Peacekeeping requires French

The experiences of Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and elsewhere have shown that sending personnel who are trained but not fluent in the administrative and local language may hinder the success of peacekeeping missions. As the worsening of the political and security situation in the Central African Republic might lead to  a new UN operation in the French-speaking world, this observation arose from a seminar held on October 10 and 11 in New York under the aegis of Université de Montréal's Réseau de recherche sur les operations de paix (Peace Operations - ROP). “What is the future for peacekeeping in the French-speaking world when, beyond Haiti and Lebanon, half of the 25 African nations that have French as an official language or language of use are in crisis or post-crisis, or are countries of interest in the fight against terrorism? What are the roles for French-speaking nations both in terms of their national policies and as part of international organizations in meeting urgent human resource needs? These are some of the questions we wanted to address in our seminar,” said Jocelyn Coulon, director of ROP and Université de Montréal researcher.


The seminar “L'avenir des opérations de maintien de la paix dans l'espace francophone” [Future of Peacekeeping Operations in the French-Speaking World] brought together some 75 participants including diplomats, officers, UN officials, and members of the academic community. The activity was organized by the Strategic Affairs Directorate of the French Ministry of Defence, the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF), the ROP, and the International Peace Institute of New York. The seminar was inaugurated by Ambassador Hervé Ladsous, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, and closed by Ambassador Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations.

Over a dozen speakers, including Edmond Mulet, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Ambassador Antonio Tété, Permanent Representative of the African Union to the United Nations, and Lieutenant General Mamadou Sow, Chief of Staff of the Senegalese Armed Forces, addressed such issues as the development of strategic partnerships between the UN, the African Union, and French-speaking countries; operational challenges of peacekeeping operations in the French-speaking world; mobilizing French-speaking civil and policing capacities; and the contribution of French-language research in examining the future of peacekeeping operations.

It is noteworthy that this seminar was held a few months after the launch of the ambitious United Nations Integrated Multidimensional Mission for Stabilization in Mali (MINUSMA). “Ease of communication and a certain cultural affinity are factors of success, especially for mission leaders who must interact with governments and local populations,” Coulon said.

Nearly 10 years after the first call made in 2004 by Kofi Annan for the mobilization of French-speaking countries, and despite the repeated requests of his successors, the UN and other international organizations are still struggling to deploy a sufficient number of French-speaking representatives to help francophone countries out of their crises. “Some of our most important peacekeeping operations are conducted in Francophone countries. One thinks of Haiti, Côte d'Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of Congo," Ban Ki-Moon said during a cultural evening organized on March 20, 2013 in honour of La Francophonie. “But what we still need are human resources. We need French-speaking police to engage in dialogue with local populations. We need French-speaking soldiers who understand the situation on the ground. We need French-speaking civil servants.”

Six of the 15 UN peacekeeping operations are carried out in French-speaking regions, employing 55% of the UN peacekeeping workforce. Luis Carrilho, Police Commissioner of the United Nations Mission for Stabilization in Haiti (MINUSTAH), spoke about his experience in the field, particularly with regard to the difficulty of recruiting the necessary staff. “I ask you to continue working with the UN Police Division and Department of Peacekeeping Operations as a whole so that we can receive more personnel with a variety of required specializations and language skills and who can be deployed ??quickly and efficiently,” he urged the audience. "The result of this great partnership will be to ensure that the desired and appropriate expert resources are available when they are needed and thus reduce the delays that occur when a reactive approach is taken and the dispatch of experts is long awaited.”

Other experiences were highlighted at the seminar. For example, 87% of the troops deployed in Mali are French-speaking – whereas local language speakers are usually a minority in many UN peacekeeping missions in French-speaking regions. Pooling of resources of several Francophone countries of West Africa—Burkina Faso, Niger, and Senegal—to provide the Malian mission with helicopters critical to that mission's success was another example that speakers gave.

