Pax Africana: Peacebuilding in Africa

Event Video

IPI was the scene on March 14th of the launch of a new handbook on peacebuilding in Africa and a discussion by prominent Africans on the state of peacebuilding, past and present, on the continent.

In opening remarks, Fatima Kyari Mohammed, the new Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United Nations, said that the AU’s role in peacebuilding was “strongly anchored in the wide-shared conviction that there cannot be peace without development and vice-versa. And that peace and development cannot thrive without human rights and good governance.”

Experience shows, she said, that “for peace to be irreversible in Africa, more work needs to be done to address, in a coherent and more coordinated manner, the structures, attitudes, and processes that perpetuate conflict and instability. There is a need to shift from the current top-down approach to a more people-centered paradigm with a specific focus on peace dividends especially for women and children.”

She added that “our collective endeavors will amount to little if there is no corresponding effort to mobilize adequate resources for the implementation of our defined priorities. No significant progress can be made without adequate financial resources and technical support.”

The book, The Palgrave Macmillan Handbook on Peacebuilding in Africa, is a 26-chapter volume containing insights from a wide range of officials, academics, and commentators from policy research institutions and African peace and security institutions involved in peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

Adekeye Adebajo, Director of the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg (IPATC,) which co-sponsored the event, said the book had its origins in the work of three people he called “Prophets of Pax Africana”–Kenya’s Ali Mazrui, Egypt’s Boutros Boutros–Ghali, and Nigeria’s Margaret Vogt.

Mazrui, he said, posited a kind of Monroe Doctrine, urging outsiders to stay out of Africa and asserting that intervention by Africans in ongoing conflicts was more legitimate. “But the question that Mazrui posed fifty years ago still has not been answered,” Professor Adebajo said. “Who will keep the peace in Africa now that the colonial powers are departing?”

He said the great contribution of Boutros–Ghali, UN Secretary-General from January, 1992 to February, 1996, was to “set out the main tools and techniques for conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding in the post Cold War era.” He praised him as “the Pope on the East River” and as “the most intellectually accomplished secretary-general.”

Margaret Vogt, a Nigerian scholar and diplomat was remembered for “contributing tremendously to Africa’s evolving security architecture” in the 1990s. While developing the security mechanism of the Organization for African Unity, she pushed for the inclusion of women in peacemaking and peacebuilding at the OAU, as well as its successor, the African Union. She also led a group of experts in the creation of the first sub-regional group on the continent, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Ismail Rashid, Professor of History at Vassar College, provided some timely insight on a shifting culture around elections in West Africa, following the first round of the presidential election in his native Sierra Leone, March 7th.

Dr. Rashid, also Board Vice President of the West African Research Association, explained that the outgoing president of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, “floated a trial balloon about wanting more time and wanting to run for a third time.” The people of Sierra Leone responded,  “You must be crazy.” they said. “Not even in Nigeria, now, can a politician stand up in front of Nigerians and say that ‘I want to extend my political term more than two terms.’”

Such rejection of presidents and politicians at all levels who would try to stay in office beyond their allotted terms of office is a uniquely West African phenomenon, Dr. Rashid said. “More than any other region on the continent, there is a palpable normative shift in terms of all the political offices in the region,” he said.

Helen Kezie-Nwoha, Executive Director of Isis-Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE), brought the perspective of women in her home country, Uganda, to the panel. Together with a non-partisan women’s organization, Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE), and the Institute for Social Transformation, Isis-WICCE was involved in the creation of a “women-led peacebuilding strategy that focuses on building peace before, during and after elections,” she said.

This initiative was carried out in February 2016 during Uganda’s recent election. As part of the strategy, 450 women and youth were trained with the tools to monitor elections. When controversies arose after the election, ten eminent Ugandan women who had been deployed throughout the country engaged in “diplomacy that has led to discussions for a national dialogue process in Uganda, which is still in the initial stages,” she said.

At the country level, women “continue to gather to articulate their positions and form networks.” She cited such a network of women for peace in South Sudan, where the National Conference on Women and Peacebuilding developed a position paper expressing what South Sudanese women wanted. This became “the advocacy tool” for civil society, she said, and as a result, “I can say that the first peace agreement signed was very gender-sensitive.”

In Burundi’s national dialogue, “the situation of women’s participation and inclusion of women’s specific issues in the peace dialogue process, and on the agenda, is largely absent,” she said, and it “has yet to make any significant progress.” To redress this, she called for an effort to be “made to push the government back into the dialogue and ensure that women participate.”

From her experience with these three countries, she concluded that “sustainable peace is the major objective for all stakeholders, and more so for women, and this is only possible if women are involved.”

Eloho Otobo, Non-Resident Senior Expert on Peacebuilding and Global Economic Policy, Global Governance Institute, and a former Director and Deputy Head of the UN Peacebuilding Commision, said that the Peacebuilding Commission has “made some great strides, but they have not come anywhere near to satisfying the expectations of the key stakeholders.”

Mr. Otobo then recalled a meeting with IPI’s Youssef Mahmoud, then Executive Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB), while visiting the country with the PBC. “I remember something he said after lunch. He pulled me aside, and said, ‘Look, after you guys have done your strategy work, you’ve got to show money on the table to do some of these things,’ and I thought that was profound.”

Illustratively, he explained that the year before the PBC was founded in 2006, Official Development Assistance (ODA) to conflict-affected countries was 40% of overall aid. Since then, the financing environment has only worsened. In 2015, ODA for conflict-affected countries fell to less than 28%. “The key priorities that you have set out have to be financed,” he warned. “So one of the key frustrations of the Peacebuilding Commission is that they are not showing money on the table.”

John Hirsch, IPI Senior Advisor, and the discussion’s moderator, concluded that with new leadership at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, and Fatima Mohammed at the UN, “This is indeed a moment, it seems to me, for strengthening the relationship between the African Union and the United Nations.”