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Bangladesh and the UN Peace Operations: The MONUSCO Mission

Photo: MINUSMA/Gema Cortes

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Bangladesh’s presence in the UN peace operations has been remarkable and vibrant. As a leading contributor of members to various peace missions of the United Nations, Bangladesh has created a dominant image and an independent identity in the global arena. Although currently many nations – developing and developed – contribute to peace operations, Bangladesh peacekeepers have earned a special reputation. Bangladesh is now the top troops and police contributing country (TPCC) in the world. Theoretically, the participation of Bangladesh in the UN peace operations has been influenced by the changes in conceptual parameters of peacekeeping over the past three decades and more. Bangladesh did join the UN peacekeeping missions at the fag end of the Cold War, which was instrumental to determine the need and mandate of peace operations. The overwhelming focus of the UN role in international peacekeeping has expanded through various phases since its inception in 1948. The current form of peace operations, as analysts term the fifth-generation of UN peace operations which are attributed to the factors such as the need for the use of force, mixed command, ‘robust peacekeeping,’ the task of ‘peacebuilding’, technological revolution, and inclusiveness of peacekeepers in terms of gender, profession and regions.

Bangladesh’s journey to UN peacekeeping operations began in 1988 with 15 uniformed observers in UNIMOG (Iraq-Iran). In 2020, Bangladesh again emerged as the top troops contributing country (TCC) in the world. In 2019, Bangladesh was the 3rd largest troops contributing country in the UN peace operations. Bangladesh was the largest troops contributing country consecutively in 2014 and 2015. Bangladesh is also a leading nation in sending female peacekeepers. Bangladesh has already reached a target of deploying 16% Staff Officer and Military Observer in UN peacekeeping operations. Bangladesh’s participation in peacekeeping missions has been based on the strong commitment of the country to global peace and security. The Father of Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, reiterated a firm commitment to world peace in his speech at the UN General Assembly in 1974 that remains a cornerstone of Bangladesh’s success in UN peace operations.  

The overwhelming presence of the Bangladesh Army is a hallmark of Bangladesh’s participation in UN peace operations. The first mission of Bangladesh in 1988 was fully represented by the members of the Bangladesh Army. The Bangladesh Army participated in more than 46 missions. The total number of peacekeepers from the Bangladesh Army is 1,41,726. Bangladesh has already earned a rare appreciation and recognition from the host nations for their outstanding contribution to peace and harmony. Sierra Leone declared Bangla as their official language in 2002. Liberia has named its capital’s major street after Bangladesh. Some African countries have set up schools naming Bangladesh i.e. Sierra Leone-Bangladesh Friendship School, Bangabandhu-MBIO Primary School in DRC. Many anecdotal evidence confirms that the Bangladesh peacekeepers have developed extraordinary relations with the local communities based on trust and confidence. In addition to mainstream and conventional functions of peace operations, Bangladesh has shown a tremendous level of engagement in civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) activities, local level skills sharing in agriculture and related sectors, educational support, charitable assistance, and providing medical facilities.

Bangladesh Peacekeepers in MONUSCO

The current UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), known as the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), has succeeded the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) which was established in 1999. Bangladesh joined MONUC in 2003. Through Resolution 1925 (30 May 2010), the Security Council authorized the withdrawal of up to 2,000 troops and turned MONUC into MONUSCO as of 1 July 2010, with the ‘S’ for “Stabilization.” The new name and mandate were meant to indicate that a return to “normalcy” was near, even if this was not fully reflected by the events on the ground, and that emphasis should shift to a DRC-led initiative to stabilize the country’s institutional and territorial space. As pointed out by a South-African researcher, this was “a significant symbolic change that could lend itself to portraying the DRC Government as taking more responsibility for the consolidation of peace.” According to the UN documents, the MONUSCO has been authorized to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate relating, among other things, to the protection of civilians, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders under imminent threat of physical violence and to support the Government of the DRC in its stabilization and peace consolidation efforts.

Currently, Bangladesh is the third largest troops contributor country in MONUSCO. As of April 2021, Bangladesh has 1679 troops while Pakistan and India have sent the first and second largest numbers of troops with 1928 and 1851, respectively. How is Bangladesh contributing to UN peace operations in the DRC? It may be mentioned that peace operations in Africa are much needed and, at the same time, most difficult as evidenced through several missions in the past and present. Late decolonization, ethnic diversity, geographical terrains, global power politics and colonial linkages have made peacekeeping missions are challenging for any TPCC, including Bangladesh. Situations in Angola, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Mali and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are notable examples in this regard. Despite the extreme forms of political and socio-economic challenges in the DRC, Bangladesh has demonstrated remarkable success in MONUSCO. The mission leadership, the force leadership, the DRC government and local administration openly shared their views about the performances of Bangladesh contingents during a Media visit on 1-9 July 2021. They have applauded the role of Bangladesh peacekeepers for their professionalism, dedication and courage in their peacekeeping role.

