Solving Africa’s Security Challenges the Tana Way

African Leaders discusses and proffer solutions to security challenges facing Africa at the just ended two-day Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.

By Maureen Chigbo*

Hailemariam Desalegn Prime Minister of Ethiopia-welcoming participants
Hailemariam Desalegn Prime Minister of Ethiopia-welcoming participants

THE 5th Tana High Level Forum on Security in Africa may have come and gone but its echos will continue to resound in the continent. This must be especially so in the hearts and minds of hundreds of participants who attended the two-day event which ended on April 17, in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. The forum with the theme: “Africa in the Global Security Agenda” provided the participants opportunity to know the current state of security challenges in countries in Africa, rob minds and proffer solutions to them.

Hailemariam Desalegn, prime minister of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia, set stage for discussion of the security issues in Africa when he gave the background that led to the formation of Tana and what it stands for. According to him, when the idea of Tana Forum was conceived five years ago, the purpose was to provide a unique, neutral and informal setting for serious discussions among African leaders, opinion makers, change agents, academics, practitioners and partners on African security challenges with a view to forge African solutions to African problems. “We are now on our fifth annual event. The growing attendance and diversity of participants demonstrates the growing recognition of the Tana Forum. Thanks to your unwavering support and immense contributions, Tana Forum has become an invaluable platform for the exchange of views, best experiences and innovative approaches to the fast changing security challenges facing our continent and the global community,” Desalegn said.

He is of the view that no single challenge in Africa can be considered an only African one. In its impacts or underlying causes or implementation of proposed solutions, every challenge in Africa, in one way or another, involves, implicates or requires non-African actors. “The truth is that we are living in an increasingly interconnected and complex world, where apparently isolated and small problems will have global and non-linear consequences; where effective solutions require active collaboration of nations and stakeholders.

“What ‘African solutions’ means is two things principally. First, information about problems, causes and solutions ought to be primarily collected and analysed by those who understand the African context. Collection and analysis of information is not necessarily an objective exercise. It is influenced by the particular frame of reference and embodied values of whoever is undertaking this exercise. In addition, intimate and deeper local knowledge is required for effective design of solutions”.

Obasanjo and Thambo-Mbeki
Obasanjo and Thambo-Mbeki

Secondly, he said the quality of delivering institutions is as important as the quality of the diagnosis and prognosis. “African institutions’ have to be the principal ones that should be entrusted with the responsibility to deliver. The colonial powers characterised informal governing institutions in Africa as backward and barbaric. They undertook massive efforts to install formal institutions of governance, informed by their own experience and knowledge. Formal institutions were superimposed on informal institutions, without acknowledging the latter. It later became painfully clear that these exercises were not only ineffective but also counterproductive,” he said.

However, he acknowledged that the good thing is that we have started the complementary design and use of formal and informal institutions in many areas. When it comes to peace and security, the experience is limited at best.

The notion of ‘African solutions’ is not limited to continental and regional processes and institutions. It also includes national institutions. “If we cannot first develop and implement Ethiopian, Nigerian, Egyptian, Kenyan, Rwandese solutions and institutions, how come we expect to develop and deploy African solutions and institutions?” he asked.

Agreeing that it is important to devise African solutions to African security issues, Prof. Andreas Eshete, special advisor to the prime minister of Ethiopia and deputy chairperson of the Tana Forum Board, in his presentation on “The Spirit of Tana” narrated how in 2010, a few African leader came to the not-so surprising realisation to explore alternative — but complementary spaces for frank, relevant, candid, unencumbered and vigorous dialogue devoid of the unwholesome niceties are typically associated with formal gatherings of inter-governmental and multilateral institutions. At the avant garde of this quest was the much younger, but no less determined, Meles Zenawi, late prime minister of Ethiopia. According to him, Meles was cognizant of the popular saying that you can only go far if you go together and recognized that bringing such a grand idea to fruition is bigger than- and should therefore outlive- him. This was perhaps the impetus that led him to turn to someone much older, almost by twice his age, but with uncommon pedigree as well as encyclopedic understanding of Africa: at various times, ex-Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo. “It is gratifying to report that this event has, in total, attracted almost two scores of serving, and former, Heads of States all of whom share the same vision and fervent commitment to the ideals of Tana in its myriad ramifications. In their own unique ways, each of the Heads of States- former and currently serving; especially those that accepted to serve on the Board of the Tana Forum, have demonstrated that they have imbibed the Spirit of Tana. It is my wish that they would continue to pass on the touch to their colleagues, and other illustrious sons and daughters of Africa in due course,” Eshete said. He emphaised the key attributes of Tana Forum of inclusivity, collectivity and ‘collegiacy’, adding that those who nurtured Tana must be hugely proud- perhaps even surprised- that it has now metamorphosed into a vibrant and veritable platform for informal- but no less timely deliberations on the most pressing peace and security challenges we face as a continent.

