Ethiopia, the only uncolonized country of Africa, has a long history of participation in United Nations (UN) peace operations dating back to the 1950s. It was also the only African member state of the League of Nations, it is thus undeniable that the country had an important presence in the international relations scene since the early 20th century. Moreover, Ethiopia is one of the founding members of the UN and of the Organization of the African Unity (OAU), which is now called the African Union (AU) headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The capital of the old african nation is a diplomatic hub, it hosts a multitude of international organisations, NGOs and diplomatic representations which makes it the center for continental discussions. Ethiopia has since its participation in international organisations always endorsed the principle of maintaining peace and collective security both in the context of the UN and the OAU/AU. As a result of this principle, Ethiopian forces were engaged in several UN peacekeeping and Humanitarian missions throughout history.
It has participated in peacekeeping missions in Korea, Congo, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia. Nowadays, it contributes 8297 troops, police and military experts to UN peacekeeping operations in the world and holds the position of the second top contributor by supplying around 8% of the UN peacekeeping force. Moreover, it is currently a leading contributor of female peacekeepers to UN missions. In part, this is a result of a rather strong representation of women in the army but also as a policy to involve more women in peacekeeping efforts. Ethiopia also significantly contributes to the AU peacekeeping force in Somalia (AMISOM), according to the mission’s website it has provided 4395 uniformed personnel to the operation.
Since the creation of the UN in 1945, Ethiopia which was at that time one of the few African independent nation has always adhered to the principle and policy of maintaining peace and collective security. This article will delve into three different UN peacekeeping missions (Korea in the 1950s, Congo in the 1960s and Rwanda in 1990s) in three different periods in which Ethiopia has successfully shown its commitment and ability to participate in global peacekeeping operations.
In 1951, some 6000 soldiers of the Imperial Guard of Ethiopia, renamed for the purpose of the mission the Kagnew Battalion, were sent to Korea to fight along the UN forces as part of the United States led seventh division. Hence, Ethiopia was one of sixteen nations to intervene in the Korean crisis and was one of the few non-Nato states to contribute a contingent of UN forces in South Korea and the only independent African state to participate. South Koreans have greatly appreciated the commitment for peace, the heroism and military ethics that Ethiopian troops showed during their time in Korea. Moreover, this episode was very esteemed and praised by the UN community, and other involved countries. Hereafter, the world and largely the UN have had solid confidence over Ethiopia’s commitment and contribution for world peace and stability.
Congo was in a serious political crisis in the 1960s, following the official request from the UN to intervene in the crisis to stabilise the country, Ethiopia played an important role in 1960-63 by sending three brigades consisting of 10,000 personnel in total. Ethiopian Lieutenant.General Kebede Gebre, who was previously the commander of the Ethiopian Peacekeeping force in Korea, was nominated to be commander chief of the UN Peacekeeping operation in Congo, which included soldiers from over 30 countries. This showed how much respect and confidence the UN had at that time on Ethiopia’s commitment to world peace. Ethiopia has also sent its military forces to the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) with the troops arriving in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Force Commander of UNAMIR, Roméo Dallaire noted that despite their lack of equipment, the Ethiopian contingent were incredibly resourceful on being able to do their job effectively with minimum equipment and had no reluctance to help local farmers harvest their fields.
The Ethiopian government continues to reiterate its commitment and willingness to make UN peacekeeping contributions. To this day, Ethiopia is still present in numerous UN peacekeeping operations in Darfur (UNAMI), in Sudan (UNISFA), in South Sudan (UNMISS), in Liberia (UNMIL) and in Ivory Coast (UNOCI). It also contributes to the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM). It is seen by the Ethiopian government to be a significant instrument for following different foreign policy and national security objectives, particularly to contribute in stabilising the sub-region and Africa more globally.
Even though Ethiopia’s peacekeeping contribution is militarily substantial, a major challenge for increasing police contributions and participating in training is the problem of language skills that drastically needs to be improved according to UN experts. The Ethiopian government is addressing this problem by having police officers trained in English at the British council in Addis Ababa. Another shortcoming is that Ethiopia has a low presence in senior and middle level leadership positions in UN peacekeeping missions and in DPKO despite being one of the top contributing countries.
On a final note, since March 2016, Ethiopia began its campaign for a non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council for the term 2017-2018 and has used its extensive historical presence in UN peacekeeping missions to leverage and promote their nomination. In an effort to have other African states support their campaign, Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tedros Adhanom stated during the African Union’s 26th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government that “Ethiopia has always responded to UN calls for collective action on international peace and security. Since the inception of the UN, Ethiopia has deployed over 80,000 military and police personnel to more than 10 peacekeeping missions worldwide.”
AllAfrica.com. (2016). Ethiopia: Governmentt Campaigns for Seat On UN Security Council. [online] Available at: http://allafrica.com/stories/201603080837.html [Accessed 5 Apr. 2016].
Dersso, S. (2013). Peacekeeping Contributor Profile: Ethiopia. [online] Providing for Peacekeeping. Available at: http://www.providingforpeacekeeping.org/2014/04/03/contributor-profile-ethiopia/ [Accessed 5 Apr. 2016].
Hailemariam, Z. (2016). Africa: Ethiopia’s Contribution Toward Peacekeeping Mission. [online] allAfrica.com. Available at: http://allafrica.com/stories/201601081051.html [Accessed 5 Apr. 2016].
Info-graphic source: Peaceoperationsreview.org. (2015). Top 10 Financial Contributors to UN peacekeeping Budget. [online] Available at: http://peaceoperationsreview.org/infographic/top-10-financial-contributors-to-un-peacekeeping-budget/ [Accessed 5 Apr. 2016].
Smidt, W. and Abraham, K. (2007). Discussing conflict in Ethiopia. Wien: Lit, pp.181-183.