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The Role of Africa’s Regional Organizations in Conflict Prevention and Resolution: A Resume by Lambert Mbom


From L to R: Kimenyi, Hoover and Dr Rugunda.

On Tuesday November 23 2010, Brookings institution hosted a conversation between Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda and US State Department’s John Hoover, Director, Office of Regional and Security Affairs, Bureau of African Affairs.

In his prefatory remarks, Mwangi Kimenyi director of Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) of the Brookings Institute set the tone for the discussion within the backdrop of the mission of the AGI, which seeks to address the issue of how to deal with the problem of economic growth in Africa. The AGI seeks to transform economies in Africa, create jobs and improve the quality of life.

He noted pathetically albeit that despite the fact that Africa’s resources bank is exceedingly rich, paradoxically, Africa is still very poor. One of the most important ingredients of wealth creation namely peace is sadly absent. It is only within an environment of peace that wealth creation is possible. This event sought to highlight continental initiatives to achieve peace and stability.

In his two-part presentation, Dr. Rugunda harped in the first instance on a description of the whys and wherefores of conflicts in Africa before proceeding to show how the African Union (AU) and other regional economic blocs have been instrumental in preventing and resolving conflicts in the continent.

There is no denying it that Africa has had the lion’s share of conflicts especially within the last fifty years. Economic, political and social factors account for why conflicts arise exacerbated by poverty, bad governance and weak states clearly epitomized in the case of Somalia.
Then the expert described the topography of conflicts in Africa. Dr Rugunda walked the audience down the historical trajectory of the types of conflicts that have bedeviled Africa.

First, there is the resistance against colonial occupation with the emergence of such groups as the Mao Mao of Kenya.
Then, Africa had actual struggles for independence prominent among which are the revolt of the Portuguese colonies such as Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau and Zimbabwe.

Next, were the proxy wars common during the Cold War competition between the East and the West. For example, in Angola, there was the MPLA a pro government group supported by the Soviet Union and the Socialist Communist bloc while UNITA had the blessing of the West.

Additionally, wars for liberation – e.g. Uganda in 1981 fought for the liberation from the despotic Idi Amin and Milton Obote. This is the post independence era where some countries experienced turmoil in a bid to free themselves from the shackles and dictatorship of their own ilk.
Lastly, Inter-national conflicts with land disputes such as that between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

These have had enormous consequences: In terms of lives lost, in Sudan alone estimates run to 2 million dead; when extrapolated to the entire continent, the numbers are astonishing; then there are the injured, internally displaced with Africa alone accounting for at least 30% of the entire number and the disturbing sky rocketing number of refugees.

Economically, Oxfam estimates that 18 billion dollars per annum is what Africa loses because of conflicts. Dr Rugunda considers these figures conservative and proposed Brookings should crunch the numbers for a more realistic statistics.

Other consequences of conflict include the destruction of infrastructure, investment cost as nobody wants to invest in a politically volatile environment and the inevitable complete paralysis of economic activity.
In terms of responsibility for containing, controlling, preventing and resolving conflicts, the speaker, pointed to the global mechanism of the UN Security Council.

At the continental level, the African Union has the solemn mandate to provide this.

Dr Rugunda made a bold and contentious assertion that African leaders have put in place parameters that guarantee a conducive environment for economic activities and subsequent prosperity for the community. This, by pledging they want their countries to be stable; they want their countries to be guided by the rule of law, democratically governed, characterized by respect of human rights of people, and ensure no unconstitutional changes of government.

The second part of his discourse focused on describing the instruments available to prevent and resolve conflicts in Africa. The two most prominent instruments within African Peace and Security architecture (framework to help Africa resolve conflicts) are the African Peace and Security Council based in Addis Ababa and the Panel of the Wise currently led by President Thabo Mbeki.

Africa is also mobilizing forces to deploy as and when it becomes necessary.

The African Union works in synergy with regional economic groups. These are essentially regional economic groups, which also have in-built mechanisms for preventing and resolving conflicts. These blocs are a great asset to peace initiatives on the continent. These include:
ECOWAS – Economic Community of West African States
SADC – Southern African Development Community
IGAD – Intergovernmental Authority on Development
ECCAS – Economic Community of Central African states
COMESA – Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa
International Conference on the Great Lakes
The basic philosophy underlying this cooperation is the fact that unless there is peace and stability, talk of economic growth and prosperity is useless. These have become major instruments to ensure peace and stability in their regions.

These regional economic communities are able to forge peace because of the following reasons:
a) Geographical and political proximity – In the case of Sudan for example, the countries of IGAD are better place to intervene given their geographical proximity
b) These groups also have the capacity to respond quickly
c) They also understand better the dynamics at play
Yet one must not lose sight of the fact some of these regional communities may have stakes in a particular conflict and in intervening end up rather complicating it.

A case in point is Democratic Republic of Congo where you had Rwanda and Uganda supporting the rebels while Namibia and Zimbabwe were supporting the government. The Lusaka Accord of 1999 ended the stalemate and resolved the conflict.

Two instances of regional interventions worth mentioning are ECOWAS’ intervention in Sierra Leone in 1997 that stabilized the country before the UN stepped in. In 1999, thanks once more to ECOWAS, the situation in Liberia came under control.
The East African community under the leadership of Uganda and in cooperation with SADC helped Burundi which has emerged today from the doldrums.

Sudan is another case in point whereby through the work of IGAD, the over fifty years’ old war ended and a deal brokered now known as the Comprehensive Peace Accord.