Bangladesh makes a two-way contribution to peace, stability and security in DRC. First, it has substantive engagement in the mainstream and conventional peace operations as part of MONUSCO in the areas of military operations, construction, signal, military police, protecting installation and infrastructure etc. According to sources of Armed Forces Division (AFD) in Bangladesh, currently total 04 contingents of Bangladesh Army (BANRDB, BANENGR, BANSIG and BANMP) and 03 contingents of Bangladesh Air Force (BANUAU, BANASMU and BANATU) are deployed in MONUSCO. An Infantry contingent of 850 personnel in DR Congo-MONUSCO as Readily Deployable Battalion (BANRDB) has been deployed in the Norther Sector. The Northern Sector’s area of responsibility is located in Ituri, one of the 26 provinces of the DRC, covering a total area of 65,658 sq. km (25,351 square miles). In this area, Bangladesh contingents have been part of several successful operations such as the Operation “Kuta Futa” (The Search), Operation Stability for Djugu, Operation Pigeon Blanc, Operation Outreach, Joint Operation Anges De Paix, Operation Blue Moon, and Operation Quest for Harmony. These operations were jointly conducted by Bangladeshi Contingents and FARDC in Ituri Province. These operations were aimed at protecting the civilians, preventing frequent militia movement, disorganizing and annihilating militias, and showing up MONUSCO presence in the militia affected areas. 

Bangladesh has demonstrated extraordinary success in their operational drives in fights with the armed groups, patrolling for security and other security related actions. Bangladesh troops had been indomitable to their participation in different operations. To understand their courage and determination, it may be mentioned that Bangladesh has lost 26 peacekeepers in DRC in performing their duties. Nine of the army personnel as UN peacekeepers were martyred in an ambush of militia group on 25 February 2005 when they were on a domination patrol near Kafe, about 20 miles northwest of Bunia, the capital of Ituri Province. The Bangladeshi Battalion constructed a martyr square the same year at the Ndromo army camp to commemorate the martyrs. The square named as Congo-Bangladesh Friendship Square was inaugurated on 6 October 2014. Besides, Bangladesh engineers and military police contingents have been playing a crucial role in infrastructure building in support of the mission and local communities.

Second, Bangladesh contingents have immense contribution to grassroots or micro level empowerment in DRC. While out on patrol in their area of responsibility or on any kind of duty, peacekeepers of BANBAT/BANRDB, BANENGR, BANMP, BANSIG and others interact with the local people, including children of primary schools encouraging them on the importance of education. Members of the Bangladesh peacekeeping missions in DRC deal with common people, the marginalized and the periphery. The real contribution of Bangladesh peacekeepers is not advancing the interests of the elite in DRC. The nature of engagement as observed from the ground level experiences clearly shows that every member of Bangladesh contingent is committed to contribute to real peace for the people in the conflict zones in DRC. Conflict zones in Congo include Sud-Kivu, Orientale, Nord-Kivu, Maniema, Kinshasa, Katanga, Kasai-Oriental, Kasai-Occidental, Equateur and Bas-Congo. While in 1999-2000, major conflict zones were Sud-Kivu and Orientale, in 2018-2019, it is Nord-Kivu and Kasai-Occidental.

Bangladesh has substantially supported MONUSCO’s people-centred approach – in the sense of the concrete impacts that the Mission has on the lives of individuals and communities. In order to redress the gaps, in recent years, the Mission’s civilian dimension, in particular, has worked to adopt a participatory approach, backing inclusive local mechanisms for dialogue and consensus and building community-based solutions. By expanding its capillary reach into the territory, the Mission has tried to create new interfaces with communities, especially those located in and around hotspots of violence and instability. Bangladesh peacekeepers, with their long tradition of working with the local masses are strongly poised to contribute to the new approach of MONUSCO. Bangladesh peacekeepers have already demonstrated their capacity and commitment in this arena of peace operations.

In conclusion, it is true that the DRC lives through conflict and violence for decades. The long enduring conflict and violence generated political crises, famine, poverty, underdevelopment, corruption, and chronic instability in the country. The pre-existing ethnic divides with intra-state and cross-border linkages have accentuated it for years. The DRC situation is also termed as a regionalized civil war. Against this complex backdrop, peacekeeping missions constantly face a challenging environment of threats and insecurities. The Bangladesh peacekeepers in the MONUSCO mission are fully aware of the challenges and hardships and remain ready to confront them fearlessly. They work with their utmost professionalism, dedication and courage to contribute to stability and security in everyday life of the Congolese.

