“Create conditions for economic growth”

Military missions designed to safeguard peace depend on adequate capacities. Due to various joint peacekeeping efforts in the past, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is particularly adept. According to a seasoned practitioner, more capacity building is nonetheless needed – and it should not focus merely on security matters.

Africa is a key region in terms of economic opportunities and natural resources. Many argue that, as a result, military involvement from the US, China and the EU is increasing. Is this meaningful support, for instance in the case of West Africa?
I wouldn’t call all such support “meaningful”. Non-kinetic support, that is support that does not come in the form of immediate military deployments but which is targeted at creating the positive environment for peace and development, has been meaningful. However, most forms of support serve donor interests. Simply put, the USA, the EU and China are in Africa to protect their global interests, because of oil and other natural resources. However, the EU and US have also provided crucial financial and logistics support for regional conflict-resolution and peacekeeping, as well as for capacity building.

This month, the USA’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) will become operational. What do you expect?

The debate about AFRICOM is yet to abate. Africa Command is claimed not to have any ulterior military motives. In that sense, it is welcome. But what if, at some point in time, AFRICOM should stand in the way of African aspirations? My expectations are that AFRICOM may help create the conductive atmosphere for peace and stability, economic growth and development in Africa through its non-kinetic mission.

You have worked for ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, for many years. Ever since ECOMOG (the ECOWAS Monitoring Group) first intervened in Liberia’s civil war, ECOWAS has dealt with security issues. What challenges are there today?

ECOWAS has intervened in conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, in Liberia again in 2002, and in Cote d’lvoire with some success. But more importantly, these experiences have contributed to the establishment of permanent institutional security structures. West African leaders have learned from the challenges and failures of the different ECOMOG missions, recognising that one cannot focus on economic development without tackling security issues. In 1999, therefore, they adopted the ECOWAS Protocol Relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security. This comprehensive agreement marks a milestone in conflict management in West Africa. As a result, the ECOWAS stand-by force framework is the most advanced of all African sub-regions. Experience gained in ECOMOG operations will thus, no doubt, be a model for conflict prevention for the AU itself.

Why are you so sure?

ECOMOG engagement has won wide acceptance in Africa, as a decisive force for the maintenance of relative peace and stability, as well as for restoring a measure of peace in crisis areas. Other regional groupings such as the Maghreb Union, South African Development Community (SADC), East Africa Development Community (EADC) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) can certainly learn from our experience. Originally, ECOWAS was set up in 1975 to promote economic development and regional integration in West Africa. By the early 1990s, however, it was clear that ECOWAS had to engage in conflict management in order to achieve its primary objective. No doubt, ECOMOG has learned lessons in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea Bissau, and accordingly beefed up the way it operates.

Don’t paramilitary groups, organised along ethnic lines, threaten the peace in West Africa?

Peace and stability can be achieved through democracy and good governance, transparency, accountability, probity and prudence in economic management. More importantly, we need visionary leadership to organise numerous ethnic groups around a common moral and developmental ethos, making loyalty to the nation-state more appealing than to ethnicity or clan. Comprehensive development is necessary and so are the avoidance of exclusion, clientilism and urban-bias development. Devolution and decentralisation of power can ensure peace and stability.

Would sub-Saharan governments accept more UN engagement in security matters?

Unfortunately, the African Union (AU) lacks the financial and logistical means to intervene effectively in internal disputes, as exemplified in Darfur and Somalia. Therefore, UN engagement is appreciated. All evidence from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Cote d’Ivoire, Congo and Darfur suggests that more such engagements are welcome. This helps to inspire confidence among the local people. There are signs that the days of antagonistic relations between the UN and regional organisations are over. For example, a United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) was established in Dakar, Senegal in 2001, with the mandate to strengthen ECOWAS’ peacekeeping and electoral capacities in cooperation with civil society.

Some say that, in Kenya early this year, we saw the UN principle “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) successfully applied. Do you agree?

Yes, the AU initiative was a success. Former UN Secretary-General H.E. Kofi Annan was able to broker a power sharing agreement which resulted in the appointment of Raila Odinga as Prime Minister. Post-election violence was brought to an end. Remember the earlier crises in Africa; the beginning of Liberia’s civil war in 1989, for instance, or the Rwandan tragedy in 1994. Back then, international organisations, unfortunately, did not intervene, and that led to disaster. The people of Africa were, therefore, greatly relieved that the AU and the international community demonstrated willingness and commitment to intervene in Kenya when violence broke out. And it is to the credit of AU that the power-sharing peace agreement was brokered. The way the United Nations, the British Commonwealth of Nations and other regional and sub-regional bodies threw their weight behind the AU initiative was also quite encouraging. There, obviously, was a sense of rising to the “responsibility to protect” inside a sovereign state. As Kofi Annan once pointed out, “the risk of genocide remains frighteningly real” in Africa. The “responsibility to protect” must therefore remain the guiding principle of African leaders.

Does the R2P principle apply to West African conflict regions?

Today, West African leaders fully recognise the peace and development nexus. The responsibility to protect will, therefore, certainly make a difference in conflict management. The onus is now on West African leaders to help to make the peace and development nexus a reality in the sub-region. Simply put, R2P imposes an obligation on West African states and their leaders to provide security for their people and to create the necessary conditions for economic growth.

You have lots of working experience with capacity building at institutions such as the Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) in Accra. What are the strengths of such concepts, and what are weaknesses?

Owing to the civil wars, military take-overs and rebellions on the continent, Africa must develop the capacities needed to respond effectively to humanitarian emergencies and to ensure sustainable peace and stability. Thanks to our development partners, there are a few capacity building organisations such as Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre. The objective is to build and increase the readiness and professionalism of African peacekeepers and enhance their capacity to respond effectively to the complex challenges of peace-support operations. That is being done. However, there are snags. First of all, the few capacity-building institutions we have seem to be elitist. They do not reach down to the grassroots where they are needed most. Second, programmes target mostly military personnel. Not much is being done to prepare civilians who are even more essential to peace building. Third, although women are the principal casualties whenever armed conflicts have occurred, not much is being done to build the capacity of women to play their special roles in peace support operations. Finally, all evidence suggests that all the capacity building institutions in Africa rely heavily on external sources of funding. The result is undue influence by donors over the institutions.

Questions by Sarah Schmitz.

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