The end of the Cold War dramatically altered the landscape of international peacekeeping, particularly in Africa. In the four decades between 1948 and 1988, there were only thirteen United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions, two of which addressed African conflicts, whereas there have been 58 missions since that time, 30 of which were in Africa.1 Many of those more recent missions have also been substantial, requiring thousands of personnel and massive financial outlays. The overall cost of African missions has been well in excess of $36 billion.2 Peacekeeping is now “big business for the leading state funders of UN missions”3 and, like international aid, has become an important axis for engaging with African countries and building regional connections.
The changing realities of peacekeeping have raised new questions about the intrusive nature of peacebuilding and its similarities to 19th and 20th century imperialism. Before addressing those connections, it is helpful to consider why peacekeeping changed in 1989. As the date suggests, the end of the Cold War was a critical factor, but the antagonism between the United States (U.S.) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) only made multilateral peacekeeping difficult, not impossible.4 By way of comparison, there were seven missions to the Middle East between 1948 and 1988, and only three since.5 To understand the remarkable uptick in the number and scope of peacekeeping missions in Africa specifically, one must consider the changing notions of state sovereignty and the nature of conflicts on the continent.