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For tiny Burundi, big returns in sending peacekeepers to Somalia

For poorer countries like Burundi, sending soldiers to join a UN or African Union peacekeeping mission offers financial and political benefits, as well as better arms and training.

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In this photo released on Nov. 19, troops from Burundi serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are seen manning frontline positions in territory recently captured from insurgents in Deynile District along the northern fringes of the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, in November.

Stuart Price/AU-UN IST/AP

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When the Somali Islamist insurgent group Al Shabab slaughtered roughly 70 peacekeepers from Burundi earlier this month, it would easy to wonder why this tiny mountainous country in Central Africa sent 4,000 of its young men to fight in Mogadishu. Burundi is one of just three countries supplying soldiers to a joint African Union and United Nations peacekeeping mission in Somalia, known by its acronym, AMISOM. Burundi doesn’t border Somalia, and it has no visible national interest in the conflict there. What’s more, Burundi itself is still reeling from civil war. Just a year before it joined Amisom, blue helmets were patrolling Burundi’s own ceasefire.

Yet over the last five years – and through a string of casualties – Burundi hasn’t just agreed to go to Somalia; it has leapt at the chance. The reasons offer a glance into why countless troubled or impoverished countries, not just Burundi, end up staffing UN peacekeeping missions. Today, there are nearly 100,000 UN peacekeeping troops deployed worldwide, and nearly all of them come from non-OECD nations.

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