Delwar Hossain, PhD is Professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh and Director, East Asia Center, University of Dhaka.

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Africa

Reducing industrial pollution in the Niger River Basin

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The Niger River is the third-longest river in Africa, running for 4,180 km (2,600 miles) from its source in south-eastern Guinea, through Mali, Niger and Nigeria, before discharging via the Niger Delta into the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean. Tributaries that run through a further five countries feed into the mighty Niger.

Hundreds of millions of people in West Africa depend on the river and its tributaries, for drinking water, for fish to eat, for irrigation to grow crops, for use in productive processes, and for hydroelectric power.

The health of the Niger River Basin is vitally important for the people and for the environment of West Africa. But this health is endangered by land degradation, pollution, loss of biodiversity, invading aquatic vegetal species and climate change.

To both assess and address these environmental issues, a Global Environment Facility (GEF)-funded project has brought together international, regional and national entities to work on integrated water resources management for the benefit of communities and the resilience of ecosystems. (Project details can be found here.)

One part of the early project research found that as the Niger River passes through Tembakounda, Bamako, Gao, Niamey, Lokoja and Onithsa – major trading, agro-processing and industrial cities – wastewater and other polluting substances are discharged directly into the river, often without consideration for the environment. National governments of the countries which the river runs through are either unable to deal with the accumulated environmental problems and/or are ineffective at preventing, regulating, reducing and managing pollution from industrial activities.

For this reason, one component of the GEF project, implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), will facilitate the Transfer of Environmentally Sound Technology (TEST) to reduce wastewater discharges and pollution loads into the Niger River.

Despite the limitations on travel resulting from measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus, in August this year, UNIDO successfully identified and engaged with 19 pilot enterprises in various sectors, including pharmaceuticals, mining and agribusiness, operating in ‘pollution hotspots’ in the countries of the Niger River Basin. This number exceeds the original target of one enterprise per country. 

UNIDO experts are now introducing and sharing the Transfer of Environmentally Sound Technology (TEST) methodology with the pilot enterprises. In essence, this will mean the application of a set of tools including Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production, Environmental Management Systems, and Environmental Management Accounting, which will lead to the adoption of best practices, new skills and a new management culture.

Armed with these tools, the enterprises will be able to reduce product costs and increase productivity, while reducing the adverse environmental consequences of their operations. An awareness-raising campaign will be carried out so that the demonstration effect resonates across the Niger River Basin, prompting other enterprises to follow suit.

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Wagner: Putin’s secret weapon on the way to Mali?

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Soldiers from the Wagner Group (source: middleeastmonitor.com)

France is outraged at the prospect of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group arriving in Mali. However, Paris is seeking a way out of an unwinnable conflict.

On September 13, a Reuters news agency article citing unnamed sources and reporting advanced negotiations between Mali and the Russian mercenary company Wagner sparked a firestorm of reactions. The United States, Germany, and the United Nations have all warned Bamako’s military against such collaboration. According to them, the arrival of Russian mercenaries – a thousand have been estimated – would jeopardize the West’s commitment to fighting the jihadists who control a large portion of Malian territory.

But France, understandably, is the most vocal against such a move. The former colonial power has maintained a military presence in the country since 2013, when it halted the jihadists’ advance on the capital. Florence Parly, the French Minister of the Armed Forces, visited Bamako on September 20th to warn Malian colonels in power following two coups in August 2020 and May 2021. Wagner’s choice, she said, would be that of “isolation” at a time when “the international community has never been so numerous in fighting jihadists in the Sahel”.

What the minister does not mention is that France’s commitment to Mali is waning. Emmanuel Macron used the second Malian coup d’état last June, less than a year before the French presidential election, to announce a “redeployment” of French forces in Mali. Although Paris refuses to discuss a de facto withdrawal, even if it is partial, the truth is that the tricolored soldiers will abandon the isolated bases of Kidal, Timbuktu, and Tessalit in the country’s north by next year, concentrating on the area further south of the three borders with Niger and Burkina Faso.

Europeans, who are expected to be more supportive of France, are also perplexed. The humiliation of the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan has served as a wake-up call. The Afghan government’s sudden collapse in the face of the Taliban has demonstrated how difficult it is to build a strong army and institutions. This scenario appears to be repeating itself in Mali.

The possibility of a rapprochement between Bamako and Moscow is taken seriously because Putschists in Mali have always been sensitive to Russian offerings. Colonel Sadio Camara, Mali’s Defense Minister, visited Russia on September 4. Disagreements over a reversal of Mali’s alliances are said to have been one of the causes of the Malian colonels’ second coup, which ousted the civilian transitional government last May.

Russia also acts as a boogeyman for the Malian military. According to a Daily Beast investigation, the Malian army organized a supposedly spontaneous demonstration last May demanding Russian intervention. This was also a warning to the international community, which is growing weary of the country’s poor governance and repeated coups.

