The 27th African Union Summit, underway in Kigali, Rwanda, is widely expected to adopt one of Dr Donald Kaberuka’s recommendations on how to increase member state contributions to the AU Peace Fund and more broadly to increase African self funding of peace and security, and its other pillars. Whichever modality is adopted, the strategic direction and substantive issues in Africa’s security governance will also require some tough reflection. This is because, recently proactive, robust and joint responses to jihadist terrorism and radicalized armed non state actors have been preferred. The danger is that an imbalance in African security governance is being created as a result.
The joint fight against violent extremism featured primary at the Africa-based core group meeting of the Munich Security Conference in April this year. The default position was that global terrorism in North Africa, East Africa and the Sahel needed urgent, robust and joint action. As argued by former President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo, Ethiopia’s foreign minister Tedros Ghebreyesus, and Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger in a joint op-ed on 13 April, ‘Facing [the Jihadist threat in Africa] together is our common calling’.
The readiness of Africa’s own peace and security institutions to lead on terrorism and other sources of insecurity was emphasized. The dominant argument was that the sovereign’s role as main provider of territorial order and security is under unacceptable assault by non-democratic forces. Given the importance attached to stable African governments, such a perceived assault justifies military responses short term.
It might be argued that it is a lesser ill that hard approaches overshadow alternative political, developmental and humanitarian-based approaches. As stated by the AU representative in New York, ambassador Antonio Tete, at the AUPSC-UNSC open debate on countering terrorism on 1st April, ‘In Africa, terrorism and violent extremism are still representing the most serious of threats to peace, security and stability.’
Certainly, part of the global push towards strategic partnerships with African regional actors is linked to seeing African states and institutions as playing specific useful roles in world order. France and the US have most candidly expressed that the AU and certain African states play very useful combat roles in active conflicts, and that partnerships are strategic in so far as they help all involved partners identify and secure their respective interests.
African peace operations receive external recognition due to their militarized characteristics. Most AU peace operations are stabilization missions, using combat operations against specific aggressors in bounded conflict theatres. The Troop Contributing Countries to the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have been commended and supported by the international community for the willingness to combat Al-Shabab fighters. As noted in a book on Africa-led peace operations while this combat readiness may be necessary, it is crucial for APSA and for conflict-affected populations that these stabilization missions are always linked to a political objective. AU-led missions to date have demonstrated operational readiness, but have been insufficiently streamlined with political strategic-level direction.
Pulling in a de-militarizing direction are the many voices in AU peace and security circles who push an enhanced prevention-agenda and a value-driven vision of African ownership. African peace and security policy-makers and intellectuals within and beyond the continent are calling for more inclusive political approaches to resolving conflict in Africa.
These actors stress historical and structural causes of terrorism (such as weak state-society relations, demographic challenges and unemployment rates). Or, they raise the acute absence of knowledge surrounding radicalization and recruitment into extremist groupings. Additionally, it is argued that strengthening or stabilizing central government and its ruling capacity by itself would not change the structural causes of marginalization and exclusion in many if not most of African societies.
It must be added that preventing armed conflicts is a strategic priority for the African Union peace and security architecture (APSA) as seen in APSA Roadmap 2016-2020. This follows on from the Windhoek declaration and AU-adopted commitment to end all wars and ‘Silencing the guns in Africa by 2020’ which forms part of the continent-wide Agenda 2063. The Agenda 2063 document, adopted by the AU Assembly of African Heads of state and government in May 2013, sets forth a value-based vision of a united and prosperous Africa.
The Roadmap sets out the objective for the AU and the Regional Economic Communities (REC) and Regional Mechanisms (RM) to contribute to the prevention of conflicts and crises. Early warning systems with state of the art data collection and monitoring tools exist at continental and sub-regional levels. Enhancing capacity means that they must coordinate and collaborate better with each other and other relevant component parts of APSA. The Roadmap notes also that early warning capacity and inclusive mediation-capacity must be connected with the strategic security priorities of decision-makers.
The use of special envoys, senior mediation panels and networks of elders is one of the AU’s ‘best kept secrets’. To underscore their importance, the APSA Roadmap sets out as one objective to show evidence of frequency, relevance and efficacy of preventive diplomatic missions undertaken by the AU and the RECs. On a case by case basis, it is possible to gather knowledge about the roles and outcomes of preventive mediation efforts. Showcasing such roles and results strengthens the arguments of those who seek to focus on prevention and mediation capacity. Often, references are made to Africa’s rich mediation tradition. References are often made to the vital importance of inclusivity in African mediation culture. Dialogue must occur with all conflict actors. Talking to terrorists and non-state radicalized actors is therefore not excluded, as argued in the Windhoek Declaration.
However, it remains hard to access best practices and documentation on lessons learned. Might intellectuals and policy experts help change the mindset of decision-makers if they could point to research and verified information showing that prevention at early stages of conflict is most sustainable and effective?
There is a danger that context-driven, root-cause based values embedded in AU foundational documents and the APSA are being pulled in a direction to serve short-sighted militaristic values. In the medium to long term this will favor autocratic modes of governance on the continent and already extends a level of international legitimacy to autocratic leaders. This will also infer the AU with legitimacy and capacity building packages chiefly on basis of counter-terrorism specialization or experience. Consequently, other APSA programmes rank lower on the global priority ladder unless they are coupled with the ‘fight’ on terrorism. Prevention and responding to terrorism-rationales are not mutually exclusive, but are better understood as mirror images. The trick for the foreseeable future is how to rebalance APSA, and develop legitimate and sustainable ways to prevent/respond to terrorism.
Linnéa Gelot is a Senior Researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI), Sweden and a Senior Lecturer at the School of Global Studies, Gothenburg University, Sweden. Her most recent publication is The Future of African Peace Operations: From Janjaweed to Boko Haram, co-edited with Cedric de Coning and John Karlsrud, with Zed Books in 2016. She is currently leading a project entitled ‘AU Waging Peace? Explaining the Militarization of the African Peace and Security Architecture’.