Kofi Annan middle and other African leaders at the Tana Forum
Kofi Annan middle and other African leaders at the Tana Forum

Giving some insights into how the Tana Forum has become like a baobab tree that cannot be hugged by one person but by a collective, he said no single person has a monopoly of knowledge and that’s why Tana has become THE PLACE to air a wide range of contrasting viewpoints: from the mundane to the mainstream and discordant, and to the sometimes alternative or deviant. The only common denominator is that these viewpoints are genuinely expressed, and within the remit of securing the much-desired unity of purpose to better set the agenda for the socio-economic and political emancipation of Africa and its peoples. Thus, whether in terms of attracting distinguished participants from all walks life; the choice of the nagging issue to be debated in an informal setting; the conscious decisions to accommodate a diversity of voices that would otherwise be excluded, or even the preference for inter-generational conversations, the sole raison d’etre of the Tana Forum is be a place for frank, immersive, real-world and real-time debate placing premium on African-inspired and African-led solutions. Because no one is excluded on the basis of any of those yardsticks typically used to divide us, Tana has become an umbrella under which every participant can enjoy immunity in expressing their opinion or taking a controversial stance, he said.

According to him, “There is no need to belabor the point that Africa urgently needs- and should delineate for itself- a space where it can tell its story; by itself, for itself, but also for others to listen. For too long, the African agency have been muffled, undermined or completely ignored in the international arena; including on those issues with direct and adverse effect the continent and its citizens.

In the past, the otherwise rich historical- and contemporary- experiences of Africa and Africans were told in slanted, jaundiced and decidedly patronizing ways. At the heart of Tana is therefore both the recognition that Africa has come of age, and also that there is now a strong and more compelling basis to revisit, question and change several of the dominant wisdom and narratives on and about the continent. It is directly in response to these self-evident imperatives that Tana has successfully managed to take on themes that otherwise would be considered too hot-to-handle in other spaces within and outside the continent.”

Stating complementary adages which says that When brothers fight to the death, a stranger inherits their father’s estate, and another which acknowledges the strength in diversity as in when spider webs unite they can tie a lion, Eshete said the spirit of Tana that resonates from both idioms follows from the concern that for too long, and even with the best of intentions, Africa’s engagement with the rest of the world have been mostly pedestrian and fragmented simply because African have not managed to unite in pushing their own agenda and concrete goals in their long- and mostly contentious- relationship with the rests of the world. “It is precisely in response to this gap that Tana places itself as an interlocutory platform, even if still a fledgling one, to help Africans rethink their place and relationship with the rest of the world, and to do so on their own terms. Unless we unite, particularly on issues that directly affect us, we might just remain like the proverbial goat with a frown on its face when it is being taken to the market, or the abattoir.” he said.

In Eshete’s futuristic view of Tana, he opines that: “The future, as the popular saying goes, is what we make of today. Our failure to plan well today for tomorrow would, no doubt, question the type, quality and longevity of the legacies that we wish to leave soon after we step out of this hall (or even depart this world). Let us therefore make haste while the sun shines.”