Is Mali transitioning from the French to the Russian spheres of influence? Since Moscow gained a foothold in the Central African Republic, the scenario is not a figment of the imagination. Russian instructors and Wagner’s mercenaries have proven their worth in this former French backyard. Even though the UN condemns Russia’s atrocities in this conflict, the Russians were able to push back the rebels who were threatening the capital Bangui last December with the help of UN peacekeepers and Rwandan reinforcements.

The Kremlin denies any involvement with the Wagner group. However, the company is actually run by a close associate of Vladimir Putin. The use of private mercenaries allows Moscow to avoid military commitments abroad, as it did previously in Ukraine and Libya. “Russia is not negotiating a military presence in Mali,” said a Kremlin spokesman in mid-September. When questioned by the magazine Jeune Afrique on September 20th, Central African President Faustin-Archange Touadéra swore that he had “not signed anything with Wagner.” “In the Central African Republic, we have companies that were established in accordance with the law and operate on liberalized markets,” he explained.

Nothing has been decided on Wagner, it is repeated in Bamako. According to the military, the selection of foreign “partners” is a matter of Mali’s “sovereignty.” They regard these “rumors” as an attempt to “discredit the country.” The Malian junta is under siege, not only from jihadists but also from the international community. The latter is calling for elections to be held in February to return power to civilians, as stipulated in the military-agreed transition charter. Electoral reform must come before the election. However, Colonel Assimi Gota, the transitional president, has shown little interest in preparing for these elections. The Malian junta may also be hoping that Russia’s partners will be less stringent on democratic requirements.

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Africa

Google Drives Deeper into Africa

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As the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the new initiative that places emphasis on intra-African trade – including free movement of goods, capital  and people – foreign players have accordingly raising eyes on using the new opportunity to expand their operations in Africa.

Foreign enterprises are gearing up to localize production in industrial hubs and distribute their products across the borderless territory considered as a single market in Africa. Thus, by its description, Africa’s estimated population of 1.3 billion presents itself a huge market – from baby products through automobiles and to anything consumable.

Google LLC, the U.S. Global Technology Gaint, has primarily set its eyes on business, with a comprehensive plan to expand its operations into Africa. Google made known its plans to commit US$1 billion over the next five years in tech-led initiatives in Africa. It is investing this US$ 1 billion in Nigeria and African countries to support and transform the digital market over the next five years.

In its media release, it said the investment would include landing a subsea cable into the continent to enable faster internet speeds, low-interest loans for small businesses, equity investments into African startups, skills training and many more directions determined in future.

This is in a bid to enable fast, affordable internet access for more Africans, building helpful products, supporting entrepreneurship and small business, and helping nonprofits to improve lives across Africa.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Google and Alphabet, Sundar Pichai, noted that the company was building global infrastructure to help bring faster internet to more people and lower connectivity costs. Through the Black Founders Fund, Google will invest in Black-led startups in Africa by providing cash awards and hands-on support.

The developing world represents the best chance of growth for large internet companies, and today, one of the very biggest set out its strategy for how it plans to tackle that.

“We’ve made huge strides together over the past decade – but there’s more work to do to make the internet accessible, affordable and useful for every African. Today, I’m excited to reaffirm our commitment to the continent through an investment of US$1 billion over five years to support Africa’s digital transformation, to cover a range of initiatives from improved connectivity to investment in startups,” said Pichai.

According to him, this is in addition to Google’s existing support through the Google for Startups Accelerator Africa, which has helped more than 80 African startups with equity-free finance, working space and access to expert advisors over the last three years. The subsea cable is set to cut across South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria and St Helena, connecting Africa and Europe.

According to Managing Director for Google in Africa, Nitin Gajria, it will provide approximately 20 times more network capacity than the last cable built to serve Africa. It is projected to create about 1.7 million jobs in Nigeria and South Africa by 2025 as the digital economy grows.

Google further announced the launch of the Africa Investment Fund, where it will invest US$50 million in start-ups across the continent providing them with access to Google’s employees, network, and technologies to help them build meaningful products for their communities.

It will additionally disburse US$10 million in low-interest loans to small businesses in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa in order to alleviate hardships brought about by the Covid pandemic.

Google is bringing venture capital into the continent. The fund might work in a similar fashion as the Google for Startups Accelerator programme.

Although Africa has a Big Four (Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Egypt) in terms of startup and venture capital activity on the continent, the accelerator has made sure to accept applications from startups in less-funded and overlooked regions. These countries include Algeria, Botswana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Founded in September 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google is considered as one of the Big Five information technology companies alongside Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. Google specializes in internet cloud services, software and hardware as well as online advertising technologies.

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