Malawi troops display peacekeeping skills at African military summit
By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 10, 2017
LILONGWE, Malawi — Malawian troops showcased their skills in volatile peace operations during exercises Tuesday that included dealing with a hostile armed mob, simulated combat and the medevac of casualties.
“Malawi is not a big nation compared to our colleagues in the region,” said Gen. Griffin Spoon Phiri, the defense force commander. “But — and I’m not saying it just because I’m the commander — our forces are very professional.”
The 45-minute demonstration at the Malawi Armed Forces College during this year’s U.S.-hosted African Land Forces Summit showcased the complexity of peace support operations in hostile environments — and the Malawians’ expertise.
Since 2013, Malawi, along with South Africa and Tanzania, has been part of the United Nations’s Force Intervention Brigade, mandated to conduct offensive operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Malawi Defense Force got into the peacekeeping business shortly after the Rwanda genocide in 1994, when Malawi deployed 140 troops.
Sixteen years later, during a crisis in the Ivory Coast — where a contested presidential election led to a civil conflict and human rights violations so severe that the U.N. intervened to restore stability — Malawi contributed a battalion of 850 troops.
“Then things blew up in the (Democratic Republic of Congo), and the U.N. requested we move there — with a mandate to fight, to put it bluntly,” Phiri said.
Malawi’s battalion and those from South Africa and Tanzania were authorized by the U.N. as an intervention brigade in 2013 to carry out targeted offensive operations in the Congo, with or without the Congolese national army, against armed groups that threatened peace.
That August, a week of heavy fighting left hundreds killed and wounded. One Tanzanian peacekeeper was among the dead, and 10 peacekeepers were wounded.
Phiri credited training supported for years by U.S. Army Africa and the U.K. with the small country’s high peace-keeping profile. Before deployment, troops undergo intensive education for two months that emphasizes discipline, rule of law, rules of engagement and protection of civilians.
“Sexual abuse — we don’t tolerate that,” Phiri said. “It’s straight-away dismissal.”
The demonstration, narrated by Maj. Chikondi Chalira, involved a group of demonstrators angry at U.N. peacekeeping troops because they have not been able to stop atrocities committed by an armed group. But the protest is infiltrated by sympathizers of the armed group. Police are overwhelmed when the demonstration turns violent, and Malawian troops are called upon to intervene with riot gear, smoke bombs, rifles, armored vehicles and a helicopter.
All players, including actors portraying the stick-wielding locals, appeared completely invested in their roles.
The narrator discussed principles of crowd control in peace support operations as the demonstration proceeded. At one point, the troops began negotiating with a local leader to de-escalate the situation.
“Commanders must remain professional and reasonable throughout negotiations,” Chalira said as the actors engaged in a heated discussion. “Negotiations can often be frustrating, and commanders must remain calm and focused. Commanders should not make promises but can give assurances that particular grievances will receive appropriate attention.”
The ensuing riot ended in staged casualties after a peacekeeper was hit and his colleagues fired at the troublemakers. The helicopter. which had earlier flown over the area to disperse the crowd and drown out the voices of leading agitators, landed nearby. Medical workers rushed out with stretchers to evacuate the dead and wounded.
Among the military officers watching the display was Maj. Sen. Dieudonne Bonze, Congo’s land forces commander. “It was a very good demonstration,” he said. “Considering what is happening in my country - very professional.”
Malawian troops and local actors stage a demonstration of the Malawi peacekeeping battalion's abilities during a demonstration of Malawi's peacekeeping battalion's expertise on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The event was part of the African Land Summit 17 hosted by U.S. Army Africa in Lilongwe this week.
NANCY MONTGOMERY/STARS AND STRIPES