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26 African countries have trained troops on peacekeeping

Wednesday October 13 2010

The Tactical Operations Staff Course, taught over the past three weeks at the Humanitarian Peace Support School in Embakasi, was designed by Canada’s Pearson Peacekeeping Centre.

This think tank is named for Canadian statesman Lester B. Pearson, who won the Nobel Peace Prize after fathering the first ever UN peacekeeping mission in 1957.

In 2002, the leaders of the G8 — a group bringing together the world’s eight leading economies — met in Kannanaskis, Canada.

Here, Canada pledged to do something more to help build African capacity for peacekeeping, and some months later this course was designed. Since then, Canada has trained 452 military officers from 26 African nations using the Carana scenario.

Major Alan Woolley, the burly and moustached chief instructor, said the scenario was designed for any sort of mission — be it a peacekeeping, development, or police mission. While it is inspired by the histories of places like Sierra Leone and Sudan, he said it was a wise decision to create a fictional country.

“With a fictional country (Carana), no one can get offended,” Maj Woolley told the Nation. “If you use real terrain there’s always the chance someone can get offended at the way a country is represented.”

The Canadian major described the simulation, which is the culmination of the course, as “three bad days in a mission.” Crammed into this short time are all the things that can and do go wrong on actual peacekeeping missions; everything from bandit raids and landmine strikes to humanitarian emergencies.

To enhance the realism, and teach another important skill set, mock news reporters come knocking on the doors of the Command Centre. They slyly take pictures of classified maps, grill senior officers with tough questions, and write stories quoting the students for the ‘press clippings’ released each morning.

“The media aspect has grown to become really a major facet, and the students see it as extremely important,” said Maj Woolley. “If they make a mistake here, nobody dies, nobody gets their career ended. And if they make a mistake here, they will remember it.”

The major lesson of the course is the Operation Planning Process used in UN, NATO and AU peace missions. If they learn this process, Maj Woolley said, African officers would know how to make a contribution. If they don’t, they’ll be ineffective.

Maj Meshack Kishoyian, a 37-year-old Maasai and veteran of UN missions in East Timor, Sierra Leone and Burundi, is one of those swimmers. After taking this course in Ottawa — braving the -40°C Canadian winter — he became an instructor.

Maj Kishoyian commented on the generosity of the Canadians, who provided not just the course, but also airfare, room and board to the 36 students.

He said this training did much to help officers from disparate countries trust and understand one another. He added that graduates of this course met recently when deployed in the Sudan, and that “after having done this course together, they were like brothers.”

Many more such meetings will stake place. Maj Kishoyian said EASTBRIG, the AU’s rapid deployment force for East Africa, is keeping a list of officers who have advanced training. In the event of a security crisis or genocide, these graduates will be called up to take command.

Within a few years, Canada will pass leadership of this training regime to Africans.

“The issues concerning Africa will be solved by Africans themselves,” Maj Kishoyian said, adding: “We want Africans themselves to be able to function and sort out of their own problems, and that’s what we teach in the course.”