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Exclusive: Calculating what the future holds for Africa


First established as the Institute for Defense Policy in 1991 by its current Executive Director Dr Jakkie Cilliers, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) is an award winning, leading Pan African policy research institution working to “enhance human security on the continent”. ISS is known for its independent and authoritative researches and provides expert policy analysis and advice as well as practical training and technical assistance to governments and organizations across the continent and beyond. Its areas of research and policy analysis include conflict prevention and risk analysis, governance and justice, transnational threats and international crime as well as conflict management and peace building. Our Editor-in-Chief, Tsedale Lemma, sat down with Ambassador Olusegun Akinsanya, ISS Regional Representative and Senior Advisor, to discuss the works of ISS and its contribution to the future of Africa. Excerpts: 

Addis Standard – I would like to begin by asking you to explain to me in brief about the joint initiative between the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria and the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures at the University of Denver. What does it entail?

Amb.  Olusegun Akinsanya – Thank you very much for that question. It was an idea of my boss, the executive director of ISS, Dr. Jakkie Cillers, who is a well known African voice and heir, and also the brain behind ISS.  ISS does quite a lot of engagement on policy advice, technical support and capacity building and with the niche, knowledge and expertise for Africa we developed a partnership with Frederick S. Pardee Center on African Futures using the International Futures model which the Denver University has the expertise. The aim is to project Africa for the year 2050 using its GDP, population and factors like migration for example. We did similar projection for the year 2030; the current one that we have is for 2050. Prediction is a very good human activity; you need to plan; that is why governments have development plans and action plans. This is the essence of the collaboration between the Padree institute and ISS.

 How does engaging in such partnership define or redefine the works of ISS vis a vis that of the future of the continent Africa? Does it give you greater stake in the affairs of the continent?

It has given us feasibility; it has given us a lot of stake; we have trained people from different institutions even from the AU and the ECA. One of the relevance of what we are doing in terms of futures is looking at the modeling tools to predict the future. We have published a lot of publications and monographs; we are working with the AU, the ECA, and the regional economic communities in this regard. This is an integrated data model that is open source that these Pan African institutions can use to predict about many things for the continent.

But it uses International Futures model of the Pardee Center to produce, I quote, “forward-looking, policy-relevant analysis” based on exploration of possible trajectories for human development, economic growth and sociopolitical change in Africa over the next four decades, if I understand it correct. But we are talking about a continent notorious for being unpredictable. Doesn’t that make your work harder?

Of course we can’t be hundred per cent certain and predictability at times has its own challenges, but that doesn’t mean that we should not project for the future. It is necessary to improve the livelihood, necessary for economic development, for education, for infrastructure, for the standards of living. Africa has come a long way over the past 50 years, and had leaders that consolidated its independence; we now have leaders that are looking forward; are looking at the future on elements like security, infrastructure, development, and the youth, for example, and use that to work for inclusivity in the national agenda…yes of course there are margins of error, but scientifically you take that in to account.

Amb Olusegun Akinsanya

Amb.  Olusegun Akinsanya

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There were some forecasting reports by the Africa Future such as the ones released in Oct. 2013 on prospects for Africa`s 26 fragile countries. Another report released around the same time deals with the specific case for South Africa and its population growth that your report indicated would be 66.4 million by 2030; that number is up by 8 million than the base projection of 58.5 million set out in the country’s National Development Plan 2030 (NDP). These are reports that imply or suggest serious and major policy shift. But we know that many African countries don’t take suggestions like this seriously. Does that put you at odds with countries assessed?  

ISS is a think tank institution; it’s a policy research institution. There are three components of what ISS does globally particularly in Africa. The first is policy advice through evidence based researches. Studies and projections that come out for the use of policy makers (whether they use is or not, that is another challenge, but they are there, the facts are there). The second is technical advice. There are lots of countries and institutions that have approached ISS for this; the AU sent a lot of its officers to Cape Town; we are engaging in a lot of programs and trainings and many institutions and countries found them very useful. The third is capacity building. It has now become a regular tool in the hands of many of Pan African organizations, national institutions and individual countries to use it to develop their own models. Recently we went to Nigeria which is developing agenda 2020 after they have requested us to share some of this information. ISS is forward looking and innovative because we are able to do this through innovation; doing things differently. I think this is very good for Africa. For example, recently we have launched a new website to track peace and security trends in the continent that we think will be immensely useful for anyone interested in following peace and security developments throughout the continent.     

