view, we have too easily fallen into that habit of thinking since the end of the Cold War. Our relations with troubled nations and distressed peoples should consist of something more, in my opinion, than warmed-over scripts from “NYPD Blues.”

There are, I believe, other choices available to us short of playing policeman to the world or isolating ourselves in Fortress America. Some of these dawned upon me during my years on the job in Latin America and Africa. But the more important lessons were those I learned afterward, especially under pressure from the inquiring minds that surrounded me at Simmons College. For I discovered here that, despite all my worldly experience, I had not come prepared to answer their probing questions.

As it happened, my time at Simmons coincided with a good deal of unpleasant news from Africa about countries I believed I knew well — notably Somalia, Rwanda, and the Congo (Zaire) — after years of exposure there as a diplomat. But Simmons showed me I badly needed new sources, information, and insight if I were to explain to students and colleagues what was happening there more recently. So let me speak for a few moments not so much about Africa itself as about my rather special Africa experience in the Warburg chair.

I arrived at Simmons in 1993 believing I understood the Somalis better than just about anyone. I had spent my last three Foreign Service years in Somalia, departing virtually on the eve of its collapse into anarchy, and I had just had the unusual opportunity of returning there as a private citizen to view the devastation and human suffering that resulted from two years of civil war. During those intervening years, I had lobbied in Washington for military-backed “humanitarian intervention” to halt the fighting and relieve the suffering of Somalis caught in the crossfire, so I was gratified to be able to tell my students how I watched the U.S. Army come ashore to do just that, as part of Operation Restore Hope. It had been a proud “Kodak moment” for me

Sadly, I had to note that our mission seemed to have gone off the track since then: halting the warfare and feeding the hungry turned out to be easy tasks compared to those of rebuilding public services and restoring a semblance of civil order. Beneath the surface calm imposed by our forces there remained the same hostilities among rival Somali clans that had spawned civil war in the first place. Despite our good intentions, these had already erupted tragically in our troops’ faces and threatened to spread widely as soon as our troops left.

At first, these were merely interesting technical problems that served my purposes at Simmons as grist for classroom lectures and brown-bag discussions. But later complications caught me by surprise and left me without answers — perhaps because they had less to do with Somalia than with factional feuds in my own country. For a new administration had taken charge in Washington, impatient to set its own imprint on global affairs; resentful at having to clean up after President Bush’s lame-duck “grandstanding” in Somalia; and, I believe, honestly hoping to come up with more effective machinery to deal with the ethnic disputes and political brushfires that had become the legacy of the Cold War.

At that point, the Clinton Administration’s aim was not by any means to abandon the UN peacekeeping system (which had so recently won a Nobel Peace Prize for its quiet efforts over the years) but rather to imbue it with greater muscle and a more assertive sense of purpose. The buzz words were “robust” and “enforcement” — a tough-minded approach that would get at the root of problems and fix them, not merely paper them over.

Somalia, for its sins, was fated to be the proving ground for this new “robust” approach. The Clinton people wished to see peacekeeping responsibility there returned quickly to the United Nations — but only on terms that would lead to a successful outcome, not another quagmire. The UN secretariat readily agreed to the new “robust” format, and responsibility for keeping the peace, revitalizing the Somali economy, rebuilding basic infrastructure and — most important — restoring civil government and institutions was assigned to a newly “robust” UNOSOM II multilateral military force, under the command of an American admiral and his handpicked staff.

Almost immediately, Somali faction leaders sensed the weakness of our newly multilateral resolve. Problems began to erupt and minor skirmishes broke out between renegade armed clan factions and the blue-beret UNOSOM II forces. Not surprisingly, factions that had achieved the strongest military and political positions prior to our intervention (and therefore had most to lose) now became the most recalcitrant; those with the weakest positions and most to gain from our “even-handed” approach became our best friends.

Ultimately, these incidents climaxed in some of the ugliest fighting that ever involved UN peacekeeping forces anywhere in the world. No need to remind you of the details; suffice it to say that the TV images of Somalis and Americans brutalizing each other, at the nadir of a proud mission to “restore hope” in a country I had come to love, were personally appalling to me — and increasingly difficult to explain to my students and faculty colleagues. But their insistent questions eventually forced me to come up with some tentative answers about what had gone wrong in Somalia:

  • First, we had failed to recognize how fundamentally different and more difficult it would be to conduct a peace “enforcement” mission, aimed at curbing deviant behavior and correcting the system’s underlying faults, than it had been to carry out a rescue operation narrowly focused on aiding the conflict’s victims.
  • Second, while the style of our new “robust” mission was clear enough, its strategy and goals were poorly defined. There was widespread uncertainty over the term “peacekeeping” itself (indeed, there still is), with its traditionally narrow focus and its reliance upon consent and cooperation, rather than the use of force.1
  • Third, in our hubris we attempted to carry out a social engineering project in Somalia that, insofar as I am aware, we have never successfully completed anywhere, except by means of forcible conquest and occupation: that of rebuilding a wrecked nation’s political infrastructure from the ground up. Rightly convinced, no doubt, that the former structure was hopelessly flawed, we believed we could “work with” the Somalis to design new and better institutions, much as our forefathers had done at Philadelphia in 1789. It was too much to swallow for an ancient nation and proud people who had already been through similar ordeals under the Italians, British, and French.



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