Peace and security in Africa: A compressive review looks at the challenges and opportunities ahead

Solomon Ayele Dersso (@SolomonADersso)

 2013, declared as a year of ‘Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance’, marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor to the African Union (AU). It is not inappropriate to characterize the OAU/AU as the official/state-centric manifestation of Pan-Africanism, which is an ideal much deeper and broader than the organization itself.

An important aspect of Pan-Africanism is the right to self-determination. Africa’s is a history of a struggle for self-determination. None other than the quest for achieving control over our politics, culture, geography and economics can best capture the essence of the political history of our continent.

In the sphere of peace and security, this is best expressed in terms of what Ali Mazrui, the renowned Kenyan political scientist, called Pax Africana, a peace ‘that is protected and maintained by Africa herself.’

Many dismiss the OAU/AU as a club of undemocratic leaders with a bias to regime protection. There are also many who dismiss it as nothing more than a talking forum; for them what the continental body does hardly impacts directly on the day to day life of the vast majority of the people of the continent.  Truth be told, these sentiments are not entirely misplaced; but they also harbor a great deal of ignorance and feed into outdated stereotypes about things African.

 Not same old anymore

For anyone willing to look deeper, there is truth that is different from what such stereotypes represent. One would discover the encouraging strive that the AU has made towards realizing Pax Africana, although this is not something that is widely publicized and known.

A very important avenue through which member states of the AU have sought to give institutional expression to this Pan-African ideal is the establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the AU. Like the UN Security Council (UNSC), the PSC is composed of 15 member states, of which 10 are elected for a two-year term and the remaining five for a three-year term. It does not have permanent members, nor does it have veto holding powers. On this, the PSC follows the principle of sovereign equality of states, hence much more democratic than the UNSC.

While its establishment itself was acclaimed as a historic watershed in Africa’s progress towards resolving its conflicts, much more important is what the PSC has made of its mandate in protecting and maintaining peace throughout Africa and hence its contribution towards the achievement of the Pan-African ideal of Pax Africana.

 Checks and balances

In order to find these out, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) published a monograph entitled ‘Annual Review of the Peace and Security Council 2012/2013.’ The monograph, which I had the privilege of conceiving and writing, was launched on Jan. 27th, 2013 at the new AU Commission Complex on the margins of the 20th Summit of the AU Assembly.

In its two major parts ISS’s monograph reviewed the peace and security dynamics and trends of the continent. One of the findings revealed that traditional conflicts involving armed rebel groups operating with formally structured armies are generally on decline and evolving, while they are not completely eradicated as the situations in Eastern DRC, CAR and Mali illustrate.

On the other hand, the continent is also witnessing a rise in new forms of violence: emerging and transnational security threats and governance based crisis taking the form of popular protests, electoral violence and unconstitutional changes of governments. Although wars are not as endemic as they were in the 1990s and increasing number of countries enjoy stability, different parts of the continent continue to be characterised by instability.

The Annual Review in this regard found that in 2012 while East Africa and North Africa showed relative improvement in their peace and security trends, West Africa and Central Africa witnessed serious deterioration with Southern Africa showing no remarkable change either ways. While the deterioration in the security situation of parts of the continent reflect the challenges that currently face Africa, the improvements manifest the contribution that the AU is making through its Peace and Security Council towards the settlement of conflicts. A case in point is the progress made in Somalia during 2012. Increasing numbers of countries have also continued to enjoy stability during the past decade even in parts of the continent that are generally regarded as being conflict prone.

 Encouraging homemade solutions…

Another major finding of the Annual Review is that the PSC of the AU has increasingly been able to lead efforts in the settlement of conflicts and crisis on the continent. As a result, as the cases discussed in detail in the review show, the work of the PSC has come to influence the domestic politics of significant number of AU member states and the relations between them, to increasingly shape the nature of international involvement on the continent. The international community including the UN now look towards the PSC for leadership whenever they consider most, if not all, situations on the continent. A good testimony to this, elaborated in detail in the annual review, is resolution 2046 of the UNSC, which constitutes a full verbatim endorsement of the PSC’s 24 April 2012 communique on Sudan and South Sudan.

The upshot of the above is that the PSC is becoming the body that carries visible hope for the realization of the Pan-African ideal of Pax Africana. On the year of ‘Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance’, this is one reason for celebration, which demonstrates the continuing importance of Pan-Africanism. If one considers the fact that the PSC will be a decade old in March 2014, its impact is indeed something that makes one genuinely hopeful about the possibilities of achieving Pax Africana as an important facet of Pan-Africanism.


…but also challenges

As important and encouraging as this finding of the Annual Review is much of the space is also dedicated to the notable gaps and challenges facing the young continental body. The most notable and widely recognized limitation in the work of the PSC is its heavy dependence on external support for pursuing the implementation of its peace and security agenda. Close to 90% of the funding for AU peace and security activities come from donor countries. The Annual Review warned that ‘without addressing this gap, the PSC will face serious challenges in achieving adequate control over the peace and security agenda of the continent and credibly deliver on its mandate of peace and security in Africa.’

The Review also pointed out that there is huge gap between the nature and scope of the mandate entrusted to the PSC and what it can realistically carry out. This is partly an issue of capacity. Significantly, however, it is a function of the will of member states and the weaknesses that characterize them. It is not always the case that the national interests of different members of the PSC are coherent and reconcilable and this is reflected in the weak or total lack of consensus among member states which frustrates the deployment of the right response and doing so in a timely manner. As highlighted in the Review, this was manifested in the case of Mali for example.

One other issue noted in the review was the bias of the PSC to use conflict management and conflict resolution tools with little focus on conflict prevention tools. This is reflected in what I call ‘the fire-fighting approach’ that dominates the work of the PSC. This means that the PSC either lacks the capacity or required tools to deal with the underlying causes of conflicts or crisis. This is particularly the case with respect to what the Review called governance related issues. The consequence of this is that without being in a position to address the root causes of political crisis in Africa, the real risk of new conflicts breaking out (Mali) and old ones starting up again (DRC and CAR) is something that the PSC cannot avoid despite its existence.


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