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Terry M. Mays (2002): Africa's First Peacekeeping Operation. The OAU in Chad, 1981-1982.

Terry M. Mays (2002) Africa's First Peacekeeping Operation. The OAU in Chad, 1981-1982. Westport, CT and London: Praeger. pp. xiv + 192. ISBN 0275976068 (hbk) US$77.95.

This is an interesting book for two reasons. First, it represents an important contribution to the historiography of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), as it recounts the first peacekeeping operation that the organization ever undertook--the intervention in Chad during the early 1980s. Second, it shows that the role of international organizations and their contributions to international issues are usually not sufficiently problematized. In view of their functionalist origins, international institutions and their activities are all too frequently studied from the perspective of the potential solutions they purport to provide to the problems that states share in common, but cannot resolve on their own. The value of this book is that it shows that such an instrumental approach lacks analytical depth.

In the early 1980s, Chad's civil war entered a new phase when the Front de Liberation Nationale du Tchad (FROLINAT) broke up into different factions, which then fought each other over control of the capital and the central government. Goukouni Weddeye struggled to remain in control as President of Chad's transitional administration and became embroiled in fierce fighting with his arch-rival Hissene Habre. Goukouni relied on military assistance from Libya, which led to the stationing of Libyan troops in Chad and the announcement of an official merger between the two countries. This caused a shock wave in the international community and led to attempts to dislodge the Libyans from Chad, by dispatching a military presence from the OAU and, in the case of some countries (Egypt, Sudan and the USA), by providing military assistance to Habre. The promise of an OAU peacekeeping force was the quid pro quo with which the international community enticed Goukouni to ask for the Libyans' departure. When he conceded, Libya's rapid withdrawal and the slow arrival of OAU contingents helped to create a military vacuum that Habre used to strengthen his hold on the eastern and northern parts of the country. Benefiting from foreign aid and Goukouni's less-than-diplomatic manoeuvring vis-a-vis the OAU, Habre began a series of lightning attacks from positions in neighbouring Sudan, which led to Goukouni's defeat and the withdrawal of the OAU's force, barely six months after its arrival.

Mays provides a detailed description of the military, political and diplomatic developments that led to the OAU's decision to field its peacekeeping operation. His treatment of the subject matter, both chronological and thematic, gives new insight in the reasons for the OAU's debacle and is a good example of a careful post-facto reconstruction of the different (and conflicting) rationales that lay at the basis of this operation. Based on OAU documents, newspaper reports and interviews with diplomats and military officers, the book gives an overview of the legal, procedural and institutional issues involved. For example, it examines the force's mandate and the changes that took place in the role stipulated for the contingents once in Chad; the different OAU institutions and their roles in the implementation of the operation; and the financial and logistical difficulties that the organization faced. In particular, it gives valuable information about the shifts in the diplomatic positions of the foreign actors--African and western--that were involved in the launching and the ending of this ill-fated operation. These diplomatic postures and the changes therein were more complex and subtle than has often been presumed, and it is to Mays's credit that these diplomatic manoeuvres have been put on record.

Also, he argues persuasively how Goukouni was himself one of the causes of the operation's failure, or rather why the peacekeeping force did not prevent his defeat at the hands of Habre. Perhaps out of despair the Gouvernement d'Union Nationale de Transition (GUNT) President consistently argued that the force's mandate stipulated an obligation to help in the defence of his administration against Habre's much stronger army. Goukouni's undiplomatic behaviour contrasted with the astute manoeuvring by his rival. Refusing to compromise, and in the process antagonizing African and western states, the GUNT President was in the end left without support. Here, Mays could have provided more in-depth analysis of the aspect of consent, which in peacekeeping operations often amounts more to acquiescence in the inevitable and, hence, does not represent real concurrence in an external military presence.

In analysing how OAU member states failed to provide sufficient support to the peacekeeping force, Mays somewhat underestimates the importance of hegemonic leadership. As argued in the theory of hegemonic stability, international cooperation is impossible without the presence of a strong hegemonic leader, which can enforce compliance with decisions taken in the cadre of an international organization. The result is that financial contributions are not forthcoming and that material and logistical support needed for military interventions fails to materialize. In recounting how OAU members failed to provide sufficient funds, or refused to provide contingents to the OAU's peacekeeping force, or reneged on promises made in this respect, Mays paints a picture of political apathy and especially of poverty, precluding any financial or logistical contributions. Yet, while they are generally resource-starved, African states can, and are willing to, spend large amounts of money on other projects that they perceive as beneficial to themselves. One wonders what the OAU's record in Chad would have been, had it benefited from undisputed continental leadership. Nevertheless, May shows that in the actual context, the OAU and the contingent-providing states made some effort to achieve a concrete military presence on the ground.

Mays's analysis could have been reinforced by adopting a stronger political scientifically-informed perspective, besides the sometimes dry recording of the legal and institutional difficulties involved in OAU peacekeeping. His approach is at times rather a-political--to a subject-matter that is all about politics--treating peacekeeping almost as a technical problem that can be resolved with technical means. Thus, Mays concludes, rather optimistically, that 'multinational cooperation can be utilized to fulfil state foreign policy objectives' (p. 158). Yet, this is hardly reassuring to international organizations such as the (O)AU for, as Mays admits, from an African point of view the operation constituted a failure. His remark about the utility of multinational cooperation also refers to the use that western states made of the OAU's peacekeeping operation in trying to evict the Libyans from Chad. That they succeeded in this was in part due to the aid provided to Habre's forces by the USA, through the CIA, Egypt and Sudan. Mays gives very little information about the extent of this assistance, which could have shed more light on the dual-track policy that the Reagan administration pursued towards the Chadian problem and, in the process, on its duplicity towards the OAU. As a European, I wondered whether his optimistic conclusion about the usefulness of multinational cooperation represented an oblique criticism of US foreign policy. The book contains some appendices, a useful index and a bibliography, as well as some photographs that add little to its contents. This is recommended reading for anyone interested in the intricacies of multinational cooperation in Africa.

Klaas Van Walraven

African Studies Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands
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Author:Van Walraven, Klaas
Publication:Journal of Asian and African Studies
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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