Courtney Smith, of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, recently traveled to Mali for a first hand look at the UN Peacekeeping mission there.
For more than 70 years, UN Peacekeepers have been a visible force for good in countries ravaged by conflict. Often seen wearing blue berets and helmets, more than 100,000 peacekeepers are on the ground in 14 war-torn countries that are struggling to resolve conflict and regain stability.
The mandate of UN peacekeeping efforts is centered around resolving disputes in post-conflict areas and creating an environment that will sustain peace. The charge is broad, challenging and can translate into some very practical initiatives. Peacekeepers often work alongside local law enforcement officers and military units to protect citizens. They bring together competing coalitions, encouraging meaningful dialogue around key concerns. Peacekeepers can have a direct and immediate impact on people's lives by supporting community healthcare programs and sustainable agricultural projects.
Last December, Courtney Smith, senior associate dean of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, traveled to Mali with a group of congressional staff members to learn first-hand about the UN's peacekeeping mission there. The goal of the trip, says Smith, was to help Senate staffers who are working on international affairs committees gain a better understanding of the fragile progress being made as Mali moves toward peace. Smith, whose research focuses on the UN, notes that continued support from the United States congress is critical to the mission's success.
The UN Peacekeeping initiative, known as MINUSMA,(United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) encompasses over 15,000 troops, police, and civilians. It was established in 2013 in an effort to restore stability in the country following an Islamist coup. Since then, 177 UN peacekeepers have lost their lives, making Mali one of the most dangerous missions to date. Smith explains that UN Peacekeepers face many complex challenges as they implement "a broad mandate to assist a country twice the size of Texas with a population of 18 million people."
During their trip, which was funded with support from the United Nations Foundation, the delegation spent time in Bamako, Mali's capital, and made stops at "supercamps" in Gao and Timbuktu, where peacekeepers are deployed. The group of 12 met with government officials, election observers, foreign diplomats and others helping to secure and stabilize the country. Smith said he was impressed with the "passion and commitment" of UN staff and peacekeepers, and the international partners he met in the field. "I was moved by the determination of the people of Mali to continue on the path to peace, even in in the face of persistent obstacles. It was an amazing learning experience."
Several countries, including France, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Chad and Niger, along with the European Union's security sector, are working alongside the UN peacekeepers. "The 'I' in MINUSMA," Smith explains, "stands for integrated. My biggest takeaway from the experience was that the staff of MINUSMA is actually working in an integrated way quite effectively despite the obstacles they face. Much media coverage of the UN and most scholarship as well, does not fully appreciate the progress that has been made in missions like MINUSMA to break traditional silos and make UN offices involved more effective."
Smith, who has led Seton Hall's UN Intensive Summer Study Program for almost 20 years, plans to bring insights from his experience in Mali to the seminar. During the week-long program, which is developed around a series of briefings at the UN headquarters in New York City, participants learn from UN officials who have experience in the field. Smith says that moving forward he will "place an even greater premium on contact with officials who have served in field missions because that is where the most critical, and most difficult work is being done."
Categories: Nation and World