Silencing the guns in Africa

Mohamed Abdel-Wahed , Thursday 14 Feb 2019

What are the prospects for peacekeeping on the African continent in the light of the African Union’s new roadmap to silence the guns

African Union Mission in Somalia
File Photo: Major General Nakibus Lakara, the Acting Force Commander of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) examines weapons captured from Al-Shabaab militants (Courtsey of AMISOM Official Websie)

Armed conflict remains one of the greatest threats to Africa. In addition to taking millions of lives, it obstructs development and has set back remedies to political, economic and social problems for decades.

The crises in Somalia, Libya, Sudan, Central Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) all testify to this.

During the African Summit meeting in Addis Ababa on 29 January, the African Union (AU) endorsed the “African Union Master Roadmap of Practical Steps to Silence the Guns in Africa by year 202”.

This roadmap, developed by the AU Peace and Security Council, outlines a series of mechanisms to end the conflict on the continent by the target date.

It is an ambitious aim, in view of the complex factors that work to perpetuate disputes and armed conflict on the continent. In addition to the many domestic historical, political, economic, social and demographic factors, a range of external factors have worked to fuel the tensions and violence in African societies, including outside military and non-military interventions and foreign-driven processes of socio-political polarisation as occurred during the Cold War.

The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) earlier contributed to laying the foundations for conflict-management and peacemaking in Africa through its efforts to promote peaceful settlements to disputes, many of which had to do with borders inherited from the colonial era.

In 1993, it established the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution (MCPMR) in order to resolve disputes using African mechanisms and without foreign interventions that tended to aggravate and complicate the crises, as was the case in Somalia in the 1990s.

The OAU applied diverse instruments in its conflict-resolution and peace-keeping efforts, including helping the disputants to bring their cases before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Examples include the Nigeria-Cameroon border dispute, the maritime delimitation dispute between Guinea Bissau and Senegal, and the Libyan-Chadian territorial dispute, all of which were brought before the ICJ in the mid-1990s.

In the case of the dispute between Libya and Chad, the OAU helped restore calm between the two countries and worked with the UN in carrying out and monitoring the implementation of UN resolutions.

Regional organisations such as the OAU and now the AU are crucial to contemporary conflict-resolution efforts. In fact, Chapter VIII of the UN Charter encourages them to engage in such efforts.

One would expect, therefore, that regional organisations would take the initiative in resolving local disputes and all the more so given that the disputants themselves are often uncomfortable with international interventions that encroach on their sovereignty and their domestic affairs.

The establishment of the AU brought with it two main developments in African conflict-management. First, it established the AU’s right to intervene in the internal affairs of member states.

Article 4 of the Constitutive Act of the AU establishes “the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity”. It further affirms “the right of Member States to request intervention from the Union in order to restore peace and security”. 

Second, it created a new body charged with conflict-management in Africa in general. The AU Peace and Security Council, established at the first African Union Summit meeting in Durban, South Africa, in 2002, has become the continent’s chief instrument for ending warfare and consolidating peace, security and stability.

The protocol establishing the council went into effect on 26 December 2003, and the council itself began its work on 25 March 2004.

The AU Peace And Security Council

The AU has been working hard to reform the Peace and Security Council (PSC) to render it more efficient in the performance of its missions. 

At the same time, it should be borne in mind that since the PSC’s work overlaps with that of the UN Security Council, whose work the PSC helps to carry out in Africa, the UN could be expected to lend its material and moral support to the council through funding, the exchange of expertise, contributions to the training of African peacekeeping forces, and bolstering the partnership between the AU and the UN.

Africa’s independence and welfare are contingent on eliminating the sources of conflict on the continent in keeping with the strategic aims of Agenda 2063 and the more immediate goal of “Silencing the Guns in Africa by the year 2020”.

However, according to the projections of the AU Commission, by 2020 AU Peace Support Operations will cost $2 billion, a quarter of which is to be borne by AU members.

This burden needs to be distributed more equitably, something that the current “quota” system does not do, as it places the greatest burden on the four countries that contribute 60 per cent of the AU budget — Egypt, South Africa, Algeria and Nigeria.

In addition to restructuring the budgetary system, new funding sources should be tapped, such as the regional economic bodies and the major companies operating in Africa.

But above all what is needed is an innovative strategy for the sustainable funding of Peace Support Operations to replace the current ad hoc approaches and reduce the dependence on external sources that carry with them the risk of restricting the AU’s freedom to make important decisions.

Two important current AU peace-building bodies are the African Union Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development (AU PCRD) Centre and the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM).