It is in this spirit that Obasanjo, chairman of Tana Forum, gave an account of “The State of Peace and Security in Africa 2016”, stating clearly that old or ‘traditional’ causes of conflict, insecurity and violence still persist and have gained greater currency today. They include inadequate attention to the issue of diversity, leading to marginalisation, exclusions, lack of popular participation; inequity, inequality, uneven development and oppression; inadequate attention to education and unemployment particularly of youth; gender inequality; and of course religious bigotry. The presence of any of these, or more than one, in sufficient magnitude for any length of time, when unattended and unaddressed, according to Obasanjo, will invariably lead to group dissatisfaction, breed grievances and incubate injustice. Together, they allow groups to seek redress through a variety of unwholesome means, including armed insurgencies and terrorism.

Cross-section of African leaders at the Forum
Cross-section of African leaders at the Forum

For instance, developments in Burundi, the Central African Republic, CAR, Côte d’Ivoire, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, South Sudan, Somalia and Tunisia reflect the recurrent volatility that confronts the continent on a daily basis. Such protracted conflicts not only have a debilitating impact on the continent’s pathways to development, but also place huge strain on the peace-making, peacekeeping and peace-building efforts of African States and inter-governmental institutions. “Even if, as some have claimed that the number of conflicts in Africa has decreased in nominal terms since 2014, we are daily reminded about the fragility and susceptibility of the continent to a variety of ominous and vicious conflicts,” Obasanjo said. In reflecting on the state of peace and security in Africa in 2015, and its far-reaching repercussions for Africa, and the world, he also underscored the troubling resurgence of Africa’s long-forgotten conflicts. Notably, one of the worst plagued in this regard is the Great Lakes region. This has recurred time and again, in DRC where the situation has remained volatile; marked by the atrocious activities of various armed groups. That conflict, especially in the Eastern DRC, epitomizes the hybrid nature of conflicts in Africa where armed groups are locked in battles that have turned the region into a gangster’s paradise, with serious regional dimensions and ramifications.

This is why the international community, led by African governments and institutions, must bear this in mind in fashioning such a viable and sustainable solution to one of the continent’s most intractable conflict. “The potentials of DRC are enormous and so are the internal contestations and contradictions. If care is not taken, the forthcoming election in the DRC is likely going to further fuel the existing conflict. How the election is conducted, for good or bad, will not only determine the trajectory of peace in the country but that of the wider Great Lakes region. It will undoubtedly also become the litmus for AU’s pro-active management of potential conflict and the seriousness and ingenuity of the international community,” Tana Chairman said.

Apart from DRC, one country that deserves eternal vigilance and decisive action to pull from the brinks of an unnecessary and full-scale war is Burundi. No one should disbelief how quickly an already tense situation in that country, one of the poorest in the world, according to the UN Human Development Index, has deteriorated- especially following the decision by the incumbent President Pierre Nkuruziza to seek re-election despite the evident constitutional backlashes. To date, the government has not only remained headstrong but also seemed determined to defy wise counsel from the international community; including those from the African Union.

Despite the endorsement by the UN Security Council via statement of December 19, 2015 of the decision of the AU to deploy 5,000-strong troops to maintain law and order, and to protect civilians, the government in Bujumbura vehemently opposes its deployment, and even went as far as threatening to treat it as an army of occupation. “It is not surprising to me, however, shameful, that during the just-concluded AU Assembly in January 2016, the Union quietly stepped back from its earlier proposal by adopting a position virtually encouraging what is going on in Burundi. The on-going situation in Burundi only makes Africa a laughing stock.

“Collectively, African leaders must summon the political will to bring a quick and durable solution to the country. Collectively, African leaders must summon the political will to bring a quick and durable solution to the country. Whatever it takes, a solution must be put in place to move the country towards peace, security and progress; and to stem the tide of flow of refugees that is threatening neighbouring countries. I must express what may be a distasteful personal opinion here: I found it contrary to the Constitutive Act of the AU that Burundi should threaten the AU; and by such threat, abdicate its responsibility. Before it is too late, the AU must therefore live up to its responsibility in such a situation to save the lives of Africans,” Obasanjo said.

