Africa

What Are British Soldiers Doing In Malawi?

Advising and mentoring the Malawian Defence Force is the job of 19 British military personnel.

British Soldiers in Malawi are helping to train and mentor the Malawian Defence Force so they are ready to support UN operations within the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Malawi contributes a total of 900 personnel to the 21,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

It is the mission of the British Peace Support Team (Africa) to advise and mentor that battalion - with lessons in everything from combat first aid and engaging with civilians, to jungle survival skills and contact drills.

In August, the Malawian Defence Force battalion will embark on a 12-month tour into North Kivu, one of the least stable areas in the DRC.

For decades the DRC has been plagued by fighting, humanitarian issues, failed politics. As a result, civilians in the Kivu Province are facing huge problems - rape, gang rape and sexual slavery.

There is thought to be up to 134 active armed groups in North and South-Kivu. Due to this ever-changing complexity, gaining the trust of civilians within the DRC is only made possible by Mixed Engagement Teams. 

Major Charmaine Geldenhuys, Gender Advisor, MONUSCO, said: “We know we are there to help, we know we want to support them, but the DRC has such a long history of conflict and violence, that to convince people that we are genuinely there to support them and we will continue to protect them is extremely challenging.

“The whole point of having these engagement teams is if they take the time to build up relationships with the community.

"They visit on a regular basis, they get to know the key players in the community. Who are power brokers? Who are the people who can make things happen? Where are the risks coming from?

“So by having the engagement teams it gives us the opportunity to reach into and build up relationships and gain trust from those communities we are most trying to support."

Picture Crown Copyright - Simon Lucas
Picture Crown Copyright - Simon Lucas

Advising and mentoring the Malawian Defence Force is the job of a Short-Term Training Team made up of 19 British military personnel.

Major Jordan Sorabjee, Officer Commanding, said:

“It is just an incredibly complex scenario that the guys are trying to deal with and the sort of things the guys are going out and dealing with are fighting patrols against an enemy who has intentions to ambush them, to use human shields.”

Fighting with armed groups is not the only threat to the peacekeeping soldiers heading to the DRC. Lt Colonel, Freddie Grounds, British Peace Support Team, East Africa, said:

“The conditions that they are living in are incredibly tough and challenging at the moment.

“Not only are they trying to deal with peace support operations in an incredibly challenging environment, but they are also trying to do that based at the epicenter of the second largest outbreak of Ebola in history.

“So they are essentially conducting operations with their hands tied behind their back.”