I read an interesting article in that new website regarding the AU Peace and Security Council’s 442nd session on 17 June 2014, which decided to lift ‘the suspension of the participation of Egypt in [the] AU’s activities.” But this article says AU’s decision has a “far-reaching consequences.” As a formidable institution what was ISS’s position about that particular decision?

We have come a long way in this; it is part of the evidence based research that ISS does. ISS was the first institution to be asked by one of the rotational chairs of the PSC to come and brief on Unconstitutional Change of Government (UCG) and Popular Uprising. We came, we briefed the PSC, we looked at the normative framework within the AU (whether it takes care of that), we looked at the ramifications of popular uprising that started in Tunisia, went to Egypt and Libya and of course has its vibrations in the Sub-Saharan Africa, and we came out with our own recommendations. One of the things that we said was uprisings [like the one in] Tahrir Square is not a Coup d’etat. The only normative frameworks within the AU that provide for taking care of that is the Lome Declaration that talks more about coups. But what happened in Tahrir Square was not a Coup, it was a popular uprising that brought a democratically elected president from the Muslim Brotherhood who was then ousted by the military. The decision at that time was it was a coup and that Egypt should conduct an election. What I am trying to tell you is ISS has been called on more than one occasion to brief different sessions including the high level panel led by Alpha Oumar Konare on UCG and popular uprisings. Dr. Solomon Ayele Dersso did these presentations, which led to some of the decisions that the AU took regarding Egypt. This shows you that the role of civil society organizations in terms of providing policy off shore is increasing.

You said ISS’s briefing on the UCG and popular uprisings led to some of the decisions that the AU took. Does your recommendation include the lifting of the sanction? Are you in tandem with the AU when it comes to its latest decision on Egypt?

AmbOlusegun Akinsanya 1 “That shows you that it is not completely error free, but the AU took its decision in Malabo [Equatorial Guinea]. I think destiny will judge whether that was a good decision…”

No we are not in tandem with them. It comes to what our roles are; our roles are to provide evidence based research, gather information, look at political behaviors, look at the scenarios, the dynamics, and the precedence; what does the future hold? One of the strength of ISS is its analytical ability to be able to bring facts. On Egypt and the decision by the AU PSC, there are some controversial elements around that decision even until now. There are people who believe that what happened was a coup. It’s a military turned around to become the president of the country. But of course there is the element of sovereignty. However, we all know that President Al Sisi was not popular in terms of the number of the people who have voted; but he won the election; he was declared the president of the country and to all its intents and purposes this satisfies the AU principles to bring Egypt back into the policy organs. But this is not to say that all is well. Egyptians know that the turnout was very limited to the extent that they have to extend the voting by another day. That shows you that it is not completely error free, but the AU took its decision in Malabo [Equatorial Guinea]. I think destiny will judge whether that was a good decision, but to all its purposes and intents ISS made its recommendation that was open source. It is based on evidence; based on what we think should stand a taste of time. But of course there are political consequences and ISS is not a political organization. It is an institution that believes truth must be set for political leaders; not controversy. We don’t want to engage in any controversy because of our evidence based reports. But the truth must be set.

A few years ago, for example, we did a conference on NATO and the AU, but we didn’t have anybody from the AU even though they knew what we were doing. Of course during the Libya crisis relations between NATO and the AU, which was good before Libya, have turned sour. But what we were saying was there is life after Libya. Last May the AU signed a memorandum of understanding with NATO. That is the reality on the ground. That is why Pan African research institutions like ISS always have an important role in providing policy options.
Do you believe that other civil society organizations and their roles are well represented in the decision making process within the AU, for example?

