46. Silencing The Guns in Africa

Author: Prof Adekeye Adebajo
28 May 2018
 Business Day
Image supplied by:
Vladimir Palyanov via Unsplash

I recently attended an African Leadership Forum meeting in Dar es Salaam hosted by former Tanzanian president, Benjamin Mkapa. Former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, and former Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, were joined by about 30 civil society activists to discuss how to overcome obstacles to achieving peace in Africa.

Unlike many such sessions, this was a small and intimate event. It noted that Africa is in urgent need of “silencing the guns,” as six major conflicts continue to rage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan, Mali, Darfur, and Somalia. In the Great Lakes region, there are currently 11 million displaced persons, while over 3 million people have died in the Congo’s two-decade conflict. The African Standby Force (ASF), promised since 2010, remains a pipe-dream, as external actors like the United States (US) and France establish a meddling military presence in Africa, from the Sahel to Somalia. Africa’s potential Gullivers – Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria, Ethiopia, and the DRC – continue to suffer from internal security and governance issues – which prevent them from playing a hegemonic role in their sub-regions.

The first main issue discussed by the forum centred on the weaknesses of Africa’s security architecture. An effective division of labour needs to be established between the African Union (AU) and sub-regional bodies like the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The15-member AU Peace and Security Council also lacks the capacity to implement its own decisions, having often to rely on the United Nations (UN) and other external actors. The European Union (EU) and other external donors, in fact, fund over 90% of the AU’s security work: a dangerous dependence which results in self-interested interventions that do not always reflect the continent’s own priorities. Since the AU lacks conflict prevention capacity, it tends to address the symptoms rather than the root causes of conflicts. A related problem is the lack of international resources for critical post-conflict peacebuilding tasks such as strengthening state institutions, security sector reform, and disarmament and demobilisation tasks.

The forum also focused on two conflict cases: Somalia and the DRC. Somalia’s three-decade conflict has been somewhat ameliorated by the presence of a 21,000-strong AU peacekeeping force which has allowed for the establishment of a weak and fractious government in Mogadishu. Persistent deadly attacks by the terrorist group, al-Shabaab, on civilians and peacekeepers, have however rendered parts of the country ungovernable and broken the vital link between state and society. A divisive clan-based system has also polarised and militarised politics. More positively, the country has an innovative telecommunications system, and Somalis remain dynamic and entrepreneurial, possessing one of the world’s best remittance systems for transferring funds from the large Somali Diaspora.

Similar to Somalia, armed groups have proliferated in the DRC, from 20 in 2004 to an incredible 150 today. Many are linked to, or originated from, regional states like Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi, and these “negative forces” are involved in gross human rights abuses and illicit economic activities across the Congo. South Africa’s energetic peacemaking role in the country was acknowledged, while the UN’s peacekeeping role – particularly that of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh – was described as representing “pure business”, deployed to make money from peacekeeping reimbursements rather than primarily to save lives and stabilise the country.

The issue of the constantly delayed elections and president Joseph Kabila’s continued stay in office 17 months beyond his constitutional term – cracking down harshly on opposition protests – was at the centre of discussions. There was a feeling that a presidential amnesty for corruption and gross human rights abuses may have to be part of the inducements to facilitate Kabila’s exit from power in December. Questions were, however, raised as to whether elections costing $500 billion were really a panacea for the Congo’s problems, and whether such a large amount could not be better spent on development and to restore the Congolese Humpty Dumpty back on its feet.

The forum concluded with the fundamental question of how to forge a renewed sense of Pan-Africanism among Africa’s current leaders. As the continent continues its perennial quest for Pax Africana, the guns have still not been silenced across Africa.

Professor Adekeye Adebajo is Director of the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation.