Peacebuilding in Africa: persistent challenges, sustainable solutions (WP1417)

13 April, 2016

Dr Monde Muyangwa, Professor Funmi Olonisakin and Dr Comfort Ero

We were delighted to host the second in a series of events on Peacebuilding in Africa in Addis Ababa. The event was held in partnership with the African Leadership Centre, the Social Science Research Council and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. It aimed to develop and ‘road test’ the findings and policy recommendations from the first meeting, Peacebuilding in Africa: evolving challenges, responses and new African thinking, that was held at our base in West Sussex in February 2015.

The conference sessions addressed a wide range of issues concerning peace and security in Africa, including the challenge of conflict relapse, radicalisation and violent extremism in Africa, implementation of UNSCR 1325 and resourcing peacebuilding. Expert policy-makers and practitioners problematised the security terrain in Africa, evaluating persistent challenges and identifying practical solutions. Scholars engaged policy makers to inform and learn from practice to find common ground and opportunities for collaboration.

Dr Monde Muyangwa, Professor Funmi Olonisakin and Dr Comfort Ero

Dr Monde Muyangwa, Professor Funmi Olonisakin and Dr Comfort Ero

The issue of state-society relations and effective governance were recurring themes throughout the event and the subject of an interview with Pierre Buyoya, Former President of Burundi and African Union High Representative for Mali and the Sahel, conducted by our Chief Executive, Richard Burge.

Currently based in Bamako, President Buyoya’s role covers domestic peacebuilding and democratisation processes in Mali, negotiating and implementing the Algiers peace agreement and ensuring a smooth transition to democratic institutions, as well as navigating wider peace and security issues facing the Sahel region, promoting collective security cooperation to share intelligence, increase capacity and cooperate militarily to confront the threat of terrorism.

Work has already begun to organise a bimonthly meeting with the head of the intelligence and security services of the eleven countries of the Sahel, to improve coordination and increase intelligence sharing. President Buyoya outlines the progress made by the African Union (AU) to “bring those countries to carry out what they call a mixed patrol on the border of two, three, four countries to work together against the terrorist threat and how to cooperate”.

There are many actors and strategies contributing to peacebuilding initiatives in the Sahel region, which spans North, West, Central and Eastern Africa, and as such as beyond one Regional Economic Community (REC), hence the need for African Union coordination and unified leadership. From a head of state to High Representative of the African Union, President Buyoya reflected on the advantages of AU leadership in peacebuilding initiatives in Africa. “There is a strong awareness in the African Union that the issue of peace is the first responsibility of Africa through the African Union, and you will see the African Union intervene first… then the peacekeeping mission in Mali, UN MINUSAMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali).”

Dominating global headlines is the issue of radicalisation and violent extremism spreading through Africa and the Middle East. Though Africa’s plight against terrorism is more intimate than that of Western powers, facing ‘home grown’ threats such as Boko Haram, and Al-Shabaab. “Violent extremism is a global threat; … in Africa we are confronting actors who are Africans. The Sahel is destabilised by a terrorist group who came first from Algeria, then they recruited people in the Sahel, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and other countries…. Maybe the ideology is imported, but the actors are Africans.”

Tackling violent extremism, President Buyoya argues that Africa has some advantages vis-à-vis other regions of the world: “…‘the violent extremist groups are exploiting Islam to their ends but if you look around Africa, normally Islam in African countries has been mainly a peaceful Islam and a tolerant Islam”. A strategy which Africa shares with Western nations is the promotion of the people’s voices and public unity to destroy their message of hate. “The main instrument against violent extremists is the population, the reaction of the people. I think there is a potentiality among African Muslim populations to oppose violent extremism.” Beyond public resistance, the roots of terrorism and violent extremism flourish in contexts of instability and fragility, against which nations governments must take action: “…violent extremism is also exploiting failures in security, in governance, in development; we have to work on all those dimensions.”

Yet there is reason to hope; Africa has witnessed a significant decline in conflict over recent years and gives leaders such as President Buyoya cause for optimism. “Africa has been portrayed as a lost continent, but it is making process to promote democracy and human rights and development, but there is still conflict.” The trend is positive as African nations continue to develop new strategies to confront conflicts and crises, even if not 100% efficient, and adapt to new trends. “The reason why I’m optimistic is I don’t see a situation which can be considered completely beyond our capacity; (however) the responsibility of peace in Africa is not only Africa’s responsibility, there is also international responsibility, especially of the UN.”

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