The location of the AU PCRD Centre in Egypt was decided at the end of the Executive Council meetings held during the African Union Summit in Nouakchott in 2018 and agreed by the attending African foreign ministers.

Egypt is now coordinating with the AU Commission on the completion of executive measures preparatory to launching the AU PCRD’s activities from its base in Cairo in collaboration with other agencies and initiatives involved in reconstruction and human development.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry in collaboration with the Cairo International Centre for Conflict Settlement and Building and Preserving Peace and the Egyptian Partnership for Development Agency organised a workshop in October last year entitled “Activating AU Reconstruction and Development Policies in the Sahel Region”.

The participants discussed the most important challenges and opportunities facing peace-building and reconstruction efforts in that region as a means to bolster state-building and government performance and to ensure consistency between AU reconstruction policies and the needs and priorities of post-conflict countries.

Another focal area of the AU’s conflict-management work is the Horn of Africa and Somalia in particular, where the PSC created the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) on 21 February 2007 with support from the UN Security Council in accordance with Resolution 1744.

The mission’s remit was to support the interim Somali government, assist it in the implementation of its national security strategy, train Somali security forces, and help create a safe environment for the delivery of humanitarian relief.

Originally given only a six-month mandate, AMISOM’s term has been extended several times, most recently until the end of May 2019 in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2431.

At the same time, its personnel have begun to be gradually reduced in accordance with a transition plan that aims to transfer full responsibility for national security to the Somali security force by 2021.

AMISOM troops are drawn from forces from Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi and Djibouti.

Despite the limited capacities of the Mission, it has achieved considerable success. Above all, it has restored security and supported the transition process, thereby enabling the creation of a Somali parliament, the promulgation of a new constitution, and the election of Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud as the first post-transition president of the country in 2012.

AMISOM continues to support the Somali government headed by Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo. It has helped to expel the Shabab Movement from the capital Mogadishu and from other towns and cities in the country, enabling the government to reassert its authority.

However, hundreds of AU soldiers have lost their lives in the course of their duties with AMISOM, while the Shabab continues to control large areas of central and southern Somalia and still stages intermittent terrorist strikes against the capital.

The movement has also extended its operations outside of Somalia in order to carry out retaliatory strikes against countries that have contributed forces to AMISOM.

To make matters more difficult, donor agencies have begun to cut back on their funding. In January 2016, the EU reduced its allocations to pay AMISOM troops and staff by 20 per cent and asked the AU to search for alternative funding sources.

In response, Ethiopia and Kenya threatened to withdraw from the Mission, as did Uganda, which contributes the greatest share of the forces. At the same time, AU requests to the UN to help to bring the force up to 26,000 troops met with no response.

The international community has thus confined itself to financial support and the provision of armaments. Strapped for funds and arms, the mission has been unable to defeat the Shabab on its own.

Prospects For Success

Many believe that the AU’s “Silencing the Guns” initiative is an unrealisable dream in view of the many interrelated problems on the African continent.

These include the inability of the UN to offer solutions for the preservation of peace and security in Africa due to the complexities of the situations in Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Central Africa and the limitations to what the AU and its subsidiary bodies can do due to the high costs of Peace Support Operations and sending AU troops into conflict zones given the AU’s ongoing financial straits.

Moreover, most African countries face heavy international pressures that they lack the political will to stand up to, especially in cases where sanctions, the suspension of aid, or military interventions are threatened.

The refusal of the disputants in Africa in many cases to acknowledge the AU organisations and abide by their decisions also stems from the weak financial and administrative structures of these organisations themselves.

At the level of the international community, despite the UN’s many instruments for preserving peace and security in Africa there remain areas where conflict and armed disputes continue to threaten the security and stability of African nations.

In large measure, this is due to drawbacks in the UN peace-building model, since the latter is based on a liberal ideology that may be at odds with the political and economic conditions in many African countries.

For example, in its keenness to steer countries emerging from conflict toward democratic transitions, the UN may furnish assistance for electoral processes while paying little attention to the many other prerequisites for democratic transformation.

The UN model also promotes the free-market economy, requiring the deregulation of trade and the minimisation of state intervention on the African continent. While this may be a global trend, it is not appropriate to the poor economic and social circumstances in many African countries.

Because the Security Council dominates the UN, the major powers that make up the five permanent members of this body also control UN peacekeeping operations.

The Darfur crisis in Sudan illustrates the problems of these on the African continent.

Finally, UN peacekeeping operations lack clear and consistent funding policies. They can take a long time, often more than decade, and because of this donor nations may lose their enthusiasm for them and withdraw their funds.

* The writer is an expert in national security affairs. 

* A version of this article appears in print in the 14 February, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Silencing the guns in Africa

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