Well the institutions are there; we have different institutions such as academic institutions and research institutions that are increasing their visibility. During the 10th year anniversary of the AU PSC the AU contacted ISS, Oxfam, and West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) to engage with some consultative program with CSOs that are dealing with peace and security issues. ISS was given the responsibly for East and Central Africa, Oxfam for North Africa, SADEC for southern Africa and WANEP for West Africa. We met several times and did consultation on what were the situations for the last ten years and on the things that need to change and other relevant issues. Our report was presented to the special peace and security summit of the AU on the 25th of May [2014]. It was also presented to the special summit in Malabo. It was very comprehensive and focused; carrying the PSC to the grassroots and putting more emphasis on conflict prevention rather than conflict resolution. Previously there were many CSOs across Africa that do not even know the presence of the AU PSC. But following the establishment in 2004 of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) there is increasing participation of these non-state actors.  Some of the decisions taken in Malabo speak to that.

AmbOlusegun Akinsanya 2 “When developed countries shape opinions and believe that they are very knowledgeable and experts on African issues, there is a tendency to feel that they are really experts.”

Speaking of APSA, it looks like there are not many positive reviews about it. I read a report recently produced by Chatham House which criticized the ten year journey of APSA saying although it was clearly based on a liberal peace model, “democratic systems, respect for human rights and good governance aren’t always in place in African countries, and the self-interest of elites continues to be a constraint on APSA and its success.” As someone who I understand is deeply involved in the setting up of APSA, do you agree with that report?

I would like to advise to also do a lot of readings by Pan African research institutions. Chatham House of course is well known for doing a lot of researches but it still needs to be conversant on African thoughts about some of these issues. You need to know where some of these foreign institutions are coming from. They have been part of some of the trajectories and perceptions of Africa in terms of shaping opinions. When developed countries shape opinions and believe that they are very knowledgeable and experts on African issues, there is a tendency to feel that they are really experts.  Africa has now a lot of its own credible research institutions that are growing and have different narratives. Many people don’t believe that Africa is on the rise. We have a lot of economic potential; we have the resources, the capacity, the people…governance has improved, intra-state conflicts have seen tremendous improvement over the last ten years;  engagement and commitment of African leaders in terms of finding solution to some of the most complicated problems of the continent has improved. We are not there, but how many years did it take for the US to be where it is now? State is different from nation. In state you have the flag, you have the national anthem, you have the people; but the process of national consciousness to become a nation is different and for many countries in Africa this is a long experiment.

But it’s about the sustainability of this change that you are referring to. When we look at the security situation across the continent we see countries that have quickly relapsed. I am talking about Mali, South Sudan, and Central African Republic for example.

Relapse arises out of the state of fragility of African countries.  Many people are even quick to see that Africa is a state in progress because various sectors in terms of building infrastructure, building human resources and inclusive governance are happening in many parts of the continent. But you still see new threats in terms of youth unemployment, for example, which is a major driver of conflict. But the solution to that is developing the infrastructure, providing jobs and empowerment of the youth. This is one of the key elements of AU’s agenda 2063; the agenda of youth empowerment.  The difference between criminality and normal violence is also thin. How do you determine that what is happening in a given country is part of criminality to destabilize that country as against inter-ethnic, deprivation, poverty or tribal conflicts that are still very prevalent in federal states including my own country Nigeria where you have a lot of ethnic groups? You need to play the balance in terms of providing amenities and ensuring inclusive government through political parties and pressure groups. But it takes that country to be able allow that in a minimal effort that doesn’t lead to destabilization.


Ed’s Note:

Ambassador Olusegun Akinsanya’s Short Biography

A former Nigerian Ambassador to Ethiopia and Permanent Representative to AU and ECA from 2004 to 2007, Ambassador Olusegun Akinsanya Joined the ISS in June 2010 as Office Director for the Addis Abeba office. He holds a BSc degree in Political Science from the University of Lagos and post-graduate Diploma certificates in International Relations, Investment Promotion and Finance from Pakistan Administrative Staff College (PASCA), in Lahore, and from the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru (NIPSS), Nigeria. He also holds a Diploma in French language from Universite de Dakar, Senegal.

Photos: Addis Standard


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