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Ongoing Global Transformations, Normative Stagnation and Peacebuilding in Africa

Tuesday 18 – Thursday 20 April 2023 | WP3152

African peacebuilding
  1. Peacebuilding in Africa is impacted by several regional and global transformations and changes. These include the increasing strategic competition and trade wars between China and the US, trends of rising hybrid democracy in Africa and around the world, and the alarming expansion of violent extremism across Africa.
  2. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated instability, as well as the Russia-Ukraine war, are other recent changes with significant ramifications for peacebuilding. The hording of vaccines and the retreat to narrow nationalism across the developed world, for instance, remained a source of disgruntlement of the people of Africa. In part, due to the way the West reacted to the pandemic, the much-sought for solidarity with Ukraine in the Russia-Ukraine war was not forthcoming from Africa. Moreover, the pandemic further accentuated the decline in the rule of law and democracy across Africa as several unpopular restrictions were imposed in many African states.
  3. The Russia-Ukraine war had several ramifications for peacebuilding in Africa. When the war broke out, the price of imported goods, fertilizers, and fuel skyrocketed, pushing millions into poverty and food insecurity. At the same time, the conflict generated deeper collaboration between Russia and China with the potential for heralding Cold War like global division. The consequences of this realignment for Africa and what Africans can do about it is open to question. 
  4. In some ways, this global division might give more freedom of choice for African actors, but in others it may undermine security in Africa. Russia, as a major supplier of weapons and private security, may use this leverage regardless of its peacebuilding ramifications. Indeed, the diversity of African member states’ votes at the UN on issues relating to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, as well as the intensive effort to engage Africa by both the US and Russia through repeated and multiple visits are indicative of Africa’s choice and agency. Africa is also demonstrating some attempts at influencing global developments by calling for equitable representation in the UN Security Council and other global fora, as well as expressing its frustration with the uneven application of the international liberal normative system.
  5. The decline in international cooperation and security in the context of global transformations has rendered African ownership of its peacebuilding agenda more urgent than ever. However, there is still debate on how this goal of owning the peacebuilding agenda could be pursued and achieved, and whether this entails moving away from liberal approaches to peace or not.
  6. The Western liberal model was adopted without much reflection on its relevance, and those who opposed it were often marginalised. There is an unsettling lack of trust in state institutions and the democratisation process across Africa. This is reflected in the increasing number of states that are challenged by violent extremism and some citizens’ preference for authoritarianism and service delivery over democracy. Hence, new ways of forging power, institutionalising governance and state building must be pursued while resisting the tendency to consider elections as ends in themselves and seriously reflecting on what democracy means in different contexts.
  7. The relevance of norms and norm-setting to the restructuring of the peace agenda and dialogue on the type of social contract citizens will have with their state must not be overlooked. However, multilateral norms might be stagnating due to regional and global changes. 
  8. For some, this ‘normative stagnation’ is simply a lag in the application of otherwise appropriate norms. From this perspective, the problem with the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) and the RECs is not as much an issue of norms as it is of their application. Hence, there is no need to invent new norms distinct from liberal ones, but rather a need to work on the application of these norms. For others, the middle powers are creating new norms without calling them ‘norms,’ manifested for instance in the way liberal norms relate to defence and security issues. Even in Africa, the trend of peacekeeping has been strongly exhibiting ad hoc features shaped by the interests of member states and temporary ‘coalitions of the willing’.
  9. Africa needs to own its peacebuilding agenda, which cannot be achieved insofar as the APSA is seen by many ordinary Africans to be at the service of heads of state used to perpetuate their power. There must be serious engagement of African civil societies, businesses and other indigenous actors in the AU peace and security structures. Admittedly, these latter actors have several limitations; CSOs are often not transparent, accountable, and capable enough to engage on issues in a way that makes a difference. Additionally, a large portion of the business community is engaged in rent-seeking activities.
  10. African ownership of its peacebuilding agenda will also not be possible without overcoming reliance on external funding. The AU-REC’s failure to mobilise domestic resource is as much due to the lack of political will as it is to the lack of resources. Some RECs, like ECOWAS, have developed a robust resource mobilisation scheme and therefore were able to generate greater resources than others.
  11. The AU/RECs have an adequate normative framework on youth participation. However, much is left to be desired in diffusing and implementing these frameworks at the national and sub-national levels and in nurturing a constituency for these norms in African civil societies, governments, business and other relevant actors. Building institutions that are inclusive and accountable through questioning the concept and reality of the social compact between African states and their people will be important to this process of embedding these frameworks. 
  12. The current peacemaking norm in Africa, where inordinate attention is given to actors with violent capabilities, must be seriously questioned. While this might be framed as a pragmatic search for peace, it is also undermining the quest for durable peace by incentivising actors to deploy violence in the pursuit of their political demands. In Sudan’s trilateral negotiation, for instance, the main actors were the security actors while civic movements such as members of the resistance committees were not part of the negotiations. 
  13. The discussion of normative stagnation and African ownership of its peacebuilding agenda cannot be approached in isolation from the issues of African leadership. The AU is not providing the needed leadership and has allowed expedient approaches to peace keeping deployed outside its African Standby Force (ASF) framework.
  14. The AU/RECs can undertake several measures to counter the reversal in the use and deployment of normative frameworks and instruments related to youth engagement. These could include grounding the frameworks in African values, socialising youth with these frameworks using educational institutions, embedding these frameworks into national laws including constitutions, utilizing the different leverage points of the AU/RECs, advocating youth and women’s issues in different fora, enhancing youth engagement in leadership, regularly monitoring and evaluating youth related engagements, and challenging sources of norm reversal including the ideology of prosperity gospel and practices of state capture.
  15. There are various avenues and platforms that are used to express African youth voices and agency. Youths are already very engaged in social protests, though this rarely translates into lasting change. The growing influence of China and other middle powers in Africa is also opening opportunity for exercising African (youth) agency. Africa, for instance, has received widespread support for a seat in the G20.
  16. To increase the voices and agency of Africa in these fora, it is important to build coalitions of reform that capitalise on opportunities such as the possibility of greater mobility and availability of innovative technologies. It is also important to reflect on how Africans’ capacity to hold power and influence at the global level for Africa’s benefit can be enhanced, how the capacity and agility of its youth can be built, how youth could be empowered to monitor the state, and how the diaspora can be engaged. Properly empowered African youth could shift the narratives about China-Africa relations, educate the world about Africa, and engage in innovation, politics, and diplomacy. 

Youth Identities and Narratives of Youth


Transitions and Complexities in African Peacebuilding

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