New training centre opened for African peacekeepers

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is Ghanaian, but that’s not the only reason that a new centre for training African peacekeeping troops, has been opened in the capital of his own country.

Ghana has a long history of support for UN peacekeeping missions and has built up expertise in how to run them.

The Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre on the outskirts of Accra was built with the help of German aid money and opened its doors to a first intake of military officers and civilian officials from 15 different African states in November.

"Participants from the West African regional grouping, ECOWAS, [the Economic Community of West African States] get the first choice since the centre is meant to build capacity for the sub-region," Brigadier-General Charles Mankatah, the commandant of the new college, told IRIN.

The peacekeeping centre provides courses lasting two to four weeks on topics such as conflict management, peace support operations, governance and election monitoring. for peacekeeping operations.

It is aimed at junior and middle ranking officers up to the level of colonel who have to take operational decisions in the field.

The peacekeeping centre has also been designated to train officers for a permanent ECOWAS stand-by force, which has yet to be established.

According to Ghana Defence Minister, Dr Kwame Addo-Kufuor, this force will enable ECOWAS to undertake rapid interventions in future hot spots in the conflict-prone region.

The first course, on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, attracted candidates from as far away as Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At least 15 more courses are planned between now and the end of November.

With the Americans and Europeans increasingly stretched in Iraq, Afghanisan and the former Yugoslavia, African governments are increasingly being encouraged to find their own solutions to conflicts on the continent.

Ghana has long been a key contributor to both ECOWAS and UN peacekeeping forces.

Over the last 40 years, it has taken part in 29 UN missions worldwide in which 98 Ghanaians have lost their lives. During the 1990's the country played a leading role in ECOWAS military interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The country presently has several hundred soldiers deployed in neighbouring Cote d'Ivoire as part of a five-nation West African peacekeeping force in the country.

There are currently six major UN peacekeeping operations underway in Africa, the largest of which - Sierra Leone and Liberia - are both in West Africa, so the new centre has no shortage of candidates to train.

Germany was the largest single contributor to the establishment of the college, providing a grant of 3.1 million euros (US$4 million) to help build it. The official opening was therefore delayed until last Saturday to coincide with a visit to Ghana by German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder.

"This is what West Africa and Africa needs to solve its conflicts. This is your own project. Start it and we will continue to support you financially and with logistics," Henning Scherf, a member of the German delegation, said at the opening ceremony.

The peacekeeping centre has the capacity to run courses, sometimes concurrently, for 20 to 40 participants.

However this is set to increase. Britain, Italy, Canada and the Netherlands are jointly funding an expansion which is scheduled for completion in May 2004.

The names of all those who pass through the new peacekeeping centre will be placed on a database, so that organizations such as the UN can tap in to their expertise in the future.

Course fees range from US$2,400 to $4,200 per head, but the international community has already provided three-quarters of the entire training budget for this year.

Mankatah said the new centre in Ghana is designed to complement the training already provided for African peacekeepers at military academies in Nigeria and Mali.

The Nigeria War College in Abuja provides high-level strategic training to senior political planners and policy makers. While in Koulikoro, Mali, the French government sponsors a tactical training centre for non-commissioned officers deployed at the implementation level.

"This centre" explained Mankatah "will basically complement those two institutions with training structured for middle-level management personnel," that is junior to middle ranking officers, civil servants and civilian middle management.

The concept of the peacekeeping centre in Ghana was first proposed in 1997. Kofi Annan, after whom it was named, was not present at the official opening ceremony.