India’s UN Peacekeeping Operations Involvement in Africa

Date01 January 2014
Published date01 January 2014
AuthorYeshi Choedon
Subject MatterArticles
Indias UN Peacekeeping
Operations Involvement
in Africa: Change in
Nature of Participation
and Driving Factors
Yeshi Choedon1
India accords high significance to its participation in the UN peacekeeping in
Africa. Apart from examining India’s contribution in quantitative terms and the
varieties of personnel involved, it highlights the Indian peacekeepers’ unique
characteristics in terms of professionalism, reliability, humane approach and
other distinctive features. It also discusses blemishes they brought on the country
because of allegations of corruption and sexual abuse, and how India tackles
those issues. The major focus is on the driving factors, which motivated India to
participate in the risky operations in Africa that have evolved in keeping with the
geopolitical shifts at the global level. Initially, the rationale for its participation was
to express solidarity with African countries, but now it is more to ensure energy
security and to maximize the opportunity for trade and investment. The aspiration
for recognition as a great power remains a constant factor of its involvement in
UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, and India has been leveraging this contri-
bution for claiming a permanent seat at the UN Security Council since the early
1990s. It discusses the apprehension of a shift in India’s participation due to
frustration at the lack of progress in UN reform. However, the indicators direct
that the attempt is more to reconfigure its participation and to highlight the need
to go back to the traditional root of the peacekeeping operations, keeping in
view the diversions that took place in the post-Cold War.
Internal conflicts, multidimensional tasks, gender mainstreaming, reliable peace-
keepers, professionalism, solidarity, use of force, national interest
International Studies
51(1–4) 16–34
2017 Jawaharlal Nehru University
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0020881717719184
1 Professor, Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament School of International
Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
Yeshi Choedon, Professor, Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament School
of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi 110067, India.
Choedon 17
According to the UN Charter, it was the great powers who were expected to play
a major role in the maintenance of international peace and security. However, this
could not materialize due to polarization of international politics and the ensuing
Cold War. Instead of standing by helplessly because of the deadlock in the UN
Security Council, the member states, at large, felt the moral responsibility to do
something to control the raging conflicts in various parts of the world. The small
and medium powers devised a new innovative mechanism of the peacekeeping
operation, and instead of the great powers, they became active in managing
conflicts through peacekeeping operation. India played a pioneering role, both in
the conceptualizing and operationalizing of this mechanism wherein the soldiers
are deployed not for fighting but for maintaining peace. India could play a leading
role not because of its material power but due to its credentials as a non-aligned
Despite the major challenges that India faced, both domestically and in its
neighbourhood, it made major contributions, both in terms of material and
personnel to UN peacekeeping operations. Of the total 70 UN peacekeeping oper-
ations, 30 of them were deployed in Africa. Africa has emerged as the major arena
for an unprecedented expansion of United Nations peacekeeping operations, and
India has participated in 21 of them. Due to its immense contribution and active
engagement, some scholars refer to India as the backbone of UN peacekeeping
operations (Wiharta, Melvin, & Avezov, 2012, pp. 14–15). The first peacekeeping
operation in Africa was the UN Congo Operation (ONUC) of the 1960s, in which
India played the leading role. It was a unique operation compared to the other
operations undertaken during the Cold War, and very challenging tasks were
assigned to the Indian peacekeepers. However, those challenges proved to be
minor compared to the challenges the Indian peacekeepers faced in the post-Cold
War period in Africa, and the scale and scope of India’s participation in the UN
operations in Africa increased dramatically.
Instead of discussing individual cases of India’s participation in UN peace-
keeping operations in Africa, first, this article discusses quantitative terms: the
change in India’s participation and varieties of personnel deployed over the years.
Then it goes on to highlight the quality of Indian participation in terms of unique
characteristics such as humane approach, reliable peacekeepers and a develop-
ment approach, and so on. After laying out the quantity and quality of India’s
participation, the article discusses the driving factors that propel India’s involve-
ment in the UN operations in Africa and how those rationales have undergone a
change in recent years. It ends with highlighting some of the challenges that the
Indian peacekeepers encountered in their tour of duty in Africa.
India’s Participation: Quantitative Terms
The deadlock among the major powers in the UN Security Council during the
Cold War provided an opportunity for the middle powers such as India and Canada
to play significant roles in conflict management in the world. India made a

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