Apart from these regional economic communities, the African Union has worked hand-in-glove with the United Nations with AU increasingly owning the mechanisms.

In Darfur, there are UN troops, which are under UNAMID the UN-AU hybrid under the command of Dr Gambari.

There are also UN troops in Southern Sudan and Sudan overseeing the implementation of the CPA.

In order to ensure that relations between the UN and the AU are smooth intimate and mutually beneficial, the UN has appointed Kenyan Ambassador Zachary Muburi-Muita as UN Assistant Secretary-General, Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union.

These relations have paradoxically also seen some drawbacks. First with reference to the Western Sahara recognized by the African Union as a separate state while, the UN and International community are still dragging their legs recognizing Morocco as legitimate first.

Another case in point is Somalia while the International community is concentrating on piracy, than dealing with the source of the piracy from mainland Somaliland. The African Union thinks a holistic approach fighting in the mainland will pacify and eradicate the piracy.

One issue complicating Africa’s search for peace is drugs. With the US waging a virulent attack against drugs in Latin America, the drug merchants found a new and easier route through West Africa taking advantage of weak institutions, weak borders and weak security. The deaths in Guinea Bissau may not have been just political but also drug-related.

Conclusion: Dr Rugunda was quite upbeat stating categorically that Africa has adequate capacity and mechanisms and Africa needs support and reinforcements in terms of resources and capacity. A stable and peaceful Africa will enhance sustained economic development resulting in prosperity not only for Africa but also for humanity.
There has been enormous progress made in conflict resolution and prevention, as there has been a move from 20 conflicts brewing on the continent within the last decade to just about four on the continent.

Part II:
John Hoover then mounted the rostrum. The lynchpin of his presentation was portraiture of what the US is doing to help Africa in its conflict prevention and resolution ideals. He quoted lengthily from President Obama’s speech in Accra Ghana in July 2009.
“We must start from the simple premise that Africa’s future is up to Africans. All of us must strive for the peace and security… Africans are standing up for this future…. We welcome the steps that are being taken by organizations like the African Union and ECOWAS to better resolve conflicts, keep the peace, and support those in need…And we encourage the vision of a strong, regional security architecture that can bring effective, transnational forces to bear when needed.
America has a responsibility to work with you as a partner, advance this vision, not just with words, but with support, that strengthens African capacity. …we stand ready to partner through diplomacy, technical assistance, and logistical support…”

He proceeded then to analyze these providing evidence of US engagements with Africa in its desperate search for peace.

In all of our countries, there is often a gap with what leaders say and what actually obtains on the ground, in terms of what governments actually do. This is not the case with the foregoing words of President Obama.

There is no gap between the above words of President Obama and what we actually do on the ground, intimated Mr. Hoover. These are not just inspirational words of a charismatic leader and not much else.
These words infuse and inform what we do daily not just at US State department but also throughout the US government. It really informs what we are doing with African governments and regional organizations to promote peace and security in the continent.

Africa’s future is up to them. Africans have the will and capacity to prevent and resolve conflicts on the continent. Our business is to support Africa to help prevent conflicts.

Engagement with the AU has become a priority under the Obama administration. Since 2006, the US established an independent diplomatic mission to the AU. The US is the only non-African government to have established this bilateral relation.

There is also an American Peace and Security advisor embedded at the AU.

The AU has also recently accepted to have another civilian disaster-planning expert embedded at the peace and security division at the AU.

Secondly, the US is stepping up its engagements to support the regional African Peace and Security architecture. Among the many programs, activities and policies the US government is providing Africa highlights include:
– The US has invested 700 million dollars to equip, train and provide support to AU missions in Burundi, Darfur and AU mission to Somalia AMESOM. Without this AMESOM mission, Somalia would be run by El Shabbab;
– There is 4 million dollars project funded by the State department to help AU upgrade its Command and Control Communications Network as part of support to African standby force;
– USAID provides support to ECOWARN & CWARN, which are early warning systems for conflict prevention in West and East Africa respectively.
– Since 2001, the US has provided 2 million dollars yearly to construct and maintain the military supply depot in Freetown and currently working to transfer complete ownership to ECOWAS;
Thirdly, there is the US African command engaged in all kinds of capacity building activities; they recently sponsored an exercise called African endeavor that brought together civilian and military leaders from 25 countries in Africa the issue of interruptability of communications network cropped up.
Peace keeping training is the bread and butter of the US capacity building efforts on the continent. This focuses on national forces and still supports regional efforts like the standby brigades and Africa standby forces. These are the building blocks to the standby brigades.
Since 2005, the US has provided training and equipment and in some cases logistical support to 125 000 African peacekeeping troops from 25 partner nations.

This is primarily under the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance Program – ACOTA. ACOTA program costs about 50 million dollars annual program. This is fantastic investment. This is so because of the following reasons:

It is providing the peacekeepers on UN and AU missions with the resources they need. As of June 2010, there were 34.000 African peacekeepers on mission deployed in Africa.

When these get home, they have become more competent and professional and so are an integral part of the modernization and professionalization of Africa’s national armed forces.

When the time comes and the African Standby brigades are organized, the peacekeepers who have returned home will be ideal candidates.
ACOTA is also engaging in a transitional phase where African groups should be able to provide peacekeeping training on a sustainable basis. Hence, the US is providing more resources to training centers around the continent.

The US is here to stay and to help, concluded Mr. Hoover.
This session was followed by a Q & A.

From L to R:Tien of DIWDC, Dr Emma Osong of Catholic University of America, Balemesa of the Peace Corps

Participants discussing after the event.

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One Response

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