However, he is of the view that Africa must not feel shy of demanding and insistently so, for restitution from the US and Europe for unlocking the virus through the action of NATO in Libya. “President Obama’s conscience may be clear by admitting recently that he and his NATO allies created a mess in Libya, but that does not pay for the hardship suffered by our people. They should not look away while we grapple with the consequences of their action. Such strength of AU and regional economic communities to make demands for harm done and to stand firm on our responsibilities must obviate a situation where, like in Mali and Central African Republic, African forces were not able to intervene before troops from outside came in. How do we talk of African solutions for African problems when in the face of problems we are impotent to act promptly and decisively? That was not the situation in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togo and Darfur. Africa can, if there is political will and leadership,” Obasanjo said.

Another major flashpoint in Africa is Darfur. That conflict alone, long only slightly on the radar, continues to generate unprecedented humanitarian crisis leading to the outflow of tens of thousands of civilians from their homes. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, the humanitarian situation in Darfur continues to deteriorate with the displacement of more than 2.5 million civilians on the last count. In the south of the continent, Mozambique is now grappling with a residue of conflict between two diehard archenemies: the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique, FRELIMO, and the Resistance Movement of Mozambique, RENAMO. With its roots in an earlier civil war which started in 1977, just two years following a devastating spell of independence war, the present conflict flared up in 2013 due to factors not far from festering power contestations, perennial concerns about governance conditions, and of course, the recent discovery of natural resources such as coal and gas.

Whereas many parts of Africa may not necessarily be experiencing overt forms of direct violence, they are nonetheless faced with unprecedented situations of fragility and vulnerability to conflicts. Zimbabwe offers a good example in this regard; but it should not by any means be considered a poster case. More than two years to the next general elections in 2018, tension is already brewing around leadership contestations and factional politics within the ruling and opposition parties, and between them. The dust has not fully settled on the Ugandan post-election situation, and we must not miss the ominous prospects in Zambia.

Of the 10 countries that the International Crisis Group identified as conflicts to watch in 2016, four are in Africa: Libya, Lake Chad Basin with the epicentre in Nigeria, South Sudan and Burundi. Other areas that are low-levelled but are nonetheless smouldering are Mali and Somalia, even as pockets of insurgencies linger in Algeria, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and Central African Republic. The conflict between Western Sahara and Morocco continues to linger many decades since it first broke out, while ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood are far from being spent forces in Egypt. In recent times, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, like Tunisia, have been hit by a new wave of terrorism which goes for the soft underbelly of seemingly conflict-free countries; killing innocent men and women in international hotels and popular resorts.

“No country in Africa can claim immunity against this new wave, and none of them can claim to be adequately prepared for it. We are all potential victims that we are left with no choice but to share intelligence, plan together and work together. Because terrorists have become creative with the use of modern infrastructures of border communication, transportation and financial transaction, African governments must make these facilities useful and indispensable servants in the fight against new generation terrorists whose objective is to destroy, instill fear, and kill while rendering government impotent to provide adequate security for their citizens, Obasanjo said.

In all these cases, Obasanjo emphasised how decades of missed developmental opportunities have partly played a part in the exclusion and alienation of youth who now form the bulk of those that have found alternative spaces for rebellion and other forms of insurgent and terrorist activities”

This point resonated with Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the United Nations, who in his keynote address entitled: “Africa and the Global Security Architecture” said: “It is no secret that unemployed young men are especially vulnerable to the temptations of violence and easily instrumentalised for that purpose. This is not a specifically Muslim problem: a World Bank survey in 2011 showed that about 40 percent of those who join rebel movements say they are motivated by a lack of jobs.

In Africa, as elsewhere, the answer does not lie in a purely military response that fails to deal with the root causes of disaffection and violence. “As I constantly repeat, you cannot have peace and security without inclusive development, the rule of law and the respect for human rights. These are the three pillars of all successful societies. It is largely because these three pillars are quite fragile in parts of Africa that we are still seeing instability and violence,” Annan said. The truth is that the economic growth in Africa over the last 15 years, though impressive, has been neither sufficient nor inclusive. In fact, Africa has become the world’s second most unequal continent, according to the African Development Bank. Until this situation is reversed true peace and security will continue to be elusive in Africa and discussions on is likely to continue at the next Tana High level Forum on Security in Africa.

*Source Real News

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