In the institutional arena, the growing partnership between organizations dealing with peacekeeping has become an increasing reality over the past 10 years and is especially evident in the regular contacts and the institutionalization of relations between the UN, the European Union, the African Union, the African Regional Economic Communities and other bodies such as the International Organization of La Francophonie and various French-language training centres. These partnerships, which involve questions of doctrine or human or financial capacity, are key to solving complex crises and providing a sense of ownership of peacekeeping by French-speaking states.}

“While English is still regarded as the lingua franca in most peacekeeping operations in the name of interoperability, multilingualism seems increasingly necessary given the growing importance of non-English speaking contingents and the increasingly frequent interactions among deployed personnel and local populations generated by the operationalization of civilian protection and peacekeeping concepts,” Coulon said. “Multilingualism is also justified by the constant need to improve the analysis of the dynamics of host countries and by the importance of ensuring greater confidentiality of information exchanged without the constant use of interpreters.”

The seminar also called for further theoretical and political reflection on the use of French with regards to peacekeeping. This reflection can serve to validate the notion of language as a factor of success or to address commonalities around legal systems or entities such as police forces. In this sense, French-language topics or research centres that address peacekeeping still suffer from a lack of representation and visibility, while post-crisis experiences shared internationally remain largely derived from English-language culture. “In the context of peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations, communication is an information vector, an efficiency factor, and a tool for building confidence. It is therefore vital that deployed personnel are able to communicate satisfactorily with one another, with the organizations for whom they work for, with national authorities, and with local populations," said Mr. Coulon.


Contact: William Raillant-Clark International Press Attaché Université de Montréal Tel: 514-343-7593 | | @uMontreal_News


This document, including the quotes, is a translation of a text originally prepared in French.

The activity in New York was the last of a series of four seminars conducted by the Strategic Affairs Directorate (DAS) of the French Ministry of Defence, the Department of Security and Defence Cooperation (DCSD) of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the OIF, and the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP). The series, entitled “Les pays francophones et le maintien de la paix. Défis politiques et operationnels” [French-speaking countries and peacekeeping: political and operational challenges], aimed to examine the specific policies and needs of French-speaking countries with regard to peacekeeping, the similarities and differences of their policies, and the challenges they face in a profoundly changing environment largely dominated by the English-speaking world. Beyond the main issues, the aim of the series was to discuss, in French, issues that are often discussed in the English-speaking world.

About the Réseau de recherche sur les opérations de paix:

Established in 2005, the Réseau de recherché sur les operations de paix (ROP) has become a reference for practitioners, teachers, researchers, journalists, and students around the world who are interested in peacekeeping operations.

Affiliated with the Centre d'études de recherches internationales de l'Université de Montréal (CÉRIUM), the ROP has the dual mission of providing the broadest insight into peacekeeping operations and to work towards global capacity for peacekeeping operations.

Through its network of experts and its many partnerships with national governments, international and regional organizations, research centres, and NGOs, the ROP undertakes projects in French-speaking Africa that reflect the current state of research and meet the needs of various stakeholders in peacekeeping operations. The ROP also hosts, a reference site providing daily information on peacekeeping.

In addition, since 2012, the ROP has a presence in Europe in conjunction with the Centre d'étude des conflits et des crises internationals (CECRI) at the Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium.

About Jocelyn Coulon:

Jocelyn Coulon is the director of the Réseau de recherché sur les operations de paix (ROP)—a research unit affiliated with the Centre d'études et de recherches internationales de l'Université de Montréal (CÉRIUM)—since 2005. A graduate in political science from the Université de Montréal, he was successively director of international information at the daily newspaper Le Devoir from 1987 to 1999 and director of the Montreal office of the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre from 1999 to 2003. He is the author of several books, including Les Casques bleus (1994), and was editor of the annual Peacekeeping Guide published by Athena from 2003 to 2010. Coulon served as governor of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) from 2007 to 2011 and is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London.