USIP trained hundreds of African peacekeepers in seven nations this year in how to negotiate and mediate the peace.
USIP is playing a vital and growing role in Africa by teaching peacekeepers negotiation and mediation skills they will use across the continent. Trainers from the Institute completed 17 training workshops in 2011 as part of the State Department's African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program, or ACOTA. African peacekeepers' mission is to prevent the outbreak or spillover of violent conflict. But often these military officers do not receive training in how to deal with conflict at places like checkpoints and roadblocks. USIP's portion of the ACOTA training is distinct from the overall training which is typically more military-oriented.
"As peacekeepers, their mission is to use force as a last resort, but they don't get training on other methods of non-armed reactions," says Nina Sughrue, a senior program officer at USIP's Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding. "We provide the conflict analysis piece, the negotiation, and how to deal with conflict in a non-violent way – how to mitigate it."
USIP helps provide African peacekeepers with practical tools for negotiation and other skills to deal with possible conflicts that begin at a low-level but can easily escalate into widespread violence. They also provide an in-depth review of the peacekeeper's responsibilities for the protection of civilians, now one of their most important missions. This is a vital part of the overall ACOTA training, a seven-week program the State Department has offered since at least the 1990s. The number of USIP's training sessions continue to increase over the years, from 17 iterations in 2011, 13 in 2010 and seven in 2009.
USIP's contribution is a three- to five-day training workshop that focuses on negotiation and mediation skills. A typical training scenario might draw from the kind of real-world situation peacekeepers would encounter: peacekeepers manning a checkpoint as a hostile rebel group approaches wanting to pass. Students learn the ropes of how to defuse that potentially tense situation by learning how to seek out and recognize the rebel group's leader and learning how to communicate with him using effective negotiation and mediation skills used, essentially, on the fly. Ultimately the training helps give African military officers the tools they need to successfully handle a broad range of problems they can expect to face in peacekeeping, says USIP's Theodore Feifer, dean of students at the Academy who conducted four programs in Rwanda last year.
"USIP provides an important addition to the military skills that are the focus of the ACOTA program given that peacekeepers are supposed to seek to resolve conflicts first through non-military means, negotiation and mediation," Feifer says.
Furthermore, such training also produces new trainers who can in turn teach new students in conflict management.
ACOTA training is, as USIP's Mike Lekson, director of gaming at the Academy, says, a real